5. Mission Statements provide a powerful tool for church leaders

If the exercise of your leadership of the church is limited to attending meetings, making policy decisions, maintaining a facility, and managing a budget, you might not have any need for a mission statement.

But if you (as a church leader) think about what God wants to do through your church, ponder the people and gifts he has assembled in your congregation, long for your church to develop unity of purpose, sense the power of shared focus, and get excited about making a difference in the world, then a mission statement may fit you hand-in-glove.

Whether its hearing God’s call and responding faithfully, identifying the central purpose for which the church exists, reminding your people of their shared direction, measuring your effectiveness as a congregation by a missional standard, concentrating the resources of the church, or deciding not to do a good thing because it is not God’s best thing for your church—these are foundational leadership activities. And each of them is supported and enhanced by having a mission statement.

Moses had a clear mission statement: lead Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. His leadership was authorized and rooted in this understanding of his God-given task. Taking Israel through the wilderness towards the Jordan was not an act of self-will or authoritarian stubbornness by Moses—it was an act of faithfulness. Saying “No” to those who wanted to return to Egypt or pursue a different destination than Palestine was not arbitrary or capricious of Moses—it was a legitimate exercise of his leadership authority based on the mission God gave him to accomplish.

Leadership in the absence of mission becomes an exercise in herding cats. You’re managing the ministerial interests of others, juggling needs and requests, trying to stretch church resources to cover overwhelming and divergent demand. Leadership in the context of mission involves setting direction, blazing trail, encouraging your people along the way, and keeping the church focused on the destination.

In other words, mission permits leadership. Without mission, there is no leadership worthy of the name.

6. Mission Statements provide “identity” for a church

Does your church have an identity? Beyond an address and phone number? More than the name of the church or the personality of your pastor? Can you stand in the foyer and, in sixty seconds, tell a visitor who your church is?

As visitors “sample” your church, as they try to get to know you, they need to find something about your congregation that is unique and compelling. It’s not enough for your church to be visitor-friendly, have a welcome-center in the foyer, and offer an informative website. It’s not enough to give visitors a statement of belief or an explanation of denominational ties. Visitors (and members, for that matter) are looking for something that communicates the church’s heart and purpose.

Nothing does that better than a clear sense of mission.

  1. “We’re a congregation full of doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists. We are uniquely equipped to use health services to reach people’s souls. So we operate a medical clinic downtown and sponsor medical mission trips to Guatemala each summer.”
  2. “Our church has a long history of ministering to children. Our primary focus is the school we sponsor, the large population of immigrant children in our neighborhood, and a foreign mission effort that reaches street kids in Kenya.”
  3. “We are deeply concerned about the fragility of marriage in our culture. We focus on marriage enrichment for the church and community, sponsor a marriage counseling clinic, and emphasize mentoring relationships to help build strong marriages.”
  4. “We emphasize worship here. Not worship services or worship forms. Worship as a constant activity of life, 24-7. Worship expressed in our relationship with God, our love for each other, our service of the world. We believe we are what God created us to be when everything in our lives is an expression of worship.”

A mission statement lets you communicate the heart of your church and define your congregation. The result may not be everyone’s “cup-of-tea.” Visitors might not be drawn to a church that emphasizes medical missions or children or worship. They may want something other, something different. But at least you’ll have a way to say, “This is who we are. This is how we make a difference. And if that is of interest to you, if you’d like to partner with us in accomplishing kingdom business in that particular way, we’d welcome your participation in our church.”

As a mission statement defines your church, it also helps to distinguish your church from other congregations around you. Lots of churches within a few miles of your building believe Jesus is the Christ or respect the authority of Scripture. Unless you expect people to make a church choice based on little more than denominational affiliation or preacher-preference, it’s important to define your direction and emphasis in a manner that differentiates you from other congregations. For too long, we have allowed this differentiation to be a negative thing (“We’re better than them.” “We are right and they are wrong.”) A mission statement gives you a way to differentiate your church in a positive way (“Here is our primary calling and emphasis. Other churches are called to different ministries. You have to decide where you want to plug into the kingdom.”)

7. Mission statements build consensus

Many churches are (to all intents and purposes) divided into ministry factions. Because the focus of the church is fractured, often the unity of the church is similarly fractured. We may not be crowing, “I am of Cephas … I am of Apollos … I am of Paul” (as in 1 Corinthians), but we are often pledging allegiance to a particular foreign mission effort, a church school, an urban poor initiative, small groups, or any one of dozens of ministry initiatives. Different ministries vie for the resources, volunteers, and attentions of the church as a whole. A ministry waxes and wanes according to the passion level of its most ardent champion rather than the ministry’s kingdom effectiveness or its contribution to the overall goals of the church.

Ministry statements offer a way to build a sense of consensus in a church and among its members by focusing the church and aligning its various ministries on the goal of furthering that focus.

Let me give an example: I know a church where a high percentage of the members are involved in the medical profession—doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, pharmacists, dentists, and opticians. Taking God’s gifting seriously, recognizing that God has gathered these particular members with these particular skills together as a church for a reason, the church lives out its commitment to Christ by focusing on ministries related to the medical field. They use the vocabulary of health and healing, sickness and wellness, in speaking of the spiritual life. They do blood drives, fitness clinics, and seminars on caring for terminally ill family members in their building. They run a free clinic in a poor section of town—supplied, staffed, and managed by their own people. They do a medical missions trip every summer—performing surgery, pulling teeth, giving screening exams—to a remote area of Guatemala.

To protect this focus, there are some things this church doesn’t do. It doesn’t do divorce recovery groups or job skills training or literacy classes—there are other nearby churches that provide these ministries. It doesn’t send money to missionaries in France or support preaching training in the South Pacific. It doesn’t offer correspondence courses or build houses for the poor or host a daycare in its facility. These are all good works and worthy of support. And all are part of the ministry efforts of other churches in the area. But these good and worthy efforts are not given emphasis in this church … they don’t fall within this congregation’s understanding of its God-given mission. These other missions—good as they are—are not allowed to compete with the church’s primary mission and dilute the church’s focus.

And what if you want to join this church but you don’t have a medical background? Welcome! But this church won’t start a new ministry initiative just to gain your membership. It will ask you to identify skills and gifts that can contribute to the goals and focus the church has already set. If you have a marketing skill set, use it to publicize the free clinic downtown. If you have construction or project management abilities, use them to plan the Guatemala mission trip and set up facilities for examinations and minor surgery. If children are your thing, find a way to work with the kids who come to the inner-city clinic.

This overriding sense of mission can build ministry consensus in a church. We don’t have competing ministries … we have various means of furthering the same end. We don’t have ministry “siloes,” functionally separate from each other, and independently staffed, budgeted, and operated. We have “aligned” ministries, focused on the same goal, cooperating with each other (supporting and enhancing each other) to accomplish God-given business. And ministries do not take on a life of their own … they have continued purpose and life to the degree that the help the church achieve the mission God has given it to do.

[Read the first article in this series.]

[Read the next article in this series.]