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Leadership Reality

This is the third in a series of 4 blog posts on what the Church and the business world can learn from one another about leadership. The first post dealt with action and reflection, the second post looked at the relationship between patience and urgency, and today’s post navigates the relationship between market and mission.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20 ESV)

With these words, Jesus delivered what we usually call the Great Commission—i.e., the Church’s mission statement. This was a grand vision of how Jesus’ worldwide authority was to work itself out through the Church’s primary task of making disciples [link].

For 2000 years, this mission has animated God’s people. Dogged commitment to these parting words of Jesus has inspired and motivated Christians throughout the centuries to give their time, money, and even their lives to spread the Gospel.

A Mission into the Market, and a Market for the Mission

The business world has long understood the value of a clearly defined mission. I can’t think of a single company who’s succeeded without a definite mission—whether that’s a written document or an intentionally crafted cultural ethos.

The difference between Church and business, however, lies in how that mission defines its market. For the Church, it’s simple; everyone in the world needs to hear the Gospel. There’s a gap in the spiritual market, and Jesus is the only one who can fill it.

In business, however, we rightly think of our market(s) in a completely different way. If you asked your CMO who his team was trying to reach and he responded with “everybody,” you’d fire him on the spot.

Everybody knows that effective marketing requires intensive research, segmentation, and targeting. There’s a keyhole out there in the market, and if you’re not developing and positioning a product to fit it, you’re going to end up locked out in the cold.

So, it seems, churches and businesses both value mission, but come from different worlds as far as execution is concerned. Let’s take a look at what each one can say to the other about reaching a market and accomplishing a mission.

What Can Church say to Business?

In the business world, “mission” often ends up as a strategic way to say, “this is how we’re going to infiltrate our market.” For the Church, however, mission is a cultural and existential phenomenon. Here’s how that simple mindset shift can help businesses:

  • Mission is a way of life. The Church’s mission isn’t a strategic plan; it’s her raison d’être. Stephen Covey applied this to business leaders when he said, “A mission statement is not something you write overnight… [it] becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values… the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.” In short, mission isn’t what you do; it’s who you are.
  • Missionaries work for free. People who imbibe and embody the mission will gladly pour themselves out for it, not because they’re paid to, but because they’ve made it their life’s work. A study from IBM bears this out, as 80% of employees feel more engaged when their specific job contributes to the core values and mission of the organization.
  • Missions actually reach people. Humanly speaking, the Church’s success doesn’t lie in marketing tactics but the beauty of its vision for the lost and broken. In the same way, customers get far more excited about buying from organizations with a cohesive and inspiring view of the world and their place within it.

Bonus: How Mission Can Help Businesses Engage Millennials

According to IBM, 80% of employees feel more engaged when their specific job contributes to the core values and mission of the organization. This is especially important when we think about engaging millennials in the workplace.

Millennials are the most mission-minded generation we’ve seen in the workforce. In a survey of just under 1,400 millennial workers in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, American Express found that:

  • 68% of them care about making a positive difference
  • 81% think a successful business needs to have a genuine purpose
  • 78% want their employer’s values to match their own

A third of those respondents would be willing to compromise their careers and their livelihoods just to have those things at work.

Susan Sobbott, the president of American Express Global Commercial Payments, summarizes the survey this way: “Millennials are seeking work with meaning beyond just making money, and they’re willing to make trade-offs to achieve their own definition of success.”

I’m not suggesting that you change your mission to accommodate millennials. What I am saying is that millennials are inherently geared towards mission. The more you can do to emphasize your company’s mission and each individual employee’s unique contribution to it, the better you’ll engage all your employees—especially millennials.

What Can Business Say to Church?

With a strong sense of universal mission sometimes comes a sense of marketplace entitlement. The Church has what everybody needs—which is true—but she often expects that fact to be more obvious than it actually is.

  • Felt needs matter. The best marketers are psychological ninjas; they tease out a market’s felt needs to show how their products can instantly fulfill them. In the Church, we’d do well to apply the same ninja-like mentality to carefully and insightfully showing how felt needs point to spiritual necessities.  
  • You have to earn people’s attention. Compelling brands don’t lead with, “we have what you need.” Instead, they connect with listeners to earn a hearing. To be sure, pastors should use their prophetic voices when necessary, but the most winsome apologists know the value of taking time to develop a relationship with an audience—of 1 or of 1,000—before they bring the heat.   
  • Know your market. It’s not enough to cling to a general diagnosis of your community’s spiritual problems. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)” is certainly true, but how does that manifest itself in a specific community? Pastors have to look hard at the people they serve to discern where exactly the light of the Gospel needs to shine brightest.

Putting it Into Practice

As we’ve seen, the Church has a market for its mission, and businesses have a mission for their market. Here’s how can we translate these insights into concrete action.

Business: Bring the Market to Your Mission

  • Ask your leadership team why they’re here. Put away your written mission statement and ask your key leaders about what drives them to do their work. Do their personal motivations align with your organizational mission? If not, then why not? Have they gone rogue, or have you failed to communicate?
  • Get your employees to rewrite your mission statement. Challenge your employees to write out their own summary statement about what they think your organization is about. Allow them to do it anonymously so that you can get candid feedback. Like with #1, ask if there’s a disconnect. If there is, then why?
  • Check your priorities. Sit down with this year’s strategic plan. Interrogate every line, asking whether each stated objective serves the company’s mission. Break out your red pen for everything that doesn’t.

Church: Bring the Mission to Your Market

  • Discover felt needs in your church and community. Do the gritty work of a pastor; get out there and spend time with your people. Find out what they’re actually struggling with—materially, emotionally, spiritually—and how that aligns with your sense of what the problems are.
  • Get out and earn the right to be heard. Don’t just hear; do. Find the needs in your community and actively work to fulfill them; whether that’s sending 20 of your people out to clean up a park or buying groceries for a single mom in the neighborhood.
  • Run a targeted campaign. Know your community’s demographics and develop strategic approaches to reach the lost. That might look like producing a Gospel-centered jobs training class to reach and teach young men, hosting a monthly parents’-night-out to reach the young families in your community, or putting on a weekly program at a local nursing home.


Zig Ziglar once said, “Outstanding people have one thing in common: An absolute sense of mission.” Churches and businesses have a lot to say about how to cultivate that mission within one another and execute it out in the marketplace.


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