Mission First, People Always

There are 4 regions that a church can inhabit

The US Army has a slogan: Mission First, People Always. It can be translated for the church as; Witness First, Be Disciples Always. In both the business world and the military, such slogans emphasize the priority of both developing a strategy to achieve your mission, as well as, building an organization that invests in its members. The strategic front-end of the slogan, prods leaders to compete, win the battle, and remain on task. The people-end of the slogan, prods leaders to build healthy organizations, channel resources into training, develop teamwork, and always serve the needs of your members. Jesus gave the church both a strategic and organizational challenge when he said, First be my witnesses, and, make disciples everywhere. Every local church lives or dies by its commitment to these things. Leadership is all about maintaining this dual focus.


This is another way of talking about the church’s two leaderships priorities (vectors); the New People Vector (Strategy), and the Effective Disciples Vector (Organization). Effective leadership is not a matter of balance, as both priorities are essential. Instead, just as a sailboat tacks into the wind by laying a course first to one side of its objective and then to the other, so good leaders maintain congregational momentum as they shift focus from witness to discipleship and back again. Meanwhile, the wind of social pressure is always blowing us backward, downward, and inward. Instead of witnessing and reaching out to new people, most congregations want to care first for those already in the fold (Luke 15:3-17).  Instead of committing themselves to lifelong learning and Christian growth, most of our members pull back from transforming the world through their discipleship and love.


These two vectors outline the four regions that congregations find themselves living in:


  • Fire & Ice - When churches are allowed to pull back from both witness and discipleship, they begin to die. Robert Frost says that such ends can involve fire or ice. Hence, this is a strange region where both apathy and conflict reign. The way out involves totally investing in either a strategy for reaching new people or an organizational plan for nurturing your members into committed disciples.
  • Unsustainable Growth - If a church only focuses on strategies to reach new people, it will enter a region of unsustainable growth.  Here church leaders need to discern the right time to change tacks (sailors call this ‘coming about’) and focus on small group ministry and discipleship formation.
  • Low Growth - If a church majors in organization and the nurture of its members, it is likely to have a high level of missional involvement and spiritual passion, but the church itself will be stuck in a region of little growth. Good leaders must shift into new people strategies that improve the congregation’s witness.
  • Fruitfulness - If a church’s leadership exercises spiritual discernment, tacking when needed, and keeps the slogan: Witness First, Disciples Always in mind, then the congregation will pass in and out of a region of high fruitfulness. Remember, both vectors require total commitment. We can’t stay in the region of high fruitfulness by trying to balance our leadership. We must shift foci as the Spirit leads us.