Are mission statements helpful?

I’ve seen a little bit of discussion about vision/mission and value statements recently.  Generally speaking, most of the commentary has been negative. I get that, like my friend Steve Kneale, I don’t like to see the church dragged into a corporate/business culture.  I’m also aware of two things.  First, that so often, it seems that organisations get in the consultants to help them draw up such statements at exactly the point when they have lost a sense of purpose.  It seems that the more time spent trying to describe their mission, they less able they are to grasp and pursue that mission.

Secondly, what often happens is that the consultants come up with a lovely bit of marketing fluff which is all motherhood and apple pie and has little connection with the reality of that business.  So, for example, my old company used to have the lovely slogan “innovating for a safer world.”  Now, that’s beautifully inspiration, says very little and is very difficult to say with a straight face before revealing that the company was in the defence industry and built weapons, planes and warships.

The same is true when talking about your values.  Too often, I’ve seen people describe the kinds of values they think will be popular rather than the ones that truly reflect the priorities of the business. Nearly every business at some point will declare that one of its core values is that “our people are our greatest asset.”  Yet, the reality is often that their aim is to make as much money as possible for the owners and so they value the equipment used to make their product far more than the people who work for them.  As one jaded, gloomy manager once said to me:

“I wish that they would be a little bit more honest and simply explain that they value us a little bit more than the desks and a little less than the computers.”

However, done properly, a mission statement can be helpful if what it does is force you to think carefully and so communicate clearly what you are about.  When it comes to the church, I like how Chris Green described such things when teaching on church leadership at Oak Hill.  Chris would describe a church mission statement as

“The Great Commission and the Great Commandment with a date and postcode on it.”

In others words, what you do as a church is describe what it means to love God, love your neighbour and make disciples in your current context.    Your values will describe what it should look like if people are becoming disciples of Jesus in your context.  That’s a helpful way of thinking about things though I think that it is enough to say that its’ “Matthew 28:19ff with date and postcode” because by insisting that we are to teach people to obey his commands, Jesus was calling us to make disciples who love God and neighbour. The Great Commission wraps up within it the Great Commandment.

So, at the moment I’d want to describe my own personal mission in terms of working to see churches planted across North Birmingham and into the Black Country in order to see lives and communities transformed by the Gospel.[1] 

What about your church? Could you sum up in one or two sentences why exactly it is that your church exists in the community where it is?

[1] In this article I’ve used vision and mission a little loosely and interchangeably. That’s because different people tend to swap them around a bit. Normally, I use “mission statement” to describe a short pithy statement of purpose. Our aim is to do x in order to achieve y.  I use the phrase “vision statement” to describe in a little bit more detail (half to one side of A4) what I would expect the outcome of that mission to look like in the future.

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