Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How to Guard Against Mission Drift in 2014

New pastors and/or church planters have extremely high aspirations for maintaining the purity of their church's mission. All those churches they used to work for got too messy, complicated, and unfocused. "This church won't be that way!" they vow to themselves and other leaders.

This is easier said than done. For most, after a few years of ministry, the challenges of mission drift come fast and furious.

Jesus is clear that our job as Christians is to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-10). Any church that doesn't have this aspiration as a focal point of their mission simply disobeys Jesus. But mission drift happens even in organizations with clear goals and objectives. Consider the following points to help guard against this tendency.

Be ruthlessly redundant. I recall a time when I was giving announcements during a church service concerning an upcoming marriage retreat. It was the third week in a row that I made this same announcement. After the service I saw my friend Laura and asked her if she and her husband would be attending the retreat. I know she was present in the service all three weeks I made this same announcement. Yet she said to me, "Marriage retreat? I didn't know there was a marriage retreat!"

We have to over-communicate everything for anything to be heard. So dare to be ruthlessly redundant. We have to learn to creatively over-saturate people with various modes of communication so they truly know our values and what we are collectively doing in light of those values. The bigger your organization the harder you must work to keep everyone on the same page. It helps to keep your mission statement simple. Because if no one can remember your mission, you won't have to worry about mission drift, because you won't have any mission.

Put the right people in the right place. Is everyone on your team fully convinced of the mission? If not, you're simply waiting for mission drift. I know that most leaders can't simply remove people from their team without causing huge conflict. Nuanced and difficult situations demand wisdom, patience, and prayer as you handle the complexity of hiring and firing. If you can't change the team, at least you must be careful about who gets added in the future.

Say no to some very good things. Make the mission of your church the filter by which you determine your yes and no. You will need to say no to some very good things that don't hit the bullseye of what God is calling your church to do.

Prepare for people to get mad, leave your church, or write you angry e-mails. This is the cost of a focused mission, but make no mistake—the payoff is beautiful. "Don't spread yourself too thin" is a cliché for a reason. Everyone has a tendency to do it. But if you are in the habit of saying no to some really good things it will most likely free up space for you to accomplish your church's calling.

Remember that you are not accountable to people who leave your church or write you angry e-mails. You will answer to God alone on the day that he has fixed. That judgment should provide the needed motivation to stay focused on your vision and mission.

Drip mission in every sermon. Larry Osborne writes in his book Sticky Teams about how he used to think that the most important aspect of casting vision was his yearly "vision sermon." Over time this sermon proved challenging because people didn't show up and faithful members tended to tune out since they heard the same message, with the same point, the year before. Now he practices a new approach to guard against mission drift:
Rather than blasting it all at once, I drop vision and core values into every sermon I preach. The result has been far greater congregational alignment. Dripping core values and vision into every sermon makes them unavoidable. Anyone who would have missed my vision series or who would have tuned out because they'd heard it before is now stuck. Each week I plant a seed or two and then move on, long before they have a chance to tune out or put up their guard. And if they missed this week's sermon, I'll get them next week.
Beware personal drift. Most organizations reflect the values and personality of their leader(s). How's that for a scary thought? Is there mission drift in your life? Can anyone around you diagnose this drift? If there is any disconnect between the stated vision and mission of the church and the life of the main leader(s), is it any wonder the church drifts from it?

Leading any organization is hard work. Staying aligned to our core calling to make disciples takes continued focus. This can be exhausting at times. Remember, in the end, Jesus will build his church. When we fear that everything is falling apart, that is the time to fall apart in prayer to the Father. As we faithfully pursue him, he will provide what we need to make sure that his church (not ours) will be focused on the right things.


Brad said...

Hi Zach,

When I think of Matthew 28:18-20 I think of sending, baptizing, and teaching disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded. When I read this article it sounded like you were equating mission with the projects and programs of the church. In other words, it sounded like the church leaders are to set out the vision and structure (programs and projects) of the church and then try to get the laypeople to buy in instead of equipping, sending and teaching the lay people to make disciples. These seem like they could be two very different things. How do you keep them as one?

One other question. I attend a very "missional" church, but I have noticed that mission is not the same thing as disciples making disciples or evangelism. Do you have any thoughts on the relationship between the three?


Vitamin Z said...


Thanks for your questions. As to the second, in short, I think the mission is to make disciples and the first part of making disciples is to evangelize them. Seems pretty clear from the book of Acts.

Sorry, if my article was confusing. I honestly believe the exact opposite of what you wrote! :) So I think we are on the same page.