I spoke to a church planter whose vision was lofty: to transform a city for the glory of God, or something like that. He admitted that the reality was a little humbler. Some days it’s enough to hang in there another week, to disciple another young believer, to love your wife, and to preach the gospel. Then, one day, we can die and be forgotten (to quote Count Zinzendorf).
As with most things, there is a tension. There is a place for humble ambition. But we can go too far the other way and craft statements that induce nothing more than rolling eyeballs.
Greg McKeown makes this point in his recent book Essentialism, reflecting on a class that reviewed the mission statements of over a hundred not-for-profit organizations:
As the class reviewed more than one hundred examples, they noticed that some of the most grandiose were actually the least inspiring. For example, one had the mission to “eliminate hunger in the world,” but given that there were just five people in the organization, the mission felt like little more than empty words. Then out of the cluttered landscape of such loose idealism came a statement we all immediately understood and were inspired by. It was from a slightly unexpected place: the actor/ social entrepreneur Brad Pitt, who, appalled by the lack of progress in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, had started an organization called “Make It Right” with the essential intent “to build 150 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward.” That statement took the air out of the room. The concreteness of the objective made it real. The realness made it inspiring. It answered the question: “How will we know when we have succeeded?”
As I said, there surely must be a place for holy ambition. But holy ambition doesn’t always have to be expressed in lofty terms. To faithfully serve in a time and a place, and to make a real difference in a neighborhood, is a very ambitious goal, even if it isn’t grandiose. But churches that do this are making a difference all over the world.