Entrusted with the Mission
Without intentionality and accountability, capital “M” Mission drift will happen.
Leaders play a vital role in stewarding an organization’s God-given mission. With the support of their boards, leaders must build awareness, model humility, and take practical steps to avoid drifting from their Christ-centered Mission.
Ignorance is Not Bliss
If you ask other leaders about Mission drift, you may hear one of these responses:
- “I had no idea”
- “Why are we talking about this? Is there a problem? Are we drifting right now?”
- “If it’s inevitable, what can an organization do to avoid it?”
- “I think we’re doing pretty well in this area. Not a priority for us.”
The most concerning response, however, is “that would never happen to us.” If we believe drift would never happen to our organization, we may be the most likely to succumb to it.
God’s Word is clear: “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1, ESV) and “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (I Pet. 5:8, ESV)
When leaders ignore the risk of drift, inaction and a lack of accountability follow.
Awareness and humility are essential to counteract our tendency to ignore this risk. When leaders ignore the risk of drift, inaction and a lack of accountability follow. We naturally drift from our best intentions to the perceived path of least resistance. Even among kingdom-minded leaders and organizations, drift is only a matter of time without intentionality and ongoing accountability.
Leaders Steward the Mission
Leaders must own the battle against Mission drift.
At any given time, organizations are only one leadership transition away from Mission drift. Because of this reality, boards must recruit future leaders and fellow members who will champion an organization’s Christ-centered ambitions. To fulfill its role as guardian of the Mission, a board must constantly encourage management toward Mission fulfillment.
If board members are guardians of the Mission, leaders are its stewards. Leaders promote and execute the Mission day in and day out. They galvanize teams and donors around the Mission. They establish the corporate culture to reinforce the Mission and values.
Leaders are entrusted, even if only for a season, to advance the Mission. In their tenure, they can strengthen the organization’s foundation so it will flourish for generations of leaders to come.
Preventing Drift in Your Organization
Leaders engage in many activities to advance the Mission and organizational culture. They must remain forward-looking, considering the long-term impact of today’s actions.
Leaders can establish boundaries to help their teams keep potential pressures to drift in check. Mission-focused guardrails and guidance can staff save time and effort from even exploring drift-inducing opportunities.
A desire to meet goals, fill open positions, or alleviate financial shortfalls can lead organizations to compromise on Mission-influencing issues. Mission drift can also happen when leaders give greater attention to their work than to their personal relationship with the Lord.
As leaders and boards seek to advance the Mission, they can increase their own sensitivity to what drift looks like in their organizations. While specific definitions of drift will vary, drift is most often observed in an organization’s people, programs, and funding.
Attracting competent, Mission-aligned individuals who are the right fit is more difficult than hiring for competencies alone. Leaders may justify the need to prioritize competencies, especially if they have had difficulty filling a role, or if they have experienced poor performance from Christian colleagues in the past. Compromising to fill a role can have a tremendous organizational cost.
One former leadership team member shared how an organization’s “push for professionalism” led them to hire a director with questionable character. Over time, the culture shifted from its Christian focus, eventually resulting in misreporting and other difficult issues. A complete change in leadership was required to turn the office around and regain donors’ trust.
- How well do current hiring and board recruitment practices evaluate candidates’ desire to champion the Mission?
- Are leadership development and succession plans in place to develop the next generation of leaders?
- Are board development activities supporting members in deepening their understanding of the organization and its Mission?
It is all too easy for organizations to overextend themselves programmatically.
William F. Meehan and Kim Starkey Jonker, authors of Engine of Impact (Stanford Business Books, 2017) share, “Mission creep can spread an organization so thin and so wide that it is no longer able to effectively serve its core goals. … Nonprofits routinely extend themselves… expanding their programs far beyond their core competencies—and no one raises an eyebrow.” They add, “if anything, focus is more important for nonprofits than for businesses,” due to resource constraints found in nonprofits.
- Is your organization good at saying “no” to activities that would distract from its primary Mission?
