My first Taylor University board meeting started as anticipated. A fresh cup of hot coffee, black and strong. A prayer for the outcomes and leading of the Spirit over the next two and a half days, and then roll call. We’re all here. I’ve read the material provided, have my notes and questions prepared and am ready to dive in and make a contribution to this great organization. What came next, however, threw me off guard.
“Please stand as we recite the mission of Taylor University together.”
Oh my ... do I know it well enough? Do I know it at all? Fortunately after being the audit partner for 15 years, it was sort of familiar, but it was not something I had memorized. So I did the best I could as the rest of the board members proudly recited:
“The mission of Taylor University is to develop servant leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ’s redemptive love and truth to a world in need.”
- Develop servant leaders
- Marked with a passion to minister
- Christ’s redemptive love and truth
- To a world in need
Four short but powerful phrases, and they inform everything we do. We as board leaders know this well and are so vested in accomplishing this mission, we start every meeting by reciting the mission statement.
You want to maintain vision and focus? Try getting your board to be so vested in accomplishing the mission they can recite the mission statement at will. Taylor University has maintained that focus and vision since 1846.
But what happens when outside influences pull you away from that mission? Today in most Christian colleges like Taylor, the federal government funds more than half of the cash flow that comes in to the university through student loans and other federal financial aid. Does the federal government have a different idea about what kind of place Taylor ought to be as an institution of higher education? Are they out of sync with our mission? Would they prefer a more secular approach to running a college? As they say in Minnesota ... you betcha!
How does the pressure to conform to secular standards affect mission accomplishment? It does so by dictating the type of people we hire, the types of students we accept and the processes we use to maintain an orderly campus through regulations.
“How is your board protecting your vision and mission?”
Some argue nonconformity with the federal government’s secular standards would result in a loss of funding. But we care so much about the mission to develop servant leaders that we as a board and administration are actively seeking ways to enable survival without the help of the federal government. It’s not going to be an easy task. It will require creativity and the sacrifice of many, but we refuse to compromise the vision we have been given. It is God breathed.
If Taylor University is an example of a Christian organization that’s proactively working to avoid mission drift, are there examples of organizations that have drifted over time? YES!
Does this mission statement look familiar?
“Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him.”
I am sure it’s not ringing bells for you. Would you be surprised to know this was the mission statement of Harvard University stated in their Rules and Precepts document in 1646?
How about one more?
“To assert a faith, in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ the Son of God; to advance learning in all lines of truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and truth; to promote a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the state, the nation and the church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of the University always be administered.”
This was the mission statement of Duke University as found in their Aims statement in 1903 and reaffirmed in 1924.
Time and the lack of proactive board leadership resulted in both of these institutions straying far from the original intent. Both schools are icons of American higher education, but they lost their way.
In the book “Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities and Churches” by Peter Greer and Chris Horst, Excellence in Giving President Al Mueller is quoted as saying, “It’s the board. It’s all about the board. Everything hinges on them.”
For Mueller, staying true to your vision and mission starts and ends with the men and women sitting on the board. Greer and Horst write, “They set policy, guide strategy, and manage the senior executive. They govern the organization. But even more, they protect the mission. Board members are guardians.”
How is your board protecting your vision and mission? Don’t let the passage of time and the influence of culture sway you from your God-given vision and mission.
Nick Wallace is a member of BKD National Not-for-Profit Group, BKD National Governmental Group and BKD National Higher Education Group. He has more than 30 years of experience providing audit and advisory services to private colleges, schools, churches, social service agencies and other not-for-profit organizations. He provides advisory services to private college boards and top administrators and oversees audit engagements. Learn more at www.bkd.com.