Stubborn: "Having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so."

I typically consider "stubborn" as a negative attribute, but when it comes to a church's mission, I think a little stubbornness might be a key ingredient to long-term success. Notice I wrote, "a little stubbornness."

Think in terms of baking a cake. If I want it to be the exclamation point on a satisfying meal, then I need to make sure the cake mix is balanced. If I were making a chocolate cake for example, I wouldn't add four cups of bitter chocolate and a dash of sugar. The result would definitely be less than satisfying and would certainly decrease acceptance to future dessert invitations.

How can a well-measured portion of stubbornness be a good thing?

Consider the first part of the definition above. "Having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something."

To be "dogged" is to be, "determined to achieve something and continuing to try despite difficulties." Dogged determination can be a very good thing when applied properly. Before we can understand how it should be applied, we must understand the nature of what we are applying it to. A church's mission is the means by which a church achieves its vision. In simplest terms, your vision is where you want to be and your mission is what gets you there.

Vision is static. It is a destination; a future that is ahead of us. Mission is fluid. If my vision is to be in Houston, Texas, my mission is the vehicle that gets me there. I cannot compromise my destination, but I can choose any number of transportation means. Depending on the urgency of my vision, my mission could be a plane, train, automobile, bicycle, or walking. Or, my mission could be a combination of those various means.

But, what if I refused to alter my mission? What if I said, "I know my vision is Houston, but my grandfather walked everywhere he went, and that's good enough for me. I refuse any other mode of transportation to get me from here to there." I suppose that could work out well for you, but my hunch is you will have about the same number of people join you who will eat your four cup bitter chocolate cake!

What is your church's vision?

Where do you see your church in 10 years?

What is your church's mission?

What will get you from where you are to where you want to be in 10 years?

If your vision is to be a place where people engage God in meaningful worship experiences, will your mission be to repeat what we have practiced for the past 50 years?

Or, will your mission be to study worship passages in Scripture as a means of discerning how people of God respond to God throughout various seasons of life, culture, war, peace, plenty, famine, etc., and adapt worship experiences accordingly?

If your vision is to be a place where people grow spiritually, will your mission be to have Sunday evening worship services, Wednesday night Bible classes, and gospel meetings, or will you examine various new media, small groups, men's or women's ministries as a means to a spiritual maturity end?

If you say, "You can't change the mission of God!" I lovingly disagree. Sometimes, Jesus met with crowds. Sometimes, he met with a few. Sometimes, he preached. Other times, he healed. On occasion, he chose to pray alone, while on other occasions, he prayed with many. Paul was a missionary. He was also a tentmaker. He wrote to many. He wrote to one. Peter preached to thousands. He preached house to house.

The vision of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and countless others in Scripture was the same — to honor God and share the Good News of His amazing love. The mission, however, was varied, fluid, adaptable, and yes — sprinkled with just enough "dogged determination" to be effective.

The vision was the same... the mission was fluid!
The second part of the definition of stubborn, "especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so," does often rear its ugly head. It is not a new phenomenon. Jesus was at times deeply distressed at the stubborn hearts of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5). Talk about poster children for inflexible mission!

As we examine our mission — the part that gets us from where we are to where we want to be — may we prayerfully and carefully discern God's will versus our stubborn will. Surely, our mission is to love, serve, share, give, show hospitality, and so much more. However, the means by which mission is exercised may vary vastly from church to church and that is reason to celebrate — not dig in our heels.

A dash of stubbornness related to mission can be a good thing. Hang in there. Stick with it. Persevere. However, if your mission isn't working, then be just as determined to prayerfully identify what will — and trust in a God whose love is unrelenting.

This is the final piece of a four part series on revitalizing churches in declining or stagnant trajectories by the team at Interim Ministry Partners. Here are the articles in the series: