Do It First, Write It Later: A New Approach to Mission Statements

I’ve heard for years that a mission statement is like the steering wheel on a car. I think it’s more like the direction signal. It’s a helpful tool to let others know what we’re planning to do, but it doesn’t take us anywhere.

(An important aside: A mission statement is not the same as a doctrinal creed or statement of faith. If a mission statement is like the directional signal on a car, a doctrinal creed is like guardrails on a mountain highway. The first one tells others where we’re going. The second keeps us from steering ourselves off a cliff.)


The Pattern Jesus Gave Us

The Apostle Paul told us, 1 Corinthians 4:20” href=”” target=”_blank”>For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.”

I believe Paul took that nugget of wisdom from the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus was the greatest wordsmith who ever lived, but he was a doer first.

Take Jesus’ mission statements as an example. We know them as the Matthew 28:19-20” href=”″ target=”_blank”>Great Commission and the Mark 12:28-31” href=”″ target=”_blank”>Great Commandment. (Leadership Consultant’s note to Jesus: “Having two mission statements is confusing. Pick one or the other and trim it down to 10 words or less.”)

If Jesus had followed common church leadership wisdom, he’d have written those statements on scrolls or small rocks to give to everyone as soon as they became a disciple. He’d have repeated them in every talk he gave and he would have surprised his followers with a pop quiz at random moments to be sure they could recite them by heart.

Instead, the Great Commandment wasn’t even initiated by Jesus. He didn’t focus-group it. He didn’t even go on a prayer retreat to design the wording. It was an in-the-moment answer to a question Matthew 22:34-40” href=”″ target=”_blank”>from a lawyer trying to trip him up. If the teachers of the law hadn’t hated Jesus so much that they tried to trick him, would this statement—likely the most important words Jesus ever spoke—ever have been uttered by him?

Like most of what he said, these critical words of Jesus were generated from living a life of mission first, on the streets, among his friends and enemies. Actions always came first. Jesus’ statements were a natural byproduct of his ministry, not the source of it.

Likewise, the Great Commission wasn’t trumpeted to the disciples at every opportunity, either. While it’s important enough for some version of it to appear in all four Gospels and the book of Acts, Jesus seems to have only said it once. After his entire earthly ministry was over, right before he ascended into heaven.

How did he and the disciples ever get anything accomplished without those words constantly in front of them? Apparently Jesus believed doing it should come before saying it.

Jesus’ pattern of acting first, talking later was probably what inspired Paul to write the above verse about power being more important than talk. We need to apply that wisdom to our churches as well. I don’t think I’m doing injustice to Paul’s words by paraphrasing him this way—The work of Christ in the church isn’t brought about by our words, but by our actions.

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Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors