We are a publicly traded company, and cannot support an organization that is so overtly faith-based.
In the opening scenario of his upcoming book Mission Drift, Peter Greer (CEO of HOPE International) sits in the office of an oil executive on the top floor of a high-rise in Houston, being asked to “tone down” his organization’s Christian identity. This scene should feel familiar to anyone who has led a Christian non-profit. It hits home for me in particular because my own organization — Living Water International — is based in Houston, works with a number of oil and gas companies, and has faced the same choice many times.
Mission Drift establishes its premise early: the default direction of any Christ-centered organization is away from its Christian identity and mission. Stewarding that identity and mission takes intentional focus and faithfulness.
Greer, with co-author Chris Horst, researched dozens of organizations that have been around for 50+ years, raised significant funds, and demonstrated an overtly gospel-centric mission. They interviewed leaders of international and domestic nonprofits, educational institutions, foundations, and businesses. Although my own organization isn’t old enough to be included in this group (we’re just now going on 25), I can testify that much of what they learned applies across the board.
Some of the organizations profiled in Mission Drift have totally left behind their Christian roots—Harvard University, for instance, or Christian Children’s Fund (now ChildFund). If you’re not familiar with the histories of these institutions, you will be amazed to see how completely they have shifted from their original Christ-centered purposes; particularly when other organizations with similar origins have retained their distinctly Christian DNA.
I can think of many Christian organizations that have lost their spiritual commitment. I can’t think of one secular organization that has found its way to a Christian commitment
– Wess Stafford (former CEO of Compassion International)
Much of the book is an exploration of the forces and factors that can prevent (or accelerate) this kind of drift, particularly the need for “mission true” leaders to focus on the centrality of the gospel, and take specific steps to safeguard it.
Greer and Horst emphasize the special role board members have in stewarding organizational mission—an opinion I heartily affirm. Before my appointment to the board of one Christian organization, I was asked to explain how my faith informs my life and work; it was a question I appreciated, and one I will myself ask of new board members in the future.
Other practical concerns follow—how do “mission true” leaders set the cultural tone within an organization? How do they hire people who will guard the mission, and partner with donors who share their mission commitment? Then the book plows into a topic that gets me going every time: measurement.
Most organizations measure only what’s easy to count and track… financial growth, “people served,” or projects completed. For organizations concerned with an integral Christian mission, though, we have to find ways to measure the deeper transformation that is our reason for being—even if our metrics are imperfect. Why? Because what we don’t measure slowly becomes irrelevant.
As the book drives toward its conclusion, the authors of Mission Drift take on my own biggest pet peeve: organizations that use their Christian identity as an excuse to do shoddy, unprofessional work.
The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
– Martin Luther
God save us from “little crosses.” The fact that I have the word “excellence” in my job title may tip you off, but I too believe that our commitment to God should result in work of remarkable quality, to which others aspire.
If you are an experienced leader of a mission-centric organization, Greer and Horst will cover some familiar ground—echoes of conversations you have had with colleagues and peers over the years—but will help you identify some practical steps you may not come to on your own. If you’re an aspiring leader, here’s a chance for you to learn from an astonishing breadth of experience. Either way, pick up a copy of Mission Drift—you won’t regret it.
How do you or your organization stay “mission true?”.