Mission and Vision

For many years churches had a "purpose" statement and that was that. Then, somewhere in the early '90s, a great distinction was raised between mission and vision (along with a fair amount of confusion - OK, a lot of confusion). Books were written to sort it all out. Some were helpful; others added to the confusion. I can just hear Jesus asking the Father, "Now Father, did you send me on a mission, or was that your vision?!" Pastors often ask: "Which idea is the mission?", "And if that is the mission what is the vision?", "Can you say it all in one phrase?", "Does the pastor declare the mission?", "Does the pastor declare the vision?", "What if he or she leaves, does the church start over?" And the list goes on.

I don't pretend to have the answer, but I will do a good job making a clear distinction between the two terms. We know that there are churches without a mission or vision statement that possess more clarity and focus than churches with either a mission or vision statement (sometimes both) and do little to live them out. Let's start with the difference between the two.

The Difference Between Mission and Vision

Vision: The vision is the dream of the pastor and church given by God; usually birthed in the pastor, but ultimately owned by the congregation. It's the fire, flavor and fuel that drives your unique expression of the Great Commission (the mission).

The significance of a vision:

1. A vision creates tremendous enthusiasm and energy in the present about the desired future of your church.
2. A vision captures and maximizes the special uniqueness about your church.
3. A vision draws people in and calls them to commitment and involvement.

The bottom line is that vision is leadership. No true leader is without vision. The vision may be for a new building, it may be for children's ministry, it may be for planting churches, it may be for the down and out...but it always drives your mission - the Great Commission.

Mission: The mission is the key ministry objective of the church. It is a comprehensive directive about who the church wants to reach and what the church desires to accomplish. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The significance of a mission:

1. A mission provides long-term direction and stability for the church.
2. A mission declares the church's core Biblical philosophy.
3. A mission captures the heart of your church's ministry.

The best kept secret about your church's Vision/Mission - is that it can be combined into one statement. And that is usually a good idea. The vision is the fire and the mission is the focus. Communicate your mission in one sentence. You can have two written statements, but my collective experience and observation would advise you to go for one. Some churches prefer a long, comprehensive vision statement and a shorter mission - but I find that most churches must work hard to get the congregation to digest, personalize, own and act on one thing, let alone two!

This next thought may be controversial for you. While the mission never changes (it can't by nature because it's your expression of a fixed mandate - Matthew 28:19-20), the vision can change. It doesn't change often and I certainly don't want to give you a license for the flavor of the month when it comes to direction in your church, but sometimes God can take you through different seasons of ministry. Perhaps you are in a season of building, or a season to plant churches, or a season of in-depth discipleship. Each of these would take years but nonetheless have a time of beginning and a time of ending. It's not uncommon for a new pastor to arrive at an older established/declining church and have a vision for a turn-around or complete re-vitalization. The mission is the same, but the vision reshapes the immediate future of the church. Again, it's the fire, flavor and fuel that drive the mission.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm not saying that your vision will change, only that it may. My friend Gerald Brooks, who pastors a large church in Plano, Texas, has never changed his vision to accomplish the Great Commission because of a new ministry intentionally designed to touch kids and teens. I can point to others who while their mission remains the same, for example, they had a season (10 years) in which their vision was all about planting and establishing the church they started. They are now sensing God's leading toward a season of relocation and multi-ethnic congregations. But the mission always remains the same.

It's also important not to make this complex. It can be as simple as a well-worded mission statement with your vision simply being a zealous passion to win your city for Christ.

So, let's say you are in agreement to have one written statement, and allow the vision to be the communication tool or focus that drives the mission. Why bother writing the mission statement down?

Like a small business, in a small church there is less need for a written mission statement. The operation is simple, the number of people is small, and everyone knows what they need to do. The smaller the church, the less of a need for this. The pastor can personally "remind" everyone what they are called to do on a regular basis.

However, as the church grows, it becomes more complex, good communication requires more effort and the necessary administration can cause the church to lose the cutting edge. The mission statement is one of the best tools to help keep everyone on track and moving in the same direction.

The benefits of a good mission statement:

1. It clarifies the focus. (What you do and why you do it.)
2. It fosters a sense of unity. ("We're all going in the same direction.")
3. It enhances creativity. (People begin to think with an expanded perspective, and outside their own personal area or department.)
4. It streamlines your effort and energy.
5. It simplifies decision making.
6. It serves as a solid promotional platform. (Advertising in and outside the church.)
7. It bolsters team spirit. (Everyone knows they are part of something big and special...literally a mission from God!)

A good mission statement is:

1. Short and to the point (One sentence is best.)
2. Easy to understand
3. Easy to memorize
4. Printed and referred to often
5. Something that matters to the people of the congregation

Seven tests of a great mission:

1. Does the Bible affirm it?
2. Does your budget reveal it?
3. Does your staff reflect it?
4. Do your ministries match it?
5. Does your congregation live it?
6. Does the pastor stick to it?
7. Are your plans to build in alignment with it?

Let me close by giving you a few of my favorite Mission Statements.

The first one belongs to Crossroads Community Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia where I serve. OK, I'm biased about this one! "To reach out to the spiritually unresolved, and to raise up wholehearted followers of Jesus Christ."

This second one belongs to North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA under Andy Stanley's leadership. "To lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ." Very solid.

Another one I just came across a couple weeks ago that I really like belongs to Dunwoody Community Church (Dunwoody, Georgia) where Jim Reiter is pastor. It reads: "Developing followers of Jesus who love God, love people and take the Gospel to the world." Pretty cool, huh?!

Looks like I've got "Georgia on my mind" - but rest assured the similarities you see in these three carry the same flavor as mission statements across the country. Say it however you want - just make it short, clear and stick with it. And above all, it's more important to live it than it is to word it perfectly.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com.