A Mission in 12 Words

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,

I will be brief.

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

     The Gettysburg Address may be Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech. But I agree with author Ron White that Lincoln’s finest was his Second Inaugural Address. As the Civil War was ending, Lincoln was about to begin his second term as president. He took the opportunity to communicate empathy for the great suffering so many had endured. He voiced core theological questions the conflict had raised, but few would have been courageous enough to name. And Lincoln charted a moral course forward for the country. He did all this in 703 words, allowing the speech to fly like a sharp arrow and pierce a nation’s heart. “Omit needless words” was William Strunk, Jr.’s rallying cry in his landmark manual on writing, The Elements of Style. Just as the sharp knife is crucial to a great chef’s cooking, so the succinct use of words is vital for effective communication.

Last year, the leadership of Knox Presbyterian Church yearned for a sharper tool to chart our course forward as a congregation. We had read Tod Bolsinger’s Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, in which he extolls the virtues of the eight-word mission statement. We still had Knox’s 2010 statement, which was a fine piece.  But at 48 words, it did not exactly fall off the tongue, nor could it be easily recited when we faced a difficult choice. The crucial moment in deciding to craft a new statement came late one night. The session was struggling with a thorny question around budget and priorities. One of our exasperated elders observed, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had that eight-word mission statement we read about?  Then, maybe we could answer this question!”  Heads nodded.

Soon thereafter, our elders, deacons, and pastors were sitting down with Tod for a retreat. We knew the mission statements from Scripture, such as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). We knew the prophetic call of Micah 6:8, “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  But how was God calling the Knox congregation to live out the Christian Mission in our own unique way?  We came up with a list of words and phrases to describe that specific call. A small task force took those words, and crafted the shortest mission statement in Knox’s 124-year history.

Did we whittle it down to just 8 words? No. But we came close. And our statement’s length has good biblical precedent. There were 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus called 12 apostles. And there were 12 gates of pearl in the vision of a New Jerusalem in Revelation. We settled on twelve words to articulate Knox’s mission, and here they are:

Inviting Thoughtful Seekers to Intergenerational Community and Christian Discipleship in the World.

From January 20th through March 3rd, we will be looking at one of the themes of this brief statement each Sunday. The scripture texts for this sermon series all come from the book of Acts. As we look at our new statement on one hand and the book of Acts on the other, we will note how our congregation’s mission is rooted in God’s mission, especially as we see it unfold in Scripture’s story of the early church.

I am delighted to have this new, succinct tool for charting our course forward. May we be ever faithful to the One who created us, called us, directs us forward in mission, and empowers us for it by the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Matt




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