Friday, February 21, 2014

Drifting Away, Naturally

SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 4:23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: February 21st, 2014

"Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden." (Deut 4:23)
SYNOPSIS: What causes organizations to move away from their original vision? Why do churches often doing things that do not reflect their founding mission? Clue: Forgetfulness is the natural wave to drift us away.

The phrase "mission creep" is used to describe projects that have spiraled beyond their original mission or objectives. Instead of a laser-like focus on the necessary, mission creep has led to distractions and bloated amount of work that may not necessarily reflect the original vision or mission. In business circles, when companies leave their core competencies, they take on strange initiatives that confuse people both inside as well as outside the organization. There is Intel, the semi-conductor companies that bought over an elderly care website in 2010. Ebay bought over Skype in 2005, only to sell it away to another investor at a huge loss. The fanatical mergers and acquisitions happening across all industries are all part of the desire to grow big as quickly as possible. Airlines buy over airlines. Grocery stores merge into one giant corporation. As they do, their mission becomes more vague and the vision more blurred.

Why? Perhaps, leadership transitions and the different styles of management have distracted the organization from their original purposes.

The problem is not restricted to commercial enterprises. It happens too at the Education sector. In 1636, the founder of a famous Ivy League institution put forth this mission statement.
"Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."

That institution is none other than Harvard College. Dr Al Mohler gives a good summary of the vision of the founding fathers of Harvard here and how much the great institution has strayed away from its original mission.

Christian Beginnings of the Ivy Leagues

Practically all the eight Ivy Leagues in America had Puritan beginnings. While Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth College all hail from Congregationalist beginnings, Princeton is Presbyterian. Brown is Baptist.  Columbia is Episcopalian. The rest like University of Pennsylvania and Cornell are non-sectarian or non-denominational. The original purpose of these private institutions are to prepare people for ministry, in particular Christian ministry. Over the years, the vision has drifted away toward more secular education. Today, anyone who goes to any of these famous Ivy Leagues will be surprised at the Puritan beginnings. In ChristianityToday's article, "The Holy and the Ivy," we read of how secularism, pluralism, and "intellectual skepticism" dumbed down Christianity in the Universities.

The great Ivy Leagues of today have largely forgotten their Christian roots of yesterday.

These institutions all had Puritan beginnings

The Book of Deuteronomy can sometimes be understood as the "second reading of the Law." In it, we read a summary of Israel's enslavement in Egypt, their deliverance, the giving of the Mosaic Covenant and the Ten Commandments and more. Sprinkled throughout the fifth book of the Pentateuch is the word "forget," more than all the first four Old Testament books put together. It makes me wonder why?

I believe God knows how forgetful people are. Thus He writes it down. He uses the prophets. He repeatedly sends messengers one after another to remind Israel their covenant. Finally, He sends Christ. The absent-minded nature of man makes reminders a constant need. Lest Israel forgets. Lest the people forget. Lest we forget.

For the moment we forget, we start creating replacements for what we have forgotten. We start to come up with inferior alternatives. We substitute the glory of God with the godlessness of this age. For we have a natural tendency to drift away from our roots. It is not a question of whether but a matter of when.

In the book "Mission Drift," Peter Greer and Chris Horst argued that all organizations will drift away. They warn us that "without careful attention, faith-based organizations will inevitably drift from their founding mission." It has happened everywhere; profits and non-profits; businesses as well as churches; public as well as private companies. Greer and Horst make it a point to call such a drift a "crisis." This crisis is made even more serious when money is brought into the picture. They shared the example of an investor who offered to pump in lots of money for their work on one condition: "tone down their Christian identity."

This temptation is strong indeed. If a non-profit is doing a lot of good but lacks the required funds, should the organization compromise its original vision and mission so that she can receive funding from outside investors?  Financially strapped organizations are most vulnerable. The price of staying alive seems higher than the purpose of sticking to the original vision. Yet, in compromising, one may end up selling away the soul of the company. Os Guinness is a powerful voice who continues to highlight the need for faithfulness to our original principles. In an interview, he says that the "Christian faith is the single biggest contributor to the rise of our modern world."

If he is correct, frequently giving in to the strong arm of secularism will be dumbing down society's "single biggest contributor." This is worrying but not everything is lost. As long as we keep reminding ourselves what faithfulness to God means.

It means being open to reminders over and over again. It means being ready to acknowledge our beginnings.  It means coming back to the original vision and mission of our calling. It means learning to go back to our roots and to recalibrate ourselves to the Manufacturer's specifications. For us, it is in coming back to what God had said about us.

Lest we forget.

"The Bible teachers that faith will manifest itself in three ways.
It will manifest itself in doctrine - in what you believe.

It will manifest itself in worship - your communion with God...
It will manifest itself in morality - in the way you live and behave." (Billy Graham)


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