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Don’t Call it a Mission Statement

Don’t Call it a Mission Statement

The Dangerous “What if?”

What might happen if you named those things that you really long to do? Those things that you’d give anything to spend the rest of your life doing? Those things that you’d pour yourself into if money was no object? What if you asked the big “What if?” Yep, I just went there.

Why don’t we go there? Why don’t we give ourselves permission to dream big? Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll never get there. Maybe we wonder if there’s any point in naming things that seem like they’ll never be. Maybe somewhere along the line someone told us to pull our head out of the clouds and get serious about things. For whatever the reason, we often find ourselves with our heads down, pushing forward to persevere.

Now let me warn you. I’m about to say something that will turn off, annoy, irritate a few of you. I know, because it did the same thing to me the same time I heard it. I bristle at business language and corporate jargon, and this might smack of that, but I assure you there’s some good in it. Are you ready?

“Every effective leader must have a clear, articulated personal mission for their life and ministry.”

It’s a specific, definable mission statement that captures your unique gifting, passion, and calling in life. Without it, the temptation to drift, to become distracted, to spread yourself too thin is overwhelming.

Did you bristle? I know I did when I first heard someone say it to me. I had been wrestling with God for months and found myself sitting in a pastor-friend’s office looking for some advice. I had been stuffing down thoughts, questions, and feelings that were shaking me from a good position as a Youth Pastor in a great church. I loved my church. I loved these people, and yet I felt God nudging me to something outside of that comfort zone. And so here I was, sitting in a pastor’s office,  looking for a friend to fix it.

My pastor friend didn’t really offer to fix anything that day, but he did ask permission to walk with me over the next few months in order to seek clarity and discernment about this thing that God was revealing. I was relieved to have someone with me in the struggle, and I was excited to finally have a sense of direction. So you can imagine my confusion/frustration when at our next meeting, he started out by asked for my personal mission statement…

“My what?  I’m not Chick-Fil-A. You can’t define me with a stupid paragraph. Nobody puts baby in a corner! ” (Okay, I didn’t say any of that, but a few of those thoughts may have cross my mind.)

He explained that the process of writing a personal mission statement was a way of unpacking what it is that I wanted my life to stand for. It would be an expression of who I am, something naturally breathed out of me, not an arbitrary slogan to hang on the wall, not a box to cram myself in. It would be an act of naming the purpose God wove into my soul when He formed me. He asked me to journal for a few days on three specific questions, to sit with and explore them, and as I wrote, to continually distill them down to one clear, concise sentence. Here were the three questions:

  1. If you could do anything, what would you want to do?
  2. If you could work with anyone, who would you want to work with?
  3. And as a result of that work with those people, what would you want to see happen?

A Journey of Naming

I sat with those questions for a few days and got stuck, tried again, felt like I got a little closer but not quite, and then started all over again. I chewed on it, mused about it, tinkered with the language, and I was surprised to find that this slow, intentional process was bringing tremendous clarity to many different areas in my life. Beyond vocation and calling, it touched on identity, relationships, family history, etc. I had unknowingly been put on a journey of naming some things that were always a part of me that I had never put words to before.

In the past, when someone would ask about my mission, I always gave a quick respond with something that was theologically sound, abstract, and frankly, deeply impersonal. I’d dismiss the question and offer some variation on “My life is about glorifying God and making disciples of Jesus.” While theologically correct, and in a very broad sense completely true, those words felt incredibly detached from my experience in the moment.

By the time I finished the exercise a few weeks later, I had a lot of journal notes filled with sentences scratched out, many rabbit trails had been explored and abandoned, and I ended up with a statement that got to the heart of what God was revealing in my life. But afterwards, I felt like there was an awkward baby in my arms. Is this thing for real? Is this thing for me? What do I do with it?

In the weeks that followed,  I sat with it, shared it with friends over coffee, and thought more about how it would look to live it out, and began to feel as if it reflected my DNA more and more. It was what I wanted to be about, and it was an expression of how God had wired and prepared me.

I found it incredibly freeing.

If this was what I’m about and what God was calling me to do, then there were a lot of other things that I wasn’t about and that God wasn’t calling me to do. There was freedom to be who I was and to not be who I wasn’t. I began sensing peace when saying “no” to random requests or opportunities that came along instead of sensing guilt for not being completely available. I found myself excited to explore new ways of living this mission out, giving myself permission to dive deep into activities and relationships that were clearly connected to that purpose. And ultimately, God used the language of that mission statement to help provide a framework for both a healthy transition in ministry and the launching of a new stage of vocation.

Perhaps you still bristle at the idea of a “mission statement.” That’s okay, don’t call it a mission statement, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore some key insights for your life and ministry. Let me invite you to take on a little challenge. Carve out thirty minutes and journal through the three questions for yourself. You may find the experience surprisingly revealing. Through the ideas you are able to name on paper and the ideas you find yourself rejecting, you might learn more about yourself as a leader, minister, and follower of Christ.

  1. If you could do anything, what would you want to do?
  2. If you could work with anyone, who would you want to work with?
  3. And as a result of that work with those people, what would you want to see happen?
Aaron Brown
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Aaron Brown is an Assistant Professor of Student Ministry at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. He attended Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Before coming to LBC, he was the Sr. High Director at Living Word Community Church in Red Lion, PA. Aaron serves as the Project's editor and web guy.