On Church Mission Statements

By my friend, Allan Bevere:

Every church I have served has had a mission statement. I have assisted churches in developing mission statements. Some of those statements have been quite good, others are nothing more than idyllic preference-driven affirmations on how the church can continue to serve only itself. Since the church has a mission, having a mission statement seems quite logical.

But does the church need to develop a mission statement when Jesus has already given us one?

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

I know that when churches develop mission statements they mean well, but in doing so do they unintentionally suggest that they can improve upon the mission Jesus gave the church some two millennia ago? We are to go to all the nations in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and that mission has not changed. Perhaps we feel the need to have a second mission statement because we want to add our two cents, believing we have to have a say in what we should be doing as the church.

Now some might suggest that a mission statement gives more detail, fills out, Jesus’ marching orders he has given to the church. But the experts in mission statements insist that a good mission statement is short and to the point and easy to memorize, and a long mission statement is counter-productive and basically useless. What is shorter and more to the point than Jesus’ charge to make disciples of all nations?

No individual church needs to develop a mission statement. We’ve had one for two thousand years. What each church needs to do is to get to the task of keeping the charge we’ve already been given.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Tommy

    Just a thought, but maybe the “best” sort of missions statement is one that effectively contextualizes the great commission.

  • MIchaelF

    Mission statements have become a standard requirement for many churches – and those who don’t have one are looked down on for not having one… and yet they are only a relatively recent phenomenon and were basically pinched from business models. They are not necessary, and often not particularly helpful.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Scot, do Allan or you know whether church mission statements are relatively “new” to the business of being a church? I’ve been familiar w/ them for 15-20 years max, but prior to that, I’m not sure I ever heard “our mission statement” mentioned. “Making disciples” seems increasingly to counter the prevailing culture of individualism. I wonder whether folks have become uncomfortable with scripture’s call that we need to be conformed to Christ, and transformed in our lives. A “mission statement” might compromise the strength of Jesus’ words, in that sense.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    Amen Scot (and Allan)! I too have sat through weeks of of working out mission statements on various church committees. I often though this, and tried to express it on a number of occasions (unsuccessfully). It was said well here!

    And, I’d add that from what I see and the reading I’ve done, most of the troubles the church now has stem from our failure to do this. Just look at the state of apologetics in the average church (virtually non-existant). Fortunately, I see some major efforts to change this.

  • Fish

    My senior pastor preaches Luke as Jesus’ mission statement. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    We do have a church mission statement and I was indeed skeptical when it was being developed, but it’s actually helped align us and move us away from the building and out into the world. I was surprised.

  • http://www.fivedills.com Watchman

    Mission statements are borrowed from the Western business world. Sadly, much of today’s contemporary churches operate like businesses with mission statements, committees, branding, marketing, budget planning, developing strategies, etc. When I was a deacon of a church many years ago, our leadership meetings operated much like the business meetings I used to attend. These mission statements are just another example of how dogmatic and institutionalized we have become. Let’s stick to core/essential beliefs and leave the rest to God.

  • http://www.peace-dc.org Dennis

    I get Mr. Bevere’s point, but I’m with commenter #1 (Tommy): context matters. The NT “Great Commission” certainly gives us a mission, but life and context has changed since 1st Century Palestine. We need to encourage our churches to apply the words of Jesus to specific contexts.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    @ Dennis #7 -
    But… contextualized, the mission is to make disciples!
    Christians, then, might organize to do all sorts of things which stem from their being disciples.

  • Robert

    So many business mission statements are pieces of meaningless blah which someone dreams up because it’s the ‘in’ thing to have one. I wonder whether it’s a road the church ought to be on.

    Fish makes a good point. I think Matthew’s statement only encompasses part of the church’s mission. He wrote for Jews, and wanted to emphasise that the Kingdom encompassed all nations, not just one. Luke has a different priority, since he wrote for the Gentile mission, and obviously didn’t need to remind his readers about it! I don’t think it’s possible for a pithy little statement to encompass the whole mission, as the Rule of God involves too much, and we’ve made such a pig’s ear of it that the same words can mean very different things to different churches, and probably mean nothing at all to those outside.

  • rjs

    This is an interesting discussion – and I think Fish (#5) makes a good point about the positive effect of devising a mission statement (of course this means that the mission statement must be revisited on a regular basis – or it becomes (can become) a stale set of words.

    I don’t think that the Great Commission is an adequate complete mission statement for the church. While we are absolutely called to go and make disciples, we are also called, as a church, to be disciples. And this, it seems to me, involves much more than just going and making (evangelism).

  • http://www.christusvictoratonement.wordpress.com Ryan Mahoney

    I have always seen the attempt to write mission statements by the church to be an uncritical adoption of modernist, corporate culture into the church.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I’m a big fan, but the article gets it wrong.

    Jesus statement is not a mission, it is a vision. A vision is an aspirational goal that people can set their sites on. It is not something we ever really expect to attain, it is the guide.

    The mission is much more tangible about the specific church or organization. It takes that vision and puts it into something we really can do, something that has purpose. A church may be into missions in foriegn lands, or helping the poor of their city, or bible education, or some coherent complex of these things.

