Learning from North Point, part 3

The next thing I want to bring up can best be approach by considering again NPCC’s mission statement: “The mission of North Point is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We accomplish this by creating irresistible environments led by skilled staff and volunteer.”

The unique part of this mission statement, and a feature that permeates everything they do is the focus on “environments.” I’ll have more to say about them later. The goal to “lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ” is quite ordinary. It is the function equivalent of the United Methodist mission statement – “To make disciples of Jesus Christ,” – and other mega-churches (I think of Willow Creek’s mission: “To turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.”). In the past when I’ve concocted mission statements for churches I’ve always used some variant of the Great Commission, just like these other folks. Sure seems like the biblical approach, doesn’t it? But is it enough? Over the past couple of years I’ve started to think that it’s not.

The first problem, is that it’s highly individualistic. We’re about reaching individuals and helping them grow in Christ. Surely we are individuals, and surely we individuals need to enter a growing relationship with Jesus, but what about our other relationships?

The second thing I wonder about is the tendency to instrumentalize everything. That is, for every X that we do, we expect some Y to happen. We’re told that we need to have goals. Furthermore, we’re told that these goals need to be measurable. We can measure the number of people in our “environments.” But can we measure everything else? Can we measure “relationship?” I’m just not convinced that we can quantify and measure everything God wants us to do.

In spite of these reservations I’m still attracted to what NPCC and others are doing and to the making of mission statements. Too often in our traditional churches our de facto mission statements (regardless of what we put on the letterhead) is some variant of, “Our mission is to do what we’ve always done and to keep all the members happy.” I am very much attracted to the notion of asking WHY we do what we do. Now if we start asking WHY, we’ll soon find out that some of the things we’re doing aren’t done for any discernible reason and that others that we think we’re doing to accomplish X, really either accomplish Y or do absolutely nothing but expend money and get people tired.

We need to learn from NPCC that a mission needs to be clearly articulated, broadly communicated, commonly shared and consistently followed. Having a real mission statement is serious business because not only does the statement tell us what we do, it also tells us what we don’t do. When that kind of thinking comes into the traditional church where each of the “things we’ve always done” has its own constituency, change will be required. And we all know that change brings pain. The normal function of pain is to tell us to stop doing what we’re doing. You put your hand on the stovetop. You feel heat. You pull your hand off so you won’t get burned.

But there’s also a saying, “No pain, no gain.” What’s the difference? In the latter situation we have to go beyond the instinctual level and be able to identify some Good Thing that will not happen unless we work through the pain. We will never be educated unless we go through the pain of homework and long hours (and years) of study and work. We will never get a paycheck unless we go through the pain of getting up in the morning and going to work. We will never reach people who are not now followers of Christ unless we go through the pain of spending time with them, learning their “language” and how to express the Gospel in ways they understand, and sacrificing our comfort for their sake.

My guess is that our mission is something like, “Together we will exhibit the reality of the Kingdom of God so that people will be attracted to Jesus.” There is a measure of the quantifiable there. We do count people. Have you ever seen the Home Alone movies? Those are stories about a family that doesn’t count well and ends up leaving a person (their young son) out. We count because we don’t want to leave people out.

There’s also an element of the impossible in this conception of our mission. How do we exhibit the Kingdom of God? Well, it’s mostly by letting the Holy Spirit live in us and through us. As we together live a life that is unintelligible apart from the reality of God, the world will have reason to ask questions. The world understands excellence. The world understands growth. The world understands growing market share. The world understands proselytizing. The world doesn’t understand unconditional love and radical trust in and obedience to God. There’s just too much self-denial involved.

Though the idea of “exhibiting the Kingdom of God” isn’t quantifiable, we do need some way of identifying whether we’re actually doing it or not. More on that in future posts.

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