Steve Jobs and Church Mission Creep

Wow, everyone is writing something about Steve Jobs – I better join the parade before I get left behind. Well, sort of – I’m not a parade-kind-of-guy – more of a do-it-because-it-is-the-right-thing kind-of-guy. So, here’s my angle on Steve’s legacy and what the church can take away (the answer is “almost everything”).

One of the things noted in several of Jobs’ obits is the reference to his faith, Buddhism, and how he kept a very simple, if not spartan, lifestyle. Nothing on the walls of his house, a bare bed, little furniture, etc. He didn’t accrue a lot of material things – even though his wealth afforded him that luxury. That same passion for keeping things simple transferred to his work ethic. Several months ago I read the story of the first iPad – the presenters explained how you could do something in about four or five steps. He handed it back to them and said, do in one step. They argued that the technology wasn’t there yet but he refused to accept their response. A few months later they handed him the iPad that met his specifications – clean, simple, and easy to understand and use.

I have a passion for keeping things simple, too. Just ask my kids – “it must be in the recycle bin, I’m sure dad threw it away” is repeated often in our house (even when I’m not guilty!). Several years ago I worked for a community foundation where I got to manage $125 million (that was fun) and I learned about “style creep.” Style creep is when you hire a fund manager to invest your money in a certain financial style (growth, value, mid-cap, small cap, etc.) and that manager begins to move the money away from how you directed into areas that are not of your choosing. If not watched, fund managers can really mess up your investments – read your investment statements.

Mission creep is when the church begins to lose focus on what it is supposed to do. The church starts out with good intentions and really plans well what it should do and how it should plan its resources (buildings, people, and finances) to meet that need. Then, somewhere along the way, someone comes up with a need and the church agrees to create a ministry to help with that need. Then, another need comes up and another one, and pretty soon there are dozens of needs and respective ministries. The church is now allocating closets, money, people, and scores of volunteers to take care of those needs. Guess what, you’ve been hit by MISSION CREEP.

You are no longer focused on the one (or two or three) things that caused you to come into being in the first place. The church decided to placate a few people by funding these extra missions. Now, I’m not saying these extra needs shouldn’t be met, I just don’t think that the church is the place to meet every need. I know there are other organizations out there that are meeting those needs. When a member comes requesting the church to create a ministry that will lead to Mission Creep, the church leadership needs to find a local ministry and then encourage that person to volunteer at that ministry. There is no need to duplicate things – it can only hurt the true mission of the church.

Be cautious about Mission Creep – keep an eye out for it at every turn because it is there. Help your membership understand why the church cannot do everything for everyone – that is the value of partnerships with local organizations/ministries. Keep your church laser-beam focused on keeping things simple and true to the original mission (see Matthew 28:19-20 for clarification). Do not succumb to Mission Creep (and RIP, Steve Jobs).

Lead On!