Mission Drift

Recently, Joe Batluck, President of Teen Challenge USA, gave me a book entitled Mission Drift written by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. I found this to be a good and thought-provoking book and would highly suggest you try to get a copy.

Too often, we see organizations slowly drifting away from their original core purpose and identity. The older an organization is, the easier it is to find mission drift. I want to share some of the points I extracted from the book and suggest that we each take a close look at our own organization and do a self-assessment.

In today’s culture, there is more and more pressure to soften the message of Jesus in communicating and describing one’s faith-based ministry. Society uses terms like tolerance or acceptance. It often pushes the idea of permitting anyone to come and serve in leadership roles in an organization. If you don’t go along with this push, then you aren’t acceptable in their eyes. The greater message society tries to send is - if you are to receive money, lose the “Jesus language”, and allow anyone to be employed in your organization.

Many Christian, not-for-profit leaders are giving into public opinion and pressure from their boards to soften the language, make the changes needed to gain acceptance and access to those pressures for money. Secular society will always push back at the gospel.

This is not new in America. When we take a look at the founding purposes and vision for Harvard University and Princeton University, we see that both were founded to train ministers. However, now they have purposes and values far from the founding fathers’ vision for their schools.

One organization that most of us are acquainted with is the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), widely referred to as the Y. The founder, George Williams, was concerned with the youth in London after the war and founded the association to reach out to these boys and influence them with Christian values. Now in most part, we see the Y as a place for exercise and family health activities. These are worthy efforts but a far cry from the founding principles.

John Howard Pew, founder of the Pew Memorial Foundation, started out only giving to organizations that were Christian. Now the board has determined that they will not give to any Christian charity.

I believe there are always changes and areas for growth for all organizations. I believe Teen Challenge must always review, evaluate and assess our effectiveness and posture for delivering life transformation. I believe we must make changes but not to our values or mission. Our methods and how we help may take on many faces, but the core values of faith must never be compromised.

I continue to believe that Jesus is the greatest asset of Teen Challenge, and we cannot back down from holding true to the good news of the gospel. We must stay true to our mission and the foundational value of this organization.

If we give up Jesus, we give up lasting results! We give up life transformation!

Greer and Horst illustrate this fact with the following examples: In 2010, New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, visited what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Traveling around the country, he captured inspiring signs of hope. However, he unearthed a reality that few are willing to verbalize. He wrote, “There’s an ugly secret of global poverty, one rarely acknowledged by aid groups or UN reports. It’s a blunt truth that is politically incorrect, heartbreaking, frustrating and ubiquitous; It’s that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children‘s prospects would be transformed.”

The truth is that to achieve lasting change, people need work. They need jobs. Poverty is the result of lack of opportunity. There are many organizations who are working across Africa to provide individuals with job skills, financial tools, and training to acquire the work skills necessary for quality of life improvement.

Yet, as Kristof laments, “The ugly secret of poverty remains. Jobs and increased incomes are not solutions in themselves. Prosperity can actually contribute to more brokenness.”

Compassion International leader, Peter Greer, speaks of Jean-Paul, someone they spent much time training and helping to launch a business that would bring he and his family financial freedom. Peter tells of how, after a year, they had reports that Jean-Paul had done well and had opened a second stand to sell his goods. When Peter returned to visit and take photos of how Jean-Paul had prospered, he anticipated improved living conditions, kids in school studying in their remodeled home, and a smile on the face of his wife. He found just the opposite. He found that Jean-Paul just had more money for wine and prostitutes. His home was the same, and his family suffered all the more for his drunkenness.

Apart from Christ, we might introduce individuals to the problem of prosperity. We cannot separate Jesus from the help given to individuals globally.

Writing of Africa in particular, Matthew Parris, a British journalist, wrote in the London Times, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.” In a day and age in which many in our society believe Christianity to be irrelevant or dangerous, Parris’ conviction is shocking. He repeatedly asserted his unbelief in God, but he admitted that his own beliefs are insufficient to solve the issues of corruption and poverty in our world. He wrote, “Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve come to become convinced of the enormous contributions that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGO’s, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

His message is clear. The message of Jesus, the true Hope, is the solution. Christianity frees people. African Christians stand tall, because they know they are made in God’s image. They understand their personal responsibility to make a difference in their communities. They submit to a higher moral code.

Brad Pitt is quoted in Rolling Stone magazine back in 1999 speaking candidly about the shortcomings of the world’s definition of success.  He lamented the rise in secularism by saying, “We are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being.”

Chris Heath, reporter for Rolling Stone, followed up and asked Pitt, “So, if we’re heading toward this kind of existential dead end in society, what do you think should happen?” Pitt replied, “Hey man, I don’t have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. I’m sitting in it, and I’m telling you that’s not it. I’m the guy who’s got everything. I know, but I’m telling you, once you’ve got everything, then you’re just left with yourself. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. It doesn’t help you sleep any better, and you don’t wake up any better because of it.” Brad Pitt knows the emptiness of wealth. It’s not enough.

In these quotes, we see the validation for faith as we care for those who are suffering with life-controlling addictions. Let us stay the course and find appropriate ways to put hope within reach of every addict.


Jerry Nance Phd


Global Teen Challenge