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5 Keys to Avoid Mission Drift

Today I will continue to unpack the top issues planters face according to interviews with church planting leaders and planters. The interviews were done in conjunction with Todd Wilson of Exponential. Be sure to read here for prior installments for the sample, methods, and background.

One recurring theme was around the church plant losing sight of their direction. Respondents expressed vision casting and avoiding mission drift in several different ways. Eliminating pressure from “churched” people; navigating distractions from “good ideas”; making decisions consistent with mission; defining priorities for growth; and balancing evangelism and discipleship (Issue #6) were challenges leaders confronted to avoid mission drift.

Here are five key considerations:

  1. Clarity — The concept of “drift” implies leaving a clearly defined and understood standard. Planters should not assume that because their expectations are clear and compelling in their minds that they are clearly understood by the rest of the team.
  2. Core Values — Most planters have a strong sense of mission and vision that drives them. These same planters often have less clarity about their core values that shape what they do and how they do it (the compass that guides their north direction). Will Mancini described the task of what he called “High Definition Leadership” as “constantly bringing the most important things to light.” [Will Mancini, Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008, p. 52]
  3. Mission, Vision, and Values — The pre and post launch phases are vital to establishing core values that create a strong foundation. Although not explicitly articulated in their responses, it appears planters tend to confuse or interchange what most people refer to as the concepts of vision (dream of preferred future state), mission (corresponding activity) and values (non-negotiable principles). The result is a lack of personal clarity internally before the external challenges that cause mission drift begin.
  4. Ministry Philosophy — Mission, vision, values and leadership culture form the foundational elements of a plant’s philosophy of ministry. Ideally, a planter’s ministry philosophy is clearly defined before starting. However, for many planters, it is a work in progress. As a consequence, the philosophy of ministry can be more influenced by negative shaping factors such as scarcity culture, “church people” on the team, and peer comparisons. In Planting Missional Churches, I call this danger “vision hijacking.”
  5. Non-Negotiables — Most planters do not have the capacity, financial resources or team needed to develop a comprehensive strategy. Instead they narrow their focus to 3 to 5 “table banging” priorities they will be “mean” about in the early days of the church. The limited number of priorities becomes the filter for saying “yes and no” to ministry initiatives and is vital for avoiding drift.

Although I have not been prescriptive in these blogs I do recommend taking a look at Will Mancini’s free Clarity Quiz to help you continue to assess your work. Accountability through networking is vital to address every issue planters face. Sadly too many planters try to make it alone reading books and websites. A great opportunity to network is coming in Orlando in April. The Exponential Conference will provide numerous next level opportunities for church planters. The conference is coordinated by my partner in this top issues project, Todd Wilson (Director ofExponential). I hope to see you there. You can read the rest of the series here. My next blog will address issue #6: Balancing Evangelism and Discipleship.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is the Dean of Talbot School of Theology at Biola Univeristy and Scholar in Residence & Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Dr. Stetzer is the host of "The Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast," and his national radio show, "Ed Stetzer Live," airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.