Saturday, April 23, 2016

Seminary PL5: Identifying Mission

This is the fifth post in the Pastoral Leadership stretch of my Seminary in a Nutshell series. The first two were:
1. It's good for a church or organization to have a strong sense of why it exists. Most have some intuitive sense of what they're there for. Probably most people at a hospital think they are there to help sick people. Probably a number of people at a college think they are there to teach students. A pastor may think she is there to minister to people.

But there are often competing senses of what an institution is about. Many professors may think they are there primarily to push the bounds of knowledge, not to teach students. At some universities, that may actually be the case. Many ministers think the primary goal of the church is to reconcile the world, not to minister to those who are already coming.

Often, there are not absolute answers to these questions. There is room in the universe for churches with slightly different senses of their identity and mission. Like the "body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 12, some churches may focus more on one part of the mission and others on other parts.

2. We should neither over- or underestimate the significance of a mission statement. For the intuitive, a mission statement gives power to what you already feel by naming it. In that sense, a mission statement doesn't have to be something new. It can simply put words to what everyone already feels. But once your already assumed mission is named, it can serve as a rallying point, a tool to synergize a vision to move forward.

For churches or leaders with a planning personality, it is absolutely essential to generalize one's overall sense of identity and purpose before you can move forward. This personality should be careful not to dismiss the intuitive personality. The intuitive can sometimes view the planner as pedantic and as wasting everyone's time by spelling out what they think everyone already knows. Meanwhile, the planner can view the intuitive as chaotic and directionless.

Both characterizations are false. Intuitives do often see things that the planner cannot see until it is spelled out. But planners often save an organization from wasting its resources by clarifying and prioritizing the values and purpose that lead to direction. An institution that only empowers one group diminishes itself.

3. A mission statement can either make explicit the general identity an organization already has or it can serve as a launching point for an attempt to change identity and purpose. A mission statement should not be changed very often, perhaps no more than once every ten years. They can last for much longer.

Mission statements are usually so general that many different visions can be set out within the framework of the same mission statement. My former colleague Keith Drury used to say that mission statements usually say much more about what an institution is or has been at the time the statement is drafted than about what the organization will actually be going forward.

For these reasons, an organization should not belabor its mission statement too much, nor should they use them to prevent organic developments that may take place after they are made. There may come a time when the identity of an organization has changed so dramatically that everyone senses that the mission statement is out of date. At that point, a change is in order.

4. The mission statement of my local church, College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, is "CWC partners with God to restore people and redeem the world by reflecting the image of Jesus Christ." You can see how general it is. Probably any church in the world could use it. Nevertheless, it captures some of the key categories of those who drafted it. They looked at people through the lens of the "image of God." It fits within the missional movement in its language of partnering with God (rather than the mission being that of the church itself). It says nothing of worship and presumably sees discipleship as part of restoration, assuming that all people are less than whole.

The mission of Indiana Wesleyan University states that IWU is "a Christ-centered academic community committed to changing the world by developing students in character, scholarship, and leadership." As of 2016, the university is under the third president since this mission statement was drafted and there has been no need to change it. In itself, the statement is general enough that three presidents have now been able to implement their specific visions for the university under the same overall sense of mission.

When would it be appropriate to change it? If a future stage of the IWU community ceased to think of itself as "world changing," then it might want to change it. Or if new leadership ever arose that had a distinct enough sense of the future that it wanted to initiate a new direction, it might create a new one. It has been long enough since the first statement that it could be changed.

However, the current president, David Wright, wisely did not reformulate the university's mission statement when he became president. For one thing, he was present at the university when the mission statement was drafted. He therefore already had some ownership of the mission.

But it would have wasted valuable institutional time. The university's sense of identity has not changed enough in the last 15 years that a new mission statement was necessary. Keeping it both gave a sense of stability/continuity and allowed his leadership team to move on to the specifics of his vision and goals. These are the real mechanisms of institutional change because they are more specific and targeted.

A new leader who wants to implement a new mission statement should not do so too quickly. If the organization does not have a mission statement or if the old statement is generally perceived to be out of date, it can be done in the first year. In other cases, a leader may want to settle in a little before implementing such change.

5. In Advanced Strategic Planning, Aubrey Malphurs suggests that a good mission statement for a church is broad, brief, biblical, is a statement, and is what the ministry is supposed to be doing. We can assume the mission of any Christian institution will fit with sound biblical understanding and orthodoxy Christian belief and practice. If a church wants to be explicit about that connection, it certainly can, but it can just as well be assumed.

We have already given some sense of why a mission statement should be broad--it should have some staying power. That it should be a statement also makes sense in that a question or command does not capture identity and purpose as well. Brevity means it will be more memorable and inspiring. When IWU first set its mission statement, then President James Barnes would give any employee 5 dollars if, when he randomly approached you, you could state the new mission statement from memory.

The previous post attempted to present some generalities about the Church's mission in general, what the Church is supposed to be doing. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, a church trying to formulate a mission statement has plenty of examples to choose from. Most churches have their mission statements on their websites. The team that proposes a mission statement should look at a variety of precedents and find those elements that best capture the identity and sense of mission in their particular context.

The mission statement will often have both a "being" and "doing" element.  Church X is something that aims at something by doing something.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 6: Casting Vision

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