Writing and living a mission statement for the hungry years.
Back in the 1960s, President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon set America off on perhaps its boldest mission ever. The project cost billions of dollars, involved thousands of men and women, and took nearly a decade to complete. Amazingly, NASA built the whole mission on a simple seven-word statement: ”Perform manned lunar landing and return safely.”
The mission to the moon also spawned many inventions that proved to be valuable beyond space. For instance, the powder drink NASA developed for the astronauts grew to be a big hit for kids when packaged as Tang. It’s crazy to think about, but NASA could have stopped and said, “We have a good thing here; let’s scrap the whole moon voyage and just start marketing this stuff.” Fortunately, their mission statement kept them focused on the bigger prize.
It takes faith to believe it, but I’m convinced God created each of us to complete a bold mission. Sadly, many of us settle for marketing Tang when we have a moon to land on.
Life management guru Stephen Covey says people who don’t take responsibility for the direction of their life aren’t living — they are “being lived.” Without a vision, we tend to drift. The expectations of our friends, parents, professors, or even popular culture can trump the unique mission God has for us.
A mission statement is vital for anyone who wants to make the most of their hungry years — that season during your 20s when you’re simultaneously trying to get established and getting ready to change the world.
Writing a Mission Statement
Maybe you see the value in having a mission statement, but had a bad experience with the process of writing one. Maybe you were once forced against your will to compose something under the tutelage of some New Age type who tried to inspire you with her own statement that referred to planetary alignment and the Age of Aquarius.
Unfortunately, the exercise of writing and living a mission statement has often been hijacked by people who believe we have to create our own meaning in life. The best they can do in their efforts is offer platitudes steeped in self-discovery and do-goodism.
For a follower of Christ, mission living goes far beyond trying in vain to do our best. Instead it reflects the unlimited potential of a life submitted to God’s sovereignty. The best biblical defense for a mission statement is Proverbs 29:19. The beginning of this Scripture is quoted frequently: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” But it’s the end of this Scripture that grounds the vision. It reads: “But he that keeps the law, happy is he.” Each of us will have unique elements, but the core of our mission statement is built on God’s Word.
Drafting a simple statement founded on God’s directions and promises can provide a powerful reminder of your higher purpose, helping you stay focused in your daily activities, relationships and big decisions.
So how do you get started?
First, you need a block of quiet and productive time. Go to your best thinking spot and spend time searching the Bible, praying and reflecting on the following questions:
- What is God’s purpose for me?
- What is most important in life?
- What direction is God leading me?
- What has He impressed upon me so far regarding using my talents to serve others?
Just processing these questions can begin to change how you see your current circumstances and decisions. Going the next step of boiling these thoughts down, however, will help you carry the focus of your reflective time into the rest of your life.
What you produce from your raw material doesn’t have to be poetic or profound, but if you want it to have some staying power, here’s what it needs to be:
Your mission statement doesn’t have to be as succinct as NASA’s — a paragraph, in fact, is a typical length — but it should be simple. Think of words and phrases that can motivate you on Monday morning when you’re waist-high in real-world problems and distractions. Big words and abstract concepts tend to promise big but deliver little. Don’t write that you want to “demonstrate multi-dimensional affection heavenward and leverage reciprocal affection on those in proximity,” when what you mean is that you want to “Love God with all your heart, mind, body and spirit and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Crafted well, your statement should lead you well beyond your hungry years. To get the most mileage out of yours, skip the grocery list of goals for your near future and focus instead on two timeless elements: your ultimate purpose and the values you need to get there.
Your ultimate purpose is the legacy you want to leave, the kind of things people will say about you at the end of your life. More importantly, it’s the stuff you want God to have in mind when He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Good ends are impossible, however, without good means: the values that form character and create fruit-producing habits. The words you capture to reflect your values can be your honor code for lifelong success.
Kennedy said of the space program, “We choose to go to the moon . . . and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”
It can be tempting to aim only for the probable; to write a statement that says little more than “Inhale, exhale, repeat.” But why not take the Star Trek approach, “to boldly go where no man has gone before”?
For followers of Christ, a bold, stretching mission pushes us beyond the limits of our own strength and understanding and gives God an opportunity to reveal His power and wisdom through us. It reminds us that God is “at work within us” and “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (see Ephesians 3:14-20).
Living Your Mission Statement
Unfortunately, some of the best-written mission statements lie in paper graves, resulting in little change. How can you go the important next step of actually living the one you write?
It comes down to playing both offense and defense.
You’ve heard that “the best offense is a good defense,” and the best defense you can play requires generous use of the word no. It means saying no to distractions and time wasters that have nothing to do with your life mission. It even means saying no to lots of good things that just aren’t the best.
Like a good stiff-arm block, your mission statement can help you clear the field of obstacles to support a successful offense.
Taking the offense requires detailing your mission statement into goals, strategies and tactics. You can create long- and short-term goals by asking yourself, “If I really believe and live my mission, what’s possible?” This leads to items like “graduate with honors,” “raise support for a missions trip” and so forth.
Your strategy is the game plan to achieve your goals. This is where you think through the steps you’ll have to take, the people with whom you’ll need to work and the timeline you’ll follow.
Finally, your tactics are the individual tasks you can do this week or today, such as “call missions board,” “complete first half of reading assignment” and so forth.
A steady, methodical offense can often produce better results in the long run than one with flashy and sporadic bursts. That goes for mission living, too. You’d be amazed how much you can accomplish just by carving out one hour a week to review your mission and goals and to plan action items you can do that week. But you have to protect that time and the assignments you give yourself — you have to treat those items like they are just as important as anything else on your calendar.
Inevitably you’ll face detours and distractions during your hungry years, but committing to a bold mission now can make all the difference between blasting off on a bold adventure and sipping orange drink on the sidelines.
Copyright 2003 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.