“Mission Drift” – Initial Reflections

We just received our copies of Mission Drift by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. Mission drift may be a new phrase to you but basically it refers to what happens when an agency (church, school, etc.) moves away from its original mission.

The illustration they start with and probably most familiar is that of Harvard University. About 80 years after its founding a group of pastors were uncomfortable with the direction that Harvard was heading. They founded a new school with the help of a wealthy philanthropist, Elihu Yale–yes, it was the start of Yale University. Needless to say both schools have strayed far from their original mission. In the case of Harvard it was “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.”

One of their next illustrations was news to me. They write:

“In the Middle Ages, the church sponsored a charity similar to modern-day urban food banks. Created as an alternative to loan sharks, montes pietatius helped poor people manage meager incomes. These charities provided low-interest loans to poor families, ensuring there was enough food on the table. Started by the Franciscans, who opened more than one hundred fifty montes pietatius, they became widespread throughout Europe. In 1514, even Pope Julius II gave an edict endorsing them. The institutions were the lifeblood of poor European peasants. Today, we know them as pawn shops. Pawn shops evolved from a tool designed to care for the needy to an instrument often preying on families in distress. Something intended for good drifted from its mission.” (19-20).

Mission drift often occurs due to financial pressures/temptations. Peter notes that once he was offered a considerable amount of money in support of the vision of HOPE International. Before leaving the meeting the representative said “We are a publicly traded company and we cannot fund organizations that are so overtly faith based.” The implication was clear–tone down the faith element and we can help you. In the end they passed on the support but many agencies don’t because they want to take advantage of the support and the help it would provide. Gradually, the mission of the agency drifts into something it was not originally intended to be.

I had no interest in this subject when I picked it up but it quickly grabed my attention and hasn’t let go. The book can benefit virtually any agency with a mission. The authors make it clear that mission drift is not inevitible but it takes effort to keep it on track. I was fascinated with the many examples of mission drift and mission true agencies. The names are familiar to all: YMCA, Gordon Conwell, IVP, Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU), Wells Fargo, Quaker Oats, Young Life, Big Idea, Compassion International, Chick-Fil-A and more. Learn how some of these drifted from their mission and how others stayed true to their course.

Mission Drift

Mission Drift is by Peter Greer and Christ Horst with Anna Haggard. It is a hardcover with 224 pages and sells for $19.99.

Peter Greer is president and CEO of HOPE International, a global nonprofit focused on addressing both physical and spiritual poverty through microfinance. He has a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Peter coauthored The Poor Will Be Glad and The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, speaks at conferences, including Catalyst and Passion, and has been featured by media outlets such as CNN, Christianity Today, and World.

Chris Horst is the director of development at HOPE International, where he works and writes at the intersection of entrepreneurship, work, and the Gospel. Chris has been published regularly in Christianity Today and has a forthcoming book on entrepreneurship and human flourishing. He serves on the boards of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the Colorado Microfinance Alliance. Chris graduated from Taylor University with a business degree and has his MBA from Bakke Graduate University.

Anna Haggard is the executive writing assistant at HOPE International, where she collaborates with the president and CEO and the marketing department to share HOPE’s message through print and social media. She coauthored The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good with Peter Greer

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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