Monday, June 20, 2011

Overrated in Congregational Life: Mission Statements

During my final year of seminary, I became enthralled by mission statements. A colleague introduced me to the concept of a clear, memorable and passionate statement about the crux of what drives action in daily life. Laurie Beth Jones wrote about it, Tom Cruise playing Jerry McGuire romanticized it (you had me at hello), and like many other development trends, the church picked up on it 5, 10, 15 years late.

I thought mission statements could change the church. I worked on mission statements with several congregations over the years. Sometimes they were helpful, sometimes not. Mission statements have not been the variable that moves a congregation into effective ministry. The problem that I see is that congregations have used not having a mission statement, or being in the process of developing a mission statement as an excuse to not move forward with ministry and action. Then I see congregations invest hundreds of hours and dollars into mission statement development only for that mission statement to gather weeds or be doomed to a governing board manual in a binder.

Mission statements alone will not revitalize a congregation or any church organization. Mission statements cannot replace passion and an understanding of congregational assets, gifts and a strong congregational culture. At their best, mission statements give congregations focus, and a tool for discerning priorities. At their worst, mission statements become vortexes of frustration and ennui, or graveyards of theological platitudes. Also add a drain of resources that could be helping connecting people and multiplying God's grace.

Another shortcoming of mission statements is that even in strong congregational cultures, the mission statement atrophies because the mission is not employed in congregational discourse. Mission statements can be reinforced in worship, kid talks, education events, and congregational publications, to name a few opportunities.

Mission statements are also confused with creeds. Congregations feel like they need to adequately honor their particular tradition through their mission statement, so far as it doesn't offend anyone. A good mission statement reflects a particular passion that connects God and that particular community.

If you're looking to a mission statement to drive you toward a thriving ministry, a mission statement will not inspire you any more than a wrench would. A mission statement is merely a tool. A mission statement cannot replace a desire to make a difference in the world in the name of Christ and the hard work it takes to build relationships through love, forgiveness and grace.

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