The March 20 headline splashed across Christianity Today, The Tennessean and National Public Radio was one few in Southern Baptist life thought they’d ever read. There were variations, but in effect they all communicated the same thing: “LifeWay Christian Resources, the largest Christian retail chain in America, plans to close all 170 stores this year and shift its offerings entirely online.”
It was a sad day that revealed the lifelong emotional attachment many Southern Baptists have had with the bookstore. Frankly, generations of us have never known a world without a Baptist Book Store or a Lifeway Christian Store. Many expressed their anger with statements about how the bookstore was more than just books. It was the people who worked there — who ministered there — who made the stores what they were.
One man expressed his misplaced anger by confessing he’d go to the store to examine the Bible or book he wanted to buy before going home to order it on Amazon.
The store closings made for a difficult day, but it was a necessary day. LifeWay’s leaders made a bold decision about how the company must do business in the future. The competition for shrinking margins exposed the organization to great financial risk. The tough call to sacrifice one thing may sometimes be necessary to protect the main thing. LifeWay’s mission is crystal clear: “LifeWay Christian Resources exist to assist churches and believers, to evangelize the world to Christ, develop believers, and grow churches by being the best provider of relevant, high-quality, high-value Christian products and services.” Eliminating the bookstores doesn’t prevent LifeWay from accomplishing that mission. Indeed, the decision was made to protect the ministry. Change happens. The mission remains.
Remember Sears? My grandfather once advised me to only buy Craftsman tools. “If one of those tools were to break, Sears will replace it. I promise you.” And he purchased Kenmore appliances for the same reason. Granddaddy simply wouldn’t consider anything else. Sears’ mission was quality.
It’s certain the leaders of Sears wish they hadn’t drifted from the mission that made them the world’s greatest retail chain. The corporation’s headquarters was housed in what was for a time the world’s tallest building. Eventually that building became a tombstone reminder of the death of one of America’s greatest companies. What happened? Leaders lost focus. They determined bigger was the road to success rather than quality and bought Kmart.
Kmart was a departure from what made Sears great, and it was the beginning of the end. They misread the world around them. They weren’t adaptable and Sears died a slow, embarrassing death. Think what could have been if they’d only changed to protect the mission. Was there an existing retail company more poised to be “Amazon” before there was an Amazon?
Churches should take notice and learn. We see churches die all the time because leaders and members lose sight of the church’s mission to go, evangelize, baptize and disciple.
“In its simplest form, mission-true organizations know why they exist and protect their core at all cost,” Peter Greer writes in his excellent book, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches. “They remain faithful to what they believe God has entrusted them to do. They define what is immutable [which is] their values and purposes, their DNA, their heart and soul.”
All pastors and ministry staffs should read the book.
Greer also communicates that it is vitally important you know why you, your church, and your ministry exist. Once you understand your God-given purpose, you should drive a stake and chain yourself to it. Regardless of whether the fickle culture changes, the winds of adversity howl against you, and the critics hurl insults and discouragement your way, you do not drift from your mission.
However, methods change. Processes can be improved and updated. Technology can introduce new efficiencies. Change whatever needs to be changed to keep the mission moving forward in a relevant way. Don’t fear change; fear mission drift.
Is God in your mission? If so, stay the course, and like my friend Roc Collins says, “Don’t quit.” Eternal fruit will come. However, don’t forfeit your chance at a harvest because you wouldn’t make necessary changes to protect the mission.
It’s a joy to be on this journey with you.