“Mission Drift” could very well be the title of a study of American history. It is the apt description, and often the epitaph, of many Christian organizations. It is hard to find a church, a Christian mission movement, or a Christian foundation that has both been around for a long time and that has not drifted away from its roots.
Mission drift can be a minor deviation, but going off the road even a little can be disastrous. Sadly, many cases are not minor deviations from the original intent of organizations. Instead, organizations often totally abandon the principles and goals of the founders.
We should never be surprised when weeds grow in a garden. It takes no special act, no careful planning, no deliberate intervention for this to happen. Years ago when we had a garden, we would take a vacation during the summer. When we returned, the garden was often gone. The same happens in institutions.
Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crises Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst is an outstanding study on the topic. This book is published by Bethany House Publishers. The authors give quite a few stories about organizations that got lured from their roots. Some drifters are prominent like Harvard College, which had as its mission statement for its students the following: “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” Accurately, at the 350th anniversary of the founding of Harvard, one academic leader said, “The bad news is the university has become godless.”
Another case study was the Christian Children’s Fund. Started as a Christian organization to help orphans, it continued to be focused on orphans, but totally abandoned its Christian roots. At least this organization honestly faced the way their mission had changed. In 2009, they changed their name to ChildFund International.
One of the overwhelming concerns about Christian organizations is money. I know, because I am pastoring a church and serving as headmaster of a Christian school. A million dollar donation (even a tenth of that) would be incredibly helpful to either organization. There is more to life and organization than money, as we know, but one person aptly said, “Money isn’t everything, but it ranks right up there with air.”
The temptation for Christian organizations is to quietly ease Christian distinctives off the mission and methods. In my school, for example, we could still teach great classics, logic, rhetoric, Latin, and other topics and tell them them well if we backed off our Christian foundations. The temptation would be to accept the financial gifts while consoling ourselves in still being able to weave in a Christian word or two here or there. The temptation to sideline the faith is not strong to me at the moment, but no one is sitting across the table writing out that check for one million dollars.
G. K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Often, however, it has been tried, found difficult, and finally toned and watered down. The danger of muting the faith can be individual, for we might be a little more popular and a little more accepted if we just didn’t talk about Jesus. The danger can be professional, for faith commitments can dead-end a job application. It can be political, and there have been those politicians who would say, “Personally I believe that abortion is wrong, but I can’t let my personal convictions interfere with policy.” (I don’t think too many still say they believe abortion is wrong.) It can be organizational.
This book warns repeatedly and anecdotally of the danger of mission drift. It happens all too often. No organzation is safe from the danger. The Book of Revelation begins with warnings and exhortations being given to seven churches in Asia Minor. Some of those churches were in bad shape. Some were doing really well. Most were a mix of good elements in their doctrines and practice with some leaven threatening the whole lump. But none of those particular churches are still around. The groups from the Reformation who penned great documents like the Westminster Standards or the Heidelberg Catechism drifted. Harvard sold out to Unitarianism early on. But Yale, which was started to offset Harvard’s drift, and Princeton both abandoned Biblical Christianity.
Mission Drift is a cultural commentary on the Book of Hebrews. The warnings are frightening, but this is not a call to abandon hope. It is a book about vigilance, about being forewarned and, therefore, forearmed.
I received this book as a review book. Upon getting it, I was less than enthusiastic about reading it. I opened it with a sense of obligation, but found the book incredibly interesting. I found myself repenting, giving thanks, being concerned, and being reminded.
If you are on the board of or a part of any Christian organization, you need to read this book and heed its lessons.