I was perusing some books I had previously read from Dallas Willard during my annual planning retreat last month. In one of them, I read the following.

“It seems to be a general law of social/historical development that institutions tend to distort and destroy the central function that brought them into existence.”[1]

As such books often do, this got me to thinking. Why was my church founded back in 1955? What were the initial planters trying to accomplish, and have we distorted or destroyed the central functions that brought us into existence over the years?

 In the staff conference room at the church where I serve is an enlarged photograph from 1955 showing some of the founding families of the church. We might laugh at the clothing they wore and the sign behind them announcing the name of the church and the black-and-white photograph that wasn’t considered “retro” at the time. Young and old posed together. It was a few people that were sent from a church in a nearby city to plant a church in a place that was poised for growth in eastern Los Angeles County in the 1950s.

These people had a purpose – they banded together to be a church that would be a Gospel presence in that community – teaching and living the Word of God and seeking to help bring lost people into the Kingdom of God.

Over the years, the church grew. People got saved. We created programs and classes for young and old to teach them what the Bible says about the things the Bible says something about. Our musicians and singers got better and better. We added facilities and upgraded them as the years went by. And it was many years later but just a few years ago that it dawned on our church’s leaders that we were so busy being a Bible-teaching church that our flock was not much interested in taking part in reproducing sheep – outside of our immediate families, that is.

Was this what our founders were trying to create? Was it just a modernized and updated version of their original mission and vision, or had we unintentionally distorted and drifted from our central purpose over time?

“It seems to be a general law of social/historical development that institutions tend to distort and destroy the central function that brought them into existence.”

We had drifted, and in doing so, we had distorted our central purpose over time. In recent years, we have revitalized our commitment to reach lost people we already know (and others) with the Gospel. And it has begun to transform us.

Sadly, in my work I see this far too often, especially in “established” churches. Christ-followers that had originally formed the church to see lost people come to faith in Christ would now find a church that says they value evangelism but whose members never or almost never actually share their faith with anyone.

I am not complaining about church growth, church programs and strategies, large churches, or anything else like that. I am only pointing out what seems to be a fact – if we don’t pay attention, we will stray from our central purposes over time.

Some examples of this in the United States are the learning institutions founded early in our nation’s history to develop men of Christian character that we now know as Ivy League schools and that are known to be a long way from their original founding purposes and values.

Has your church drifted or remained true to its central purposes? That’s something to talk about.

Here are some ideas to jumpstart your conversation.

  • Have someone research the founding and first few years of your church. Share the story with your team focusing upon the mission and values they pursued. Have they changed? If so, in what way and how? Intentionally or accidentally?

  • Have you reviewed your church’s mission/purpose statement recently? Dust it off and take a look. How might you modernize it if needed?

  • Consider a sermon or two on the mission of your church. Our congregations don’t know what we want them to do unless we tell them. And we need to tell them often.

  • Do we explicitly seek to see lost people come to faith in Christ and to be active in that pursuit? Are we seeing people come to faith and becoming part of the church?

It’s been my experience that many church leaders (and many leaders of other organizations) fail to remind themselves and the people they lead of why their church (or organization) exists. If we don’t do so frequently, drift is pretty much inevitable. The only questions are when and how much.

Why our churches were founded is something to talk about, and that conversation can propel us into the future our forebearers envisioned and even beyond. Let’s talk about it. Often.

Let us know if we can help and how your conversation goes. Contact Bob Osborne by e-mail at bob.osborne@efca.org

This is one of a series of articles intended to facilitate and guide church leaders’ conversations about significant issues that often are not talked about among pastors, boards, and church leadership teams. Visit the EFCA West website to see prior Something to Talk About articles.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard (Page 222)