Mission drift

August 12, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 16
Phil Wagler |

In the last couple decades, most churches caught the mission statement bug. To revisit, renew, or finally wrestle with a reason for being is crucial for any organism. As human beings we all eventually ask the big “why” of existence, so why should it be any different for groups of human beings?

Sometimes, however, these exercises in finding ourselves are just anxious navel-gazing and unnecessarily complicated. Sometimes we seek to discover the “new” when we should be recommitting ourselves to more faithfully steward what has been active long before we showed up. At the end of the day, as local churches or faith-based organizations, we’re really building upon a foundation with the materials necessary for our time and circumstance.  

We are free to build with all the new creativity we can muster, but if we mess with the foundation we become fundamentally flawed and create the haughty conditions for our own downfall. Rejecting foundations is the wickedness of the evil one. “Pride,” says the teacher, “goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18).

Authors Peter Greer and Chris Horst in Mission Drift highlight the need to labour long at remaining “mission true.” Surveying the stories of numerous organizations—including those like Harvard and the “Y” who have overtly abandoned their original mission—Greer and Horst note that mission true organizations know three big things:

  • Why they exist (remaining students of their history, values, and raison d’etre).
  • How to differentiate means from mission (understanding what can and cannot change).
  • How to change in order to reinforce the mission (not avoiding change, but pursuing it when it brings truer life to their values and purpose).

These three things should be humbly considered by every organization claiming roots in the Christian gospel. What might such an exercise reveal about how true we are remaining to what the Holy Spirit breathed into being? What might we discover about what we have been willing to change but shouldn’t have, and should have changed but didn’t?  

Anabaptists find their foundation in Scripture and confession. Menno Simons famously called the floundering congregations of northern Europe to 1 Corinthians 3:11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” That was a clarion call to steadfastness in a time when the foundation of Christian faith had disastrously shifted and the good news of the kingdom hung in the balance.  

Before Menno came along, the earliest Anabaptists rallied with one mind around the seven points of the 1527 Schleitheim Confession. It begins: “Baptism shall be given to those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ….”  

The significance of Menno’s foundation and the Schleitheim Confession cannot be understated. They still call those in their spiritual lineage to Christ-centeredness, repentance, demonstrated obedience to the teachings of Jesus, disciple-making community, and fully surrendered lives that for Jesus’ sake perpetuate and participate in no religious or secular evil.

This is the foundation we build on and steward in our time. It is dangerous to disregard either, and folly to think faithfulness means living in the past. Which brings us back to those three big things for remaining “mission true.” Is it time to apply these before we drift too far?


Phil Wagler lives in Surrey, BC and is author of Kingdom Culture (phil_wagler@yahoo.ca).

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Good job Phil, I wish all anabaptist denominations believed what you do. I recently had to stop going to one church because the new pastor was teaching Genesis 1 has nothing to do with material orgins. Another teacher/author who also teaches within the same denomination gloats about the denomination giving up on the inerrancy of scripture debate.

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