April 01, 2010

Mission Fade

I have been crystal clear in my mind about the direction of both my life and the organizations I have been called to lead. I knew when I said “yes” years ago to be on mission with God that I was created to help every day people turn into spiritually passionate Christ-followers. Over the years this has been said in numerous ways but the message has never changed, people finding Jesus and falling in love with Him in an all consuming way.

I have been a part of the process of protecting mission/vision. Transferring mission and vision is a much more difficult process than a leader anticipates. It is easy to rush through mission/vision sharing before many actually own the mission. Plans to allow people to hear the heart of the mission are easily abandoned for more pressing needs. By virtue of this, others define terms, clarify ideas and bring new components to the original mission.
Bill Hybels in his book, Axiom, has a chapter in which he discusses the idea that vision leaks. People need to have their vision buckets filled on a regular basis. He reminds us as leaders that those whom we lead have lives that are full and hectic. The lives they lead create opportunities for vision to leak.

I am learning a similar axiom. I have seen this axiom at work - “mission fades”. When a mission is new and well defined, it has a sparkling clarity like a glass of water. Try this, take a clear glass and fill it with water, Notice how you can see through the water clearly. Now take some food coloring and drop one drop of color in the water. Now add a drop of another color and then another. Notice how with each drop the water changes. The smaller drop reforms the appearance of the larger glass of water. Those additions do nothing to increase the clarity, in fact, over time they eventually eliminate any clarity.

I have learned that mission can suffer the same impact as you add people to the equation. If you do not carefully transfer the mission to people, they will bring their own version or another mission altogether. This cloudiness will ultimately kill the organization. In the beginning of an organization there is a high level of clarity about the mission. It is easy to assume, however, that mission will naturally give birth and reproduce itself. Leaders can spend too little time carefully articulating and transferring the mission that God had so clearly stamped on their heart. With each person who joins the movement of any organization one of two things happen. They hear, receive and own the mission of the movement or they bring their own definition of a mission into the mix and begin the process of fading out the clarity of the original mission.

As leaders we have the responsibility of caring for mission so that it does not become cloudy and dull. Without the proper attention it will lose it’s clarity. Over time it will not seem fresh and compelling. Without careful attention it breaks down as others begin to reinterpret the mission.

I have observed that this does not happen in broad strokes. It is subtle and almost imperceptible. It is not very likely that someone will be able to cause the movement to make a radical departure from the course. It is far more likely that they simply add a definition or nuance to the mission that never existed.

Jesus modeled for us how we should battle mission fade. A read through the Gospels will show how he is constantly reminding those who follow him of the mission. (Luke 19:10 - “The Son of man has come to seek and to save the lost,” John 10:10 - “I have come that you might have life...,” Matthew 19:12 - “...it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”) Jesus speaks publicly, privately, individually, formally and informally about mission. He carefully rebukes those who come with their drops of redefinition. At one point he says to Peter “get behind me Satan” - Mark 8:33. He constantly guards the sparkle and clarity of the mission.

In my context I am learning to apply some simple principles to keep mission fresh and clear.

  1. I am constantly working to ensure that the mission is stated in the clearest and simplest form. I then place that statement in public places within my organization.
  2. I am constantly working with myself and leadership to be sure that mission is not simply a statement we find in our files, but it is so in our minds and hearts that we naturally without hesitation can communicate it.
  3. I am working to establish regular contexts in which I challenge leaders to reexamine and think critically about the mission and all of it’s implications. I welcome their questions and challenges.
  4. I am consciously reminding myself that mission will not automatically transfer to others. If I do not deliberately lead those joining our organization to understand our mission, they will bring their own nuance and mission will be in jeopardy.
  5. I am looking for every way possible to teach and reteach mission. I will build messages to point us to the mission. Small groups will discuss our mission. Specific classes and experiences will be offered to expose people to higher levels of understanding. Articles, blogs and papers about the mission will be written.

There have been times when I failed to pay attention to this axiom, “mission fades”, and it proved costly. I am learning from such times. Fortunately, I have also experienced the power of focused clear mission. From both positive and negative experiences, I have learned to take very seriously my responsibility as the leader to protect against mission fade.

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