Avoiding Mission Drift

From Harvard’s Diploma

Here is a test question: what institution of higher education had as its mission statement, “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ?” No, not Dallas Seminary nor Wheaton College. It’s Harvard! Can you believe it? It’s far from that today. As a recent president of the university admitted, “Things divine have been central neither to my professional nor my personal life.” The only hints remaining are the words on their diplomas, which read: Veritas Christo Et Ecclesiae, which means “Truth for Christ and the Church.” It had been primarily a training school for ministers. Today as a secular school with no denominational affiliation, Harvard has drifted far from its original mission, but it’s easy to do. *

It’s like watching your younger children on a beach on the Outer Banks. They are having fun, jumping and diving in the big waves, but you have to take into account the current. Because it you don’t, they will slowly move down the beach out of sight. They won’t even know it, so every few minutes you have to yell out to them and wave them back in front of your spot on the beach.

The Waves on the Outer Banks

As the currents of society and the world around us swirl and change, so its easy to change with it. Like an ocean it’s so slow and imperceptible, we don’t even see the movement. And before we know it, the basic things have changed completely.

Like any organization, the church can suffer mission drift as well. Though I don’t know of any churches that wouldn’t identify themselves as churches, there are many whose mission has subtly changed over time. Think of churches that in their early years before the American Revolution were founded or flourished because of the Great Awakening. Now over two hundred years later their main work is no longer proclaiming the gospel, but speaking of feeding the poor, correcting injustice and other issues of society. These are good things, but where is the preaching of the gospel that was their main mission? Some would respond by saying, “Those things are the gospel.” And they make my point!

Drifting Off Course

Even in churches of the 20th century, it’s easy to drift. Maybe we haven’t devised a new mission, but have we lost enthusiasm for the old one? Do we still operate with the fire of the founders? Do we do the same things in the same way but aren’t really sure why? Even a generation later, the sense of the mission can fade considerably.

Like any good organization that wants to stay true to its purpose, it’s got to be waved back to its original position. Preaching should do that, but even more the leaders of the church should periodically revisit its original documents based on scripture. What does the constitution say is the reason it exists? What is its doctrinal stand? Sometimes we take these for granted and that is when we are in danger. Every few years the church should recommit to its purpose because mission drift happens to the best of us.

* Ideas in this paragraph taken from Mission Drift, by Peter Greer and Chris Horst

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