The Difference Between Purpose, Vision, and Mission

This post is part of the Foundations Of Youth Ministry series.  Check out the rest of the series!

I believe that it is crucial to define exactly what youth ministry is all about.  When we establish some parameters, it can move us on dramatically toward realizing success for the Kingdom and the Church.  It can give us direction.

Compass and Binoculars

As I struggled to define my ministry early in my career, I had a rough time.  I was taught what to do in my youth ministry classes, but there was very little discussion on the why or the how to do it.

It took me several years to figure out some of those things.  After many ministry experiences, some good and some not so good, I developed a concise philosophy of ministry.  I sat down and wrote out the reasons why I do youth ministry the way I do it.  I detailed what I thought were key ingredients in my ministry, and dug in deep to discover why they were so important. Finally, I had a definitive statement that described why I did things they way I did, but I was still missing a very important piece of the puzzle.  Why was I doing ministry at all?

So I decided I needed to figure that out.  And that was tougher than I thought it would be.  Do I need a Purpose Statement?  Or a Mission Statement?  Or a Vision Statement?

I found out that the answer is yes.

On the one hand, I need to be more broad.  A philosophy of ministry helps me see the details and specifics of my ministry, while I need to develop the big picture.  But on the other hand, I need to get very specific, and determine what ministry, my ministry, looks like.

Many people talk about mission, and vision, and purpose.  But not many people understand what these things are.  These three words get thrown around a lot and are used interchangeably by a lot of people.  But there are some key differences.

In the next few days, I’ll take a close look at each of the three, and examine why they are important to youth ministry.  But first, I think they bear defining.

Purpose Statement

A purpose statement is the why of youth ministry.  Why does your ministry exist?  Why was it created?  Why does it operate?  Frankly, for your youth ministry, for my youth ministry, or any other ministry, the why is pretty simple:  we are here to fulfill the Great Commission.

Mark 16:15 says it simply:

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.

Or, in Matthew 28:18-20, we see a bit more explanation:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That’s our purpose.  To reach others with the Good News.

I think that there’s a second facet to this as well.  We are also here to fulfill the Great Commandment, found in Matthew 22:37-40:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

To reach the lost.  To preach the Gospel.  To advance the kingdom.  To exalt the name of Christ.  To love and glorify God.  To love others.

This is a pretty clear purpose for the church.  It’s pretty cut and dried.

In Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, Doug Fields say that “the why must exist before the how can make sense to others.”  I agree.  This is the first step.

Mission Statement

A mission statement is the how of youth ministry.  This is the second step.  This is the methods and strategies.  Your philosophy of ministry is defined out of your mission.

You have your purpose.  But now you have to further define that for your ministry.  For example, your purpose is to reach the lost.  Is that urban? Or rural?  It that white-collar?  Or low-income?  Is that domestic? Or foreign? Or a mix?  That’s your mission.

Your purpose has been defined for you.  Your mission is how you target that purpose to help accomplish it worldwide.  In order to understand this, you need to understand just what God has called you to do, and who he has called you to be, in your community.

This is what makes you unique as a youth ministry.  You could ask, “What is it that only we can do?”

As you continue to serve in your youth ministry, your mission can grow and be continually refined over the years.  And that’s perfectly ok.  Because you will not remain the same person as you are right now, and the people you work with won’t stay the same.  Nor will the people you are trying to reach.  In high school ministry, you can expect a complete turnover every four years.  New students may mean new challenges, which may require a new approach.

Above all be flexible.

Vision Statement

The vision statement is the where question.  Not so much where you are right now, but where you are going.  Who you are becoming.  A vision is the ideal picture in your mind, and in the minds of your people, about what your ministry should look like.

A clear vision helps to empower your purpose.  It shows the desired end result and so provides the motivation to work toward that goal.

A clear vision gives meaning to your mission.  It gives you something to aim for, and helps you to see that target clearly as you strive to reach it.

A vision is the ideal.  It’s the goal.  It’s the dream.

And the consequences of not having a vision can be perilous.  Look at Proverbs 29:18:

Where there is no vision, the people perish…

Why are these three ideas necessary?  Because without them, no youth ministry has what it takes to attract students, and see lives changed for Christ.  Without these three things, all you really have is programs.

The problem with programs is that they only work for a while.  One day, the fad will change, the program will become ineffective, or the students will simply grow tired of it or out grow it.

What you win students (or any person) with is with is what you will win them to.  If you win them with programs, then you’ll have a great turnout for that next lock-in.  But if you win them with a ministry that is clearly defined and centered on Christ and his Word, then you’ll see a great impact in the Kingdom.

Do you have a clearly defined purpose, mission and vision?  Or do you