Friday, February 05, 2010

Exchanging The Mission For a Method

Last night I was using the laptop and dinking around online. I was about to finish reading an ebook that I've been working my way through; when Jenny asks if she can use the computer. I say yep, and I can go use the computer in the office (she likes the laptop's ok). She asked if I'm sure and I assured her that I could do what I planned on getting done using a different computer.

Me: At the 'different' computer

And through that seemingly worthless statement, a little bulb went off in my head. As if somehow, I was stuck in an episode of House and the random guest star in that episode's final one liner reminded me of how a common disease can present with certain peculiar symptoms and I gazed off dreamingly into the camera as I silently alerted the audience that I had just solved the mystery. Also, when you're watching House; it's never lupus.

My original goal was to read an ebook that was in my email account. The laptop was the tool I had planned on using to accomplish that goal, but it was not crucial. My goal was not "use the laptop while sitting on the couch to read an ebook."

The goal and the tool are not the same thing.

In church language, people refer to these two things as the "mission" (the end goal) and the "method" (the tool we use to achieve it.)

However, what I notice more and more often is that many of us have an increasingly difficult time telling the two apart.

We take our mission, add these methods to it and then when the method doesn't work, is taken away, or otherwise proves useless, we are at a loss of what to do. We attach the method to the mission, and end up changing the mission entirely.

I could have sulked off because I wanted to read my ebook on our comfy couch (which IS true!) but instead, I was able to go read it on a different tool. In being able to differentiate between the goal/mission and the tool/method, I was saved from a grumpy evening....both from myself and from Jenny at my ridiculous stubbornness.

I think we have so many methods added to our missions that we can't tell which is which anymore.

There comes a time (very frequently I might add) where we need to examine our methods and see if we have mistakenly been treating them as the mission/goals in and of themselves.

Say your church desperately wants people to be connected with each other, and they try to use small groups to do this. You run about 25% of your church in small groups with an incredibly HIGH turnover rate (people leaving and new ones taking their place). You try new material, you try new structure, you add more staff, you create hierarchies and systems...same basic results. The mission here isn't small groups. The mission is getting people connected and sharing life with each other.

Maybe the answer isn't retooling the small group format over and over, maybe it's finding a different method that is more appropriate for your specific church demographic. The people are missing out on life changing community, because we have exchanged the mission for a method.

Or you want people to have an environment in the middle of the week to interact with others in a classroom style structure. Kinda like Sunday School class...but on a Wednesday night. But you do this for about a year, and it doesn't seem to stick. You end up with less than 5% attendance (on a GREAT night) and you find yourself constantly restructuring the same few classes that you want to offer in each 2 month long session. People start the environment in semi-decent numbers, but by the halfway point the classes are down to 66% of what they were 4 weeks ago, or less.

The mission is not the same classes and failing with them every few weeks, the mission is the interactive environment in the middle of the week. The mission is the spiritual/relational/emotional growth that you desire for your church members. And we've exchanged that mission for a method.

Maybe you really want to have a strong online presence. You want people to find your church, interact with it, interact with each other, get information, get empowered, get connected and go do something with it. And you know people are looking for your website, you get 1000 hits a day. 30,000 hits a month, and you're not even optimized! No SEO, no ads, no campaigns, you just exist. They are finding you. But you also notice what they're doing. They're staying for an average of 60 seconds a visit. Out of your 158 navigable pages, there are only 5 (including the home) that account for 90% of all traffic. The people are not interacting.

So you keep changing the website, you keep rearranging things, think deck chairs on the Titanic, you keep thinking that you need people to spend more time on your website. But your website that everyone obviously hates isn't the goal. It's just the tool. There are others. And you're missing them because you exchanged the mission for a method.

Or forget the church/ministry examples, make it personal.

You want a better spiritual life, you want to feel closer to God. Reading the Bible doesn't seem to do it. You do daily devotionals, you do the yearly studies, you do the things that are supposed to work...and they fall flat. Maybe you will just relate to God better through a different method. Maybe you are more relational, maybe you need community more than solitude. Reading and studying isn't the goal, being closer to God is. And you're missing the it because you exchanged the mission for a method.

Maybe it's church all together. Maybe you don't go often, or at all because you can't stand it. It feels fake, or forced, antiquated, or concerty. No matter what particular thing it is, it's rubbing you wrong. Church service isn't the goal, it's just a method. Maybe you don't respond well to it, maybe you'd thrive in a house church. Maybe you'd find God in just a smaller group of believers who met regularly. Maybe you are a mega church enthusiast. Maybe 100 people in a service is your limit. But you don't know...but you think you need to keep going to church. Church on the weekend isn't the mission. Connecting with God is. And you're missing it, because you've exchanged the mission for a method.

Personally, I'm sick of exchanging missions for methods.

I'm tired of seeing tools treated as if they were goals.

I don't want people sabotaging themselves and others because they just can't see the difference. I'm tired of sabotaging myself.

Maybe you're tired too.

Maybe you exchanged a mission for a method.

Stop it. 

Stop being stubborn; hurry up and fall out of love with your method.

Figure out what the goal is you're trying to accomplish, and then strip out all the tools from it. Disassociate all the crap that's weighing you down and find methods that fit you personally as a uniquely created being.

I don't see any other way to achieve the goal.