    Then the mission needs to be reduced to concrete steps to get the thing done. We need to develop a strategy for executing the mission. To do that we generally need to have a strategy for executing the mission. If we are to feed the poor of the city, then we could buy soup kitchens, or get lots of volunteers, or we could put the poor to work. The strategy is very important.

    Then we come up with the tactical plans for achieving the mission via the strategy. We need goals. The goal for this year could be to buy two soup kitchens and have 200 voluteers for mondays.

    The goals get translated into detailed plans by the leaders, then managed and measured so that people can see the progress they are making in achieving the goals they have set.

    To round it out, folks need a set of values so they will be able to true back to something when there is a conflict in approach. Certainly most churches will have the bible as the values, but this should go beyond that. Do you value growth over the help of 1 person? Is the value honest and open theology or MTD? This is also important.

    I disagree with anyone who says that the churches do not need these things because these are simply pragmatic steps in getting something done. The “something that gets down” has to be articulated carefully or people will go astray.

    A previous church I went to refused to do these things and the reason, it turns out, is becuase the pastor and his relatives want a toy to play with and worship time without actually doing anything. Sure they could have done that, but what they did was lie and say they would help people but in the end all they want is a nice building for themselves.

    This only works if people take is seriously and the elements have teeth. You do not want to do this and then pay lip service to tit. You have to take it seriously and true up to them. If they do not fit then change them. They are not there to be ignored, they are there to have people be on the same page.

    This is my wheelhouse. Setting this up is most important.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    …and yes, if it is done poorly you end up with something that is useless and spat upon. Generally you need someone with expertise to lead a group in the visioning and missioning process. I do quite a bit of that. Getting the right framework is very important.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    ….and for those who feel that the path I outlined is too business oriented, then just make your elements what you want. You can have a mission that says that you will have an open community that accepts people without pressure to achieve objectives. That is cool.

  • Patrick

    I like how David Platt’s church uses the great commission in their “Vision, Mission, & Goal”: http://www.brookhills.org/new/mission.html

  • http://www.thebrooknetwork.org Mel Lawrenz

    The article makes a very good point. The word “mission” means to be sent. So who does the sending, and who gets to define what that is? Churches need divine authority as the basis of their life and work. We cannot improve on the elegant, specific, powerful command of Jesus: make disciples. (Better yet, in Greek it is a single word. If it were an English word we could say: “disciplize!”) This holds evangelism and discipleship together. It applies not just to one church but to the whole church (which reminds us that mission is about the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church). This should enthuse us–that we did not invent the church, and we don’t get to reinvent the church. Let the word of Christ, who is the head of the church, say what his intent is.
    Many “mission statements” of churches are fine if they don’t stray too far from the universal mission Jesus gave. There is a need to explain, elucidate, and apply what “make disciples” means.
    And for those who want to search for the special thing God might have in mind for a specific congregation, that’s fine. One church may have a special calling that is a particular emphasis determined by gifting or opportunity. But this is secondary to “mission,” and we should also be careful about how enamored we are about our “specialness.”

  • Charles Roberts

    I’m on board with Watchman (#6). Too often churches substitute developing mission statements for actually doing the mission of being the church. They bring a flowchart, cogs, switches and knobs approach of an institutional organization to the organic nature of being the body of Christ. There is no way they can anticipate all of the permutations inherent in a healthy church body, much less an unhealthy one.

    Does your physical body need a mission statement to live, move and breathe? No. The Creator already gave it one. Does the church body need a mission statement? No. The Master already gave it one. The time spent effectively “reinventing the wheel” creates a false sense of having accomplished something great for the kingdom when, in reality we have spent hours and hours (extending the metaphor) putting sides on something that was created to be round.

    The plans to carry out our mission DO need to be contextualized and that requires a great deal of time and effort. Start THERE using the mission statement that Christ died to bring us. If you do, you’ll be way ahead.

  • JohnM

    Robert #9 – You’re right, even for businesses, never mind churches, mission statements are “pieces of meaningless blah”. But with “pithy little statements” you’re refering to Matthew 28:18-20? Maybe I misunderstood.

  • John O.

    Scot, after all the recent talk of interpretive pluralism can you really say: Jesus said it all. What more is there to say?

    Interpreting those scriptures as a mission statement:
    Is ‘great commission’ a Biblical term? The Jesus creed is also a good mission statement. Also Fish’s #5.

    Interpreting the terms. #10 rjs has a good point with the word disciple. Tons of cultural baggage.

  • http://godswordourwordsandtheworld.blogspot.com Lee Wyatt

    Double Amen! I’ve long wondered why we spent time and trouble doing this when we have not just 1 but 4 inspired mission statements that form the conclusions to our 4 canonical gospels. We should spend time reflecting on those statements and strategizing about how to lean into them rather than trying to figure out what we should be doing when we’ve already been told.

    Peace,
    Lee

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    @ DRT #12,13 -
    “The mission is much more tangible about the specific church or organization. It takes that vision and puts it into something we really can do…”

    We really can make disciples. Real disciples do (as a body, not necessarily every individual) those other missions you mention. The problem I see is that many churches short-circuit this command and try to go right to various missions and ministries without proper disciple making first and as the primary objective.