- Is your team currently operating above its capacity?
- Given team capacity, are your goals reasonable or is greater focus needed in this season?
Organizations can go off Mission because they fear losing funding or they feel that they must be flexible to attract funding. Staff, including those sincerely motivated by the Mission, often pursue funding opportunities that will ultimately tempt them to abandon activities central to their Mission. In grants, reporting, or marketing, organizations will overstate or understate certain dimensions of the work to please donors. This inconsistency in communications, specifically sharing about the organization’s efforts to share the love of Christ in word and deed, can lead to internal division and Mission drift. Leaders must provide clear communication and funding boundaries to maintain Mission alignment.
- In presentations, proposals, and regular marketing activities, how consistent is the organization’s messaging in light of your Mission and context?
- What percentage of current funders are supportive of the capital “M” Mission?
- Pay extra attention to the Mission alignment of your top ten funding sources.
Guidance and Guardrails
In the areas of people, programs and funding, leaders provide guidance and guardrails to inform decision-making. This ensures that all stakeholders are equipped to preserve and advance the Mission in alignment with organizational values.
Mission-advancing guidance and guardrails will vary across organizations. An organization serving in a Christian-minority context with security concerns will need different communication boundaries than those located elsewhere.
While policy alone is not enough to deter drift, it allows organizations to establish boundaries that enable stakeholders at all levels to focus. As a result, they can more easily say “no” to misaligned opportunities.
Build a Mission-Driven Culture
Ongoing reinforcement from leadership is essential in providing Mission clarity. Mission-driven leaders work constantly to cultivate Mission-advancing cultures. This includes regular guidance and reinforcement of policies and practices related to recruiting, hiring, and staff, leadership or board development.
Mission-driven leaders work constantly to cultivate Mission-advancing cultures.
To remain on Mission, it is paramount for organizations to attract, develop and retain individuals who will champion the Mission going forward. Before bringing prospective staff and board members onto the team, they should show evidence of this passion for the Mission.
Ultimately, an organization stays on Mission when its people are aware of and aligned with the Mission.
Leaders direct the organization’s culture and language to reflect and reinforce the Mission. They also encourage consistent Mission alignment across functions. Over time, a strong articulation of the Mission will reinforce itself as it attracts stakeholders who are passionate about the capital “M” Mission. It will also help to filter out potential board members, staff, and funders who would not champion the Mission.
Cultivate your Organization's Eternal Impact
While organizations will never eliminate the potential for Mission drift, it is possible to build organizational cultures that cultivate a Christ-centered legacy. Leaders can mitigate drift from what matters most through the following strategies:
- Define: Articulate the capital “M” Mission God has given to advance his kingdom through the organization. Then, define what Mission drift is and is not.
- Protect: Integrate the Mission throughout your organization’s documented policies and processes to reinforce the desired eternal impact.
- Champion: Rally the board and staff around the organization’s Christ-centered ambitions. Invest in the development of the board, future leaders, and the culture.
- Abide: Practice daily rhythms of connecting with Christ and engage in regular biblical community. Remain humble, remembering that all people are prone to drift.
Peter Greer, president & CEO of HOPE International and author of Mission Drift (Bethany House, 2014) shared this thought with me: “It’s not if we are drifting, but where are we drifting?” He encourages regular “mission audits” so leaders and boards increase awareness and proactively mitigate Mission drift. These assessments evaluate how people, policies, and practices align with Mission.
Ongoing support and accountability are critical. Connecting regularly with other leaders and engaging in likeminded communities can provide encouragement, inspiration, and practical advice as you continue on this journey.
Becca Spradlin is the founder of On Mission Advisors, a Christ-centered consulting practice that helps leaders define, protect, and champion what matters most to maximize their organization’s eternal impact. She co-authored The Mission True Workbook (2020) with the authors of Mission Drift to equip leaders with practical steps to keep their organizations from drifting. Connect with her via LinkedIn, email email@example.com, and follow On Mission Advisors to continue the conversation.