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On Mission Statements (Why Waste Time On ~)

In another article, I talked about our new mission statement (“Sharing the Life of Christ”). I’ll be saying more about it later, but first I wanted to answer the obvious question: “Why a mission statement?” Mission statements are infamous wastes of time. People sit around hashing them out, they’re announced with great fanfare, and then, most of the time, they’re abducted by aliens and we never see them again. So why bother?

Chip and Dan Heath pass along an example of a mission statement. In it, Herb Kelleher, the longest-serving CEO of Southwest Airlines, explains his company’s mission to be “THE low-fare airline”:

“Tracy from marketing comes into your office. She says her surveys indicate that the passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts, and she thinks a nice chicken Caesar salad would be popular. What do you say?”

[The interviewer] stammered for a moment, so Kelleher responded: “You say, ‘Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we’re not serving any [expletive] chicken salad.'”

—from Made to Stick, p. 29

In the case of Southwest Airlines, there’s nothing wrong with the Caesar salad. It’s a good idea, and the customers would like it. But it doesn’t help Southwest achieve its purpose, so they don’t do it. We have a mission statement because we can’t do it all either.

We’re a small church in a small community and we have very real constraints. We have a small staff. (That would be me. My doctor says it wouldn’t hurt if I were 20 lbs smaller still, but that’s another discussion.) Our church has a number of wonderful people who help out in all kinds of ways, but there are only so many of us, and everyone has other things going on in their life in addition to what they’d like to do at church. Our budget is finite, and so are our facilities: seating and parking and so forth.

Since we can’t do it all, the mission statement reminds us what we’re trying to do. Our mission is to share the life of Christ. There are lots of places we can do that: in worship, in fellowship, in spiritual growth, and in evangelism and works of compassion. And there are lots of ways to share the life of Christ. But the methods and places are tactical. However good those things are in themselves, they are not our ultimate end, but only means to it.

The Apostle Paul wrote about how he had “become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22). But that wasn’t his mission. He didn’t do that because he thought God wanted him to be a chameleon. What Paul said was, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” His mission was to save some people. He was willing to be a chameleon to do so, so he became all things and used all means to carry out his mission.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. If our mission is to share the life of Christ, what are some things we do that advance our mission? What are some things about our church that are like chicken Caesar salad: not bad, but not helping us carry out our mission? What changes could we make to them so they did help us share the life of Christ?

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