    Yes, a church may have a gifting to and be in a prime opportunity to, for example, feed the poor. But, if they haven’t gotten the step #1 of making disciples down first, they become just that, a soup kitchen. And maybe they will do well at that, just like a secular soup kitchen might well succeed, but they won’t be the same as if they were both equipped and motivated by being made true disciples.

    Sure, there is the opposite danger of which you speak (inward focus), however, in those cases, I’d also have to question whether those people were really made into disciples. It’s kind of like James with faith and works. I can’t imagine a church with well-equipped and motivated disciples of Jesus NOT doing evangelistic and humanitarian type ministries.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    Also, note that I’m not saying these things have to be done sequentially… as in first, one has to undergo disciple training for 20 years before they start the soup kitchen… but it is a matter of where the priority is placed by the church and what is the driver behind the other actions. The church is primarily a disciple making institution, not a soup kitchen. Disciples, then, serve soup when and where that need arises.

  • phil_style

    Lots of time and money gets spent on church marketing and branding. All of this “mission statement” stuff comes right out of a first-year bachelors degree course in business management. It’s a distraction.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Steve, then if making disciples is the mission, then they should state that. Its that simple. It could also be compound, like make disciples through being where the people are at…..

  • Jonathan

    We are the process of revisiting our mission statement at our church, and we are approaching it as a definition of how specifically we, in our context, pursue the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

    The framework is: “Our church loves God and people and makes disciples by…”

  • Amos Paul

    I imagine that ‘making disciples’ can be taken a 1,000 different ways. For instance, what do you *believe* a disciple’s life should be focused on?

    Feeding the Hungry and Helping the poor? Bible Study? Pursuit of Spiritual Giftings? Sacaramental Ritual? Proclamation Evangelism? Is it personal? Is it public? Do we do it ourselves? In larger groups? In what context?

    Mission statements are statements of *primary value* concerning a community’s action plan. They are meant to be relevant guides in self-defining how this community is distinct and what its particular operations must ultimately focus on for self-identity, etc. And no, I don’t think that every church should have the same mission statement. That’s what makes them different church communities!

    It’s good that there are different styles of ‘doing church’ so that Christ’s ‘vision’ can be lived out in as many different ways as possible.

  • Phillip

    I was part of a church that drafted a mission statement several years ago. This church involved every member who was willing. We divided into small groups that drafted statements or listed ideas, and then the leaders of those groups came together to write the statement.

    On the positive side, for several weeks the whole church was focused on studying and dsicussing from the Bible what it means to be the church.

    On the negative side, after it was done and a few weeks of initial excitement, we rarely ever referred to the statement again. The church still, 15 years later, runs the summary statement in its bulletin but little else is done with it. Also, it makes me think that they have not revisted the statement and adjusted in light of changing circumstances in the church and the community.

  • http://thesometimespreacher.blogspot.com Andy Holt

    We recently formulated a mission statement for our church plant. The whole process felt a little weird until I read Aubrey Malphurs’ book The Nuts & Bolts of Church Planting. He said basically the same thing Allan did: that the mission of the church is to “make disciples”. However you frame it, your church’s mission statement should reflect the overall mission of the church.

    That was very helpful for me. I still don’t know if we got it right, of course. But our mission statement is this: Ember Church exists to see the gospel happen in our hearts, in our relationships, and in our community.

  • http://www.dlandt.typepad.com DLandt

    Do you think the great commission, read as the 21st century mission statement, could be partially responsible for a 1 dimensional view of what God is doing in the world…ie…saving souls for heaven?

    I’m considering that God’s mission statement probably would not be Matthew 28, but perhaps Col. 1:20 – to reconcile all things through Jesus. I think this has profound but subtle implications for how we understand church mission. The reconciliation of all things includes people’s relationship to God, others, self and creation. It is cosmic as well as personal. Making disciples is not the end, therefore, but a means to the end goal of God.

    Understanding that God has a mission and His mission has a church, reframes the great commission as the means of participating with God. We are disciples for a reason – to participate in God’s mission of putting all things back together through Jesus.

    A church mission statement may be better reframed as “partnering with God in his reconciliation of all things”. The “how” of the partnership is making disciples of all nations.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    @ DRT #24 -

    I’m not against having a mission statement… just against spending time trying to recreate what is already done, and often mucking it up in the process.

  • Fred

    Baptists for many years have defined the functions of a church as (1) Evanelism, (2)Worship, (3) Discipleship, (4) Ministry and (5) Fellowship. Also we believe that God has gifted each believer to render service accordingly. A well thought out mission statement can certainly help keep the Church focused in terms of where energy and financial resources must be directed and where individual gifts are best utilized. (often lacking in an effort is truly gifted “leadership” skill which results in a”duty” response that may well prove to be detrimental. My church has no mission statement and I think we are a bit broken. We will soon send a medical mission team to Guatamala It is easy to go to Guatamala and I suspect that the Apostle Paul never had it so good. We are losing our youth and children and wasting a wealth of talent because of the lack of a measured focus on all church functions. I think that we desparately need a mission statement.


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