If you belong to an evangelical church with over 100 members it probably has a “vision statement” or “mission declaration” or something similar. I pulled up the websites of the churches nearest me and quickly found quite a few mission statements. Here’s a small sampling:
“Our vision is simple: Knowing Christ. Loving People. Changing Lives.”
“[We are] an intergenerational, multicultural body of believers in Christ making disciples who are being transformed through Jesus Christ, making relationships in a life-giving community of sacrificial love, and making an impact on the world by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others.”
“[Our] mission is to embody God’s grace as we receive it to those who need it.”
“We want to authentically and actively love God and others.”
Of the ones I found, two churches had vision or mission statements that were too long to put on here, (they began by defining terms and detailing ministries and doctrinal statements) and one didn’t have a vision statement anywhere that I could find.
In my EML 101 class I was recently introduced to a book called “Advanced Strategic Planning” by Dr. Aubrey Malphurs, where he explains this concept. It comes from Peter Drucker. (Here is a link to a talk about the “community” move in churches and how it’s actually just fascism. It’s a fascinating lecture that opened my eyes to a lot of these issues. I recommend following along with the powerpoint slides.) The concept in the book centers on making your individual local church a place where people can rally and unify around a common goal. He gives the vocabulary of a “mission statement” as the sort of think we’ve seen above. He differentiates this from a “vision statement” which is a picture you’re supposed to paint for the congregation about where your individual local church is supposed to be in 5 and 15 and 50 years. It’s supposed to give them a goal to look forward to.
I think these sorts of mission and vision statements are pretty unnecessary, and here’s why: The church already has a mission and a vision statement. They’re both clearly stated in, you guessed it, THE BIBLE!
Jesus gave the church a mission statement pretty concisely and clearly just before his ascension, and it’s recorded in Matthew 28. Colloquially, it’s called “The Great commission.” (Notice the word “mission” at the end of the word “Commission”)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
If your church mission isn’t that, it’s got the wrong mission.
The Bible paints a pretty clear picture of the “end-game” of the church. It gives us the “vision” to paint. It’s Revelation chapters 21 and 22 which describe a new heaven and new earth. That is our vision. That is where we are headed. That’s what we, Christians, have to look forward to. In a word: resurrection.
If your church vision isn’t that, it’s not thinking far enough in the future.
The process of making a mission statement and casting vision is straight out of business 101. These are business principles applied directly to the church as if it is a business. As I’ve said before and I hate that I have to say so much: THE CHURCH IS NOT A BUSINESS! If your local church is a business, it’s not a church! Business are driven by two things: Pleasing customers and making money. Those two things are pretty opposed to the church. The “customers” should be coming to be reminded that they don’t deserve anything they have in Christ, that they are sinners saved by grace only and enabled to do good works, for free, and giving what money they have to people who need it more than them. The money “made” by the church should exit said church just as quickly as it comes in. These are not good business principles. These are the things that close the doors of businesses, but make thrive the true local churches of followers of Jesus.
Let’s look at these two business components as separate issues. First we’ll deal with “Mission statements,” and we’ll deal with “visions” and “casting vision” in another post.
Most of these aren’t terrible. Many of these are pretty close to what Matthew 28 actually says. However, I tend to wonder why local churches feel the need to reword and rework the simple, straightforward mission that was actually given to us from the mouth of Jesus himself. I think very few variations are necessary. Here it is with the minor changes in brackets. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] have commanded [the Apostles].”
There’s nothing in that mission statement about “embodying God’s grace” or “life-giving communities.” None of those are bad things, but none of those are the mission we’ve been given. Those might be things that happen as a by-product, but the focus is off.
Imagine the mission Christ gave to Christians as a bullseye on a target. All of these other mission statements are just a little bit off center. Some are in the first ring out from the bullseye, some are two rings out, some are on the far edge of the target… but none of them are centered, and if your church focuses in on that off-center statement and treats it like it’s the bullseye, it may never actually hit the real bullseye! It shifts the focus away from the true center, the true mission, and toward a peripheral or secondary mission. Instead of a pure white mission, we’re settling for off-white. Instead of circle, we’re settling for a dodecahedron. Instead of Coca-Cola, we’re settling for Pepsi.
