Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

mission drift

Avoiding Mission Drift

It happens every day. I have a project or task in mind, put it on my schedule, get started on it, but then get distracted. My thoughts and then my actions drift off in another direction and I begin to work on another project instead. The same thing can happen to organizations. We call it “mission drift.” We have a stated purpose, but we are no longer doing what we said we are going to be doing.

Boundary markers

Over the years, I have adopted a few tools to get me back on track through the course of the workday. Keeping track of how I use my time on Toggl is one such tool. See also my blog post on “Deep Work.” I have also developed a few warning signs or boundary markers to prevent me from permanently drifting off course. My personal mission statement and my job description are two really important boundary markers. I review my alignment with these documents every quarter. My monthly goals prominently featured on my to-do list is another such boundary marker. What are the boundary markers for a non-profit organization to avoid mission drift?

Every non-profit organization (such as the mission agency to which I belong) has a mission statement. This mission statement gives the organization’s reason for existence, or in other words, what the organization does. For what purpose was this organization formed? SEND International’s mission statement is “to mobilize God’s people and engage the unreached in order to establish reproducing churches.”

Mission statements can change over time. But the governing body of the organization and, in our case. the entire membership needs to carefully consider and approve these changes. SEND International changed its mission statement in 2008 to focus its Gospel ministry more narrowly on those who had the least access to the Gospel – the unreached.

Kingdom Transformation

More recently, our mission leadership (of which I am a part) has adopted a theme of “kingdom transformation.”

For 75 years, sharing the good news of Jesus with those beyond the reach of any local church has been at the heart of SEND International. Carrying this legacy forward, we want to enhance and activate our proclamation of Jesus by dramatically increasing our transformational presence in the communities where we serve. Kingdom Transformation is a profound change based on love towards restoration in people’s spiritual, economic, social, physical, and behavioral conditions that bring the wholeness of God’s design for His creation.

SEND: The Next 75

Note that this theme of kingdom transformation does not represent a change in our mission statement. Our mission remains unchanged. We are still going to be mobilizing God’s people and engaging the unreached to establish reproducing churches. SEND wants this theme of kingdom transformation and the accompanying Kingdom Development Goals (KDGs) to strengthen that mission statement. We want to expand the locations in which we can work1 the countries in which the unreached are located generally do not give out missionary visas. We want to broaden the opportunities in which we can proclaim the Gospel. By addressing economic, social, and physical problems in communities, we will be gaining credibility in the community. In this way, we heighten our ability to accomplish our mission statement.

The dangers of mission drift

But our mission leadership clearly recognizes the danger of mission drift in adopting this new theme. Over time, we could become so preoccupied with helping people with their physical needs that we lose sight of our primary purpose of establishing reproducing churches. Of course, that is only one of the ways that we could get off track.

To help my organization think through the various possibilities of mission drift, I have suggested four boundary markers. These markers specifically address dangers related to adopting this new theme. Each marker is framed as a question that could help us determine whether we are still in alignment with our mission statement.

Not an exhaustive list

I am sharing these boundary markers on this blog, first of all, to help my own colleagues in SEND. I want all of us to recognize the signs that mission drift is happening. We want to make corrections before the drift becomes irreversible. By no means do I believe that this list of questions is an exhaustive list. Every new initiative or theme can provide opportunities or temptations to mission drift. Each one will need its own set of boundary markers.

Those of you in other organizations (or churches) will be seeking to follow other mission statements. Hopefully, my examples will spur you in developing your own set of boundary markers to help you avoid mission drift.

I will deal with only the first one in this blog post. Future blog posts will unpack the other three. But all four questions can be seen in the diagram below. The top side of the green arrow represents staying on track and avoiding mission drift. The bottom side arrows represent the four different ways that I have identified that we as an organization could move out of alignment with our mission statement.

mission drift
Four ways to get off track

Are we focused on the unreached?

The first sidetrack we must guard against is the temptation to focus on all who have physical and economic needs, without regard to whether they have access to the Gospel.

Many of the poorest countries in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique.2See The World’s Poorest Countries. But these countries have very sizeable evangelical populations, well over 10% of their total population. 3See JoshuaProject.net. Helping the poor in these countries would be commendable mission work – but maybe not for SEND International. Our mission statement focuses on those with the least access to the Gospel. So, if we were to send mission workers into these countries, we would need to focus on working with the unreached groups within the country. Probably, we would only do so if the evangelical church invited us to help them engage these unreached peoples.

Hence, we will need to continue to ask ourselves this question. In our efforts to bring Christ’s transforming presence into communities, are the people we are prioritizing those who have little or no access to the Gospel?” This is our first boundary marker against mission drift.

Stay tuned to this blog for a discussion of the other three boundary markers.

Previous

Paul Hiebert’s “Excluded Middle”

Next

Avoiding Mission Drift – part two

1 Comment

  1. Don Campbell

    Thanks Ken for addressing my concerns. The “Kingdom Now” movement is not biblical and the new statement sort of reflects that movement. Don Campbell

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