Mission Creep

Mission creep. It’s a term you may have encountered in columns about politics, business, even education. Mission creep is when an organization established with a particular purpose (i.e., its mission) gradually drifts away from that purpose, taking on new and different functions and responsibilities. Eventually the group’s original mission may be minimized or even abandoned in favor of new goals.

Mission creep happens all the time in business. A company starts out producing one thing, then steadily expands into other areas, perhaps even leaving behind its original business model altogether. Sony Corporation, which today produces everything from earbuds to motion pictures, began with a small company making rice cookers. And it wasn’t that long ago that Amazon was just an online book seller.

Mission creep sometimes affects political and social organizations. A group is founded to promote a certain agenda or address a certain need. But with passing time and changes in leadership, the group’s emphasis and activities slowly change, maybe even to the point that its original purpose is no longer considered important.

Mission creep happens in churches, too. The church is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Our mission as a local church, as outlined in the New Testament, is to proclaim the gospel, provide spiritual strength for the disciples, and assist needy Christians when such situations arise. A simple mission, if not always an easy one. But many churches have expanded their operations to include secular education, physical fitness, childcare, financial services, recreation, entertainment, community projects, health services, political activism, and just about anything else you can imagine. Some churches are so busy preparing people for next week or next month that they have little concern with preparing them for eternity.

Preachers can also fall prey to mission creep. The evangelist is given the mission of proclaiming the gospel (2 Timothy 4:2). He teaches the lost how to be saved, and he teaches the saved how to build lives that glorify God. But many preachers have become occupied with other things. They work as counselors, social directors, or administrators in the diversified operations of their churches. Some spend most of their time organizing community events, serving as activists for various causes, writing books, or selling something. Some misguided brethren make the preacher a de facto overseer of the church, while others expect him to be always on call as a taxi driver, dispute settler, janitor, and general assistant for the church and its members. Often, “preach the word” is pretty low on his to-do list.

In truth, any disciple can struggle with mission creep. Every Christian’s mission is to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness above all else (Matthew 6:33). But Satan is always working to get us sidetracked. He pressures us to change our priorities, to push God into the background and replace Him with something else. Usually that “something else” isn’t inherently bad — work, family, recreation, prosperity, education — it just doesn’t belong in the position of directing and driving our lives.

We need to be diligent. Mission creep, as the name implies, happens gradually. People don’t abandon their prime directives all at once. Churches don’t morph into country clubs or social service providers overnight. Preachers don’t change their job descriptions all of a sudden. And nobody just wakes up one morning and says, “I think I’ll quit trusting God today.” These things happen slowly. If we aren’t careful, we won’t even notice.

“For this reason we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).