Now, I realize I’m over-reacting for quite a few churches. Of course there is more to the beliefs of Christians than simply Matthew 28:19, there’s the whole Bible! Of course there’s nothing really wrong with summarizing the deeds of the Christian faith as outlined in scripture, and most of the “mission statements” presented at the top are not too terrible as far as summaries go.
There are some churches out there, however, with mission statements completely different from Christ’s. Some churches out there have a mission statement that their senior pastor “received” from God, and so to question that “vision” is then to question God, at least, that’s the implication.
This is what happened at Mars Hill with Mark Driscoll (among other things). Mark Driscoll founded his church on his mission and what he wanted to get done… him. He talks about when the church was planted and he had a 40-page document with his “vision” of a bible college and a record label and much more.
Those things are cool and all, but those aren’t the mission of Christians. I think this is largely why Mars Hill crashed and burned like it did. The church was built on Mark Driscoll, not on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church was founded on Mark’s mission, not Jesus’s mission. Whenever we craft our own missions, we run the risk of leaving Jesus’s.
The empires of Saddleback with Rick Warren and Willow Creek with Bill Hybles and Potter’s House with T.D. Jakes are all very similar. They have at their core a business model for producing some earthly result: bigger individual churches. They all have their own unique mission statements that make their “community of faith” different.
The Real Mission Broken Down
There are key words all throughout Jesus’s mission statement that make it unique. Let’s take a look at them. I’m going to underline the key words and phrases:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] have commanded [the Apostles].”
Go: We are meant to go out and do whatever follows this word. We are not meant to wait on others to come to us, we are meant to go to them!
Therefore: The mission statement is based on the previous statement of Jesus. He gives this mission for a reason. If I say, I like blue hair and you have blue hair, THEREFORE I like your hair, the former information is vital to understanding the latter. What then is the previous statement for Jesus’s mission? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That means Jesus has the right to set the mission… maybe we should listen to his mission, since he has all authority in heaven and on earth? I’m no genius, but I tend to think that’s a lot of authority.
Make disciples: Disciple literally means “learner.” In this context it has the connotation of a life-long learner of the ways of Jesus. Disciples in the first century, I’m told, literally followed in the footsteps of their teacher. We are meant to make life-long learners of Jesus’s message. This disciple making is done in the local church setting! Yes, the system that the Apostles established is gathering daily/weekly/monthly/yearly to disciple one another, teaching all that Jesus commanded them.
All nations: The teachings of Jesus are meant to reach every nation on earth. Until that’s accomplished we have no excuse for stopping the mission.
Baptizing: Baptism is one of the two ordinances Christ himself instructed the church to perform. Are you a baptized Christian? You’re qualified to baptize new believers. Are you an un-baptized Christian? WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU AN UNBAPTIZED CHRISTIAN? Call me now and I’ll baptize you tonight. It’s not a good thing if you call yourself a Christian and are not baptized. It’s part of the mission! Don’t wait! This is a VERY serious matter!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Jesus instructed the baptism to be Trinitarian in nature! We should be Trinitarian Christians!
Teaching: This reinforces the “disciples” thing. It’s hard to have learners without teachers. As you become a better disciple, you can then begin to teach other disciples. It’s a self-perpetuating mission.
To observe: To watch, and obey, and do, and keep, the commands. That’s what we’re teaching new disciples. That’s what you should be doing, observing…
All that [Jesus] have commanded [the Apostles]: Everything Jesus commanded the Apostles is what they were meant to teach the disciples they made, and so, by extension, we as the disciples they made are also supposed to teach the disciples we make everything Jesus commanded them. Jesus taught them a very specific message for three years. Diligent study of the scriptures kept in context clarifies “all that he commanded” them. It is not easy, and he doesn’t say here that it’s supposed to be.
That’s a pretty jam-packed mission statement. That’s a pretty expansive plan. Why do we feel the need to add to it, or take away from it? Why do you think God would specially reveal a different mission to you, than the one he specially revealed in Matthew 28?
You church doesn’t need a mission statement… it already has one! It needs to stop constructing new missions and start DOING the mission that Jesus gave the church.
Stay tuned for my rant against “visions.” Until then, ask yourself about your own local church’s mission. Is it the one that Jesus gave us? Do you have any say in what your local church’s mission statement is? If not, why not? You’re an active member in your local church, right? If you are, you should be heard and have a say! If you’re not, why aren’t you?