mission statements

I love the local church but I do not often love the local church's mission statement.

Lots of reasons. Here are two.

The mission statement seems to owe more to the corporate world, than the biblical world. It is part of the response to this chronic fear that the local church might be slipping out-of-date and needs help to market itself for the one who does not yet believe. Really?! Do we really think that a good mission statement will usher them into the kingdom? C'mon! If the local church really lives according to biblical principles, the last thing it needs to worry about is its relevance.

The mission statement seems to lead to shrunken truth, a kind of reductionism. Take the classic one from a nice, safe generation ago. From a large church in the USA which countless churches merely cut and pasted into their own life. '...becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus...' That is so true in all that it affirms. But what about all the truth it leaves out? For example, while on the subject of Jesus, what about the union with Christ that energises the lifelong following of Jesus? That is just one glaring omission. All on its own, this mission statement makes Jesus sound like a guru and that's it. Why would we want to do that? I live in India and the last thing I want to do in that setting is describe Jesus as just another guru (even though it would make him very relevant).

However sometimes there are exceptions. Yesterday I was in a church that is not exactly in my comfort zone. An Anglican Cathedral (in Singapore) where people get dressed up to lead worship (which I don't really understand) and where a tight liturgy is followed (which I can understand). My eyes scanned the newsletter and saw this logo and mission statement:

I like it. I really like it. I'm not sure I understand the image - but then the words they've chosen are image-rich and so I am not too concerned. And yes, the wordsmithing side of me did wonder why the word 'down' needed to be repeated. Why not, for example, ROOTS DEEP, WALLS DOWN, BRIDGES OUT? Let's go with that change, for the sake of the argument here.

Look what these six words manage to convey...

Roots Deep? It captures discipleship, Christlikeness, maturity. I love to see this emphasised, because it is often overlooked. I get nervous when local churches speak of their purpose in terms of mission alone - and leave out maturity. Mission without maturity often leads to a mess.

[My mind wanders across to my favourite story about John Stott. His last visit to Australia. I fly across from New Zealand for the weekend. He preaches at Sydney Missionary & Bible College. There is a Q&A. Some smart student asks the impossible question. "Dr Stott, how would you sum up the state of the church around the world?" I shake my head and look at the floor. What kind of question is that? While I am shaking my head and looking at the floor, John Stott turns on his heels and walks to the whiteboard. He writes three words: 'growth without depth'. He is so right...]

Bridges Out? Here is where mission is captured and so appropriately tied to the image of the bridge. It suggests that the chief strategy in mission is building bridges and walking across them to listen and engage with others - as opposed, possibly, to building soap boxes (literally, or figuratively) and standing on them to shout at others.

The mission statement could easily have stopped there. That is pretty comprehensive. I could almost live with that one... But they've added something else:

Walls Down? Here is that central gospel theme of reconciliation, borrowing the image of Paul in Ephesians 2: 'destroying ... the dividing wall of hostility' (Eph 2.14). Love it. My spirit soars as I think of all the issues that create walls today - age, gender, income, race, education etc. I am lost in the excitement of a local church putting reconciliation at the heart of its mission statement. Wall-destroyers. Border-crossers. Obstacle-removers. I feel a sermon coming on about people with deepening roots who are building bridges, looking for walls to destroy by the power of the gospel.

Now at this point in this post a thought crosses my mind for the very first time:
"Is this statement unique to this church in Singapore or might it have come from somewhere else?" 
Off I go to google and enter in the six words. While I cannot be confident of my source criticism, it looks like these words originate from Ridley Hall (Cambridge, UK). That is kinda disappointing for me. The wind in my sails becomes a little zephyr. I had been so animated by the thought that it was original. Maybe I should delete this post? The energy has dissipated.

But I persist, carried along by the zephyr (which is what Wellingtonians call a howling gale).

Reconciliation bounded by Mission and Maturity. That covers a lot of theological ground in a few words. If I was a pastor of a church I'd try to strip back the activities of the church to this core and urge every member to be committed to one initiative in each of these three areas. It reminds me of the conclusion to the CapeTown Commitment in 2010. "After all this listening and talking, how do we sum up what God is saying to the global church?" Reconciliation and Discipleship.

nice chatting


PS: Meanwhile, across town in Singapore's Botanic Gardens I find myself sitting in a restaurant gazing at its wall. If you let me add an "i" into the word "savour", I reckon this restaurant's mission statement is better than the ones found in many local churches. And goodness deary me, there are even fans here, ensuring that the wind of the Spirit carries these truths into peoples' lives and then on into the worlds in which they live.


Andrew R SUNZ said…
Thanks for sharing Paul. This is inspirational. As I work with churches across Auckland in the next year I know I will be referring to this blog post often. Blessings.
Rhett said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rhett said…
Thanks Paul, great thoughts.

I've found that there is a kinda of unspoken (and often, spoken!) pressure for the pastor/leaders to come up with a vision/mission statement. The "what's our vision?" questions comes at you pretty quick.

I share some of the same scepticism you express. You almost want to say, "Grow in Jesus, love each other, share the gospel in word and deed - it can't be that complicated?!"

At the same time I've found that it seems to be one of the realities we live with in church these days. So, at our church, we recently went through a vision process which arrived at the simple (and hopefully biblical) aims which I think every church should embrace: community, discipleship, mission... in slightly more spruced up language than that. The good thing, I think, is that the process got people involved, contributing, and facing the same direction.

The much harder part is actually living out the statement!
Glad it looks like it will be helpful to you, Andrew. That is the idea!

I hear you, Rhett. I do. In fact I almost added that one of the best things about crafting mission statements is the way the process engenders this unity - quite apart from the outcome. Plus I think there are distinctions that can be made between mission statements and vision...

I still have my doubts. The New Testament, in particular, is so full of mission statements for the church in its rich teaching in places like Ephesians, Revelation 2 & 3 etc. Why not live in one of them for a year - and then in another one the next year?!

Then there is always the small matter of whether writing mission statements might cause people to think that the church actually has a mission - when in reality it is God who has a mission and the church joins him in it.

Keep living in the tension, my friend - between engaging in what your peers are doing (I remember well that pressure) but also being a bit awkward and annoying among them by reminding them back to deeper and fuller realities and priorities.

Rhett said…
Thanks and Amen. I probably don't have to work hard on being awkward. :-) In some ways I think reading the likes of Eugene Peterson ruined me for this business-derived stuff. Which I'm grateful for.

Unknown said…
... and of course the name of the restaurant is 'Food for thought'

Hmmm. Perhaps food for thought there too. (-:
Thank-you, Allan.
A salient point indeed.

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