Mission Drift, the Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst

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Mission Drift describes the all too common drift from the original purpose and mission that organizations (the authors are primarily focused on Christian non-profit and churches) experience in time. Two dimensions of drift are described—personal and institutional (p. 12). The authors state their goal as:

We want to name and illustrate the causes of Mission Drift. We want to help you clarify the missions of the organizations you most love. And we want to equip you with the safeguards to reinforce and protect them (p. 30).

I believe Greer and Horst achieve their goal through a number of avenues. First they provide excellent stories of organizations such as the YMCA (pp. 11, 68-69), Harvard University (pp. 16-17, 144-146), Yale University (p. 18), Franciscans’ food banks (pp. 19-20), Christian Children’s Fund (pp. 24-26), ChildFund (p. 41), Pew Trust (pp. 60-64) and Veggie Tales (pp. 98-99), who have drifted radically from their original purpose and mission. By contrast, examples of “Mission True” organizations are: InterVarsity (pp. 69-70), World Vision (p. 107), Chick-Fil-A (pp. 102, 122), Youth for Christ (p. 131), Compassion International (p. 26), Taylor University (p. 28), Young Life (pp. 28, 72), Campus Crusade (pp. 75-76), Henry Crowell’s Trust (pp. 56-59), The Billy Graham Organization (p. 61) and Buck Knives (pp. 139-140).

Mission Drift is the natural course for organizations (pp. 20-21), partly because it is normally a gradual, even unnoticed process (p. 90), and partially because the passion and vision of the starters of organizations are rarely transferred to the next generation (pp. 99-100). The authors do not think that drift is inevitable, however, and they detail a number of safeguards to prevent it (p. 65). The most important safeguard is maintaining board members who are sold out to the mission of the organization (p. 79): “If board members aren’t bleeding for the mission, drift will always trickle down” (p. 84), and “It is not your enemies you have to worry about, it is your supporters and employees who ‘almost’ have the vision. Eat the whole enchilada, or go somewhere else” (p. 101). There is nothing more important in avoiding mission drift than refusing to compromise concerning board members.

A close second to board members is the temptation to soften the mission of an organization because of money. A powerful illustration is given of how Andrew Carnegie’s funding of teachers’ pensions in 1905 radically changed many Christian educational institutions (pp. 110-111). His generous offer excluded any institution which required an adherence to a statement of belief. As a result many schools dropped their church affiliation and doctrinal requirements and secularism within the American educational system advanced rapidly. In order to resist such financial temptation boards need to reject financial offers that would even slightly alter their vision, and donors need to realize the power they have in their involvement and giving to Mission True organizations (pp. 110-119). Another safeguard for Christian ministries is recognizing the vital role of the local church (pp. 167-177).

The authors are leaders of HOPE International, a worldwide nonprofit attempting to address physical and spiritual poverty through microfinance. It is encouraging, especially given the work of HOPE, that these men recognize upgrading the financial situation of the poor is not enough. Without Christ, they believe, the problems of poverty are merely replaced by the problems of prosperity (pp. 35, 37, 80, 92). The poor need more than additional money; they need Christ (pp. 34-38). HOPE has refused to drift from this commitment.

Readers of the book might not be in complete agreement that all the organizations mentioned above as Mission True actually are. While all of them have maintained the core vision of their founders, I believe that most of them have drifted to certain degrees from their original theological stance. And some Christian leaders touted, such as Brennan Manning (p. 91), Dallas Willard (p. 136), Dan Allender (p. 218) and Henri Nouwen (pp. 216, 218), are questionable at best. But these things aside Mission Drift is an important book that would be well worth reading by all Christian leaders.

Mission Drift, the Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2014) 219 pp., Hard $19.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel

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