Leaders of theological schools — and other organizations that serve future leaders of the church — are passionate about mission. You know what your central purpose is. You know that this purpose, your mission, must be the driver behind any new initiatives. You know that you should be able to articulate that mission in a brief statement.
You undoubtedly already have a mission statement — probably on your website. But consultant Aimée Laramore encourages boards and leaders to ask themselves some thought-provoking questions: Can you write your mission statement without looking? Can you recite it, without hesitation, to a friend, colleague, or donor?
If not, you’re not alone. Even if you’re passionate about what you do, your mission statement may not inspire passion. Perhaps it’s just too long. Or maybe there’s a disconnect between what you really do and the words that were crafted years ago.
You may know that you need an up-to-date mission statement, but you hesitate to tackle it, because the task seems too formidable. Who wants to sit around for hours while wordsmiths debate?
Now picture this: academics and business professionals, perfectionists all, sitting in a room together and writing a brief, accurate, powerful mission statement using 15 words or less. Impossible?
On the contrary. The board of directors of the In Trust Center completed this exact work in late September. Our new mission statement is clear, specific, and aspirational. It’s exactly 14 words long.
Our mission: To strengthen theological schools by connecting their leaders to essential resources for mission vitality.
How did we do it? We planned.
During our fall board meeting, we took half a day for an education session, led by Laramore, focused on clarifying our mission (not our mission statement). Previously, she and I had spent several months planning the session, with input from the governance committee, so that we would be clear about what we wanted to accomplish and what our expectations for board member participation would be. We were transparent that we would not write the mission statement until after the board education session.
The session began broadly with the purpose of theological education, then moved into the current landscape, and then to why our work matters. There was passionate participation from the whole board.
Throughout the discussion, our board and our leadership team gained clarity about our strengths, our opportunities and growth areas, and our audience and partners. We focused on culture and values.
Next the board named a task force to craft a mission statement that reflected the discussion, and the board agreed to not wordsmith the final version as long as it was concise, clear, specific, and aspirational.
Two board members, Laramore, and I spent about one hour after the meeting drafting potential statements. After another few hours of email exchanges, we had a new statement to share. I tested the statement by walking down the hall in our office and reciting it to staff members without reading the words on paper. I never stumbled.
The next day, the full board approved the new statement by email.
I don’t suggest that the work of writing a mission statement is easy, but I do believe that it is essential. The ability to have a mission that you believe in, and that you can invite others into, is critical. To own a mission statement that you can communicate with ease is freeing.
If you would like to hear more about our process, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read an interview with Laramore, see www.intrust.org/Laramore. And may this new year offer you and your school community many opportunities to fulfill your mission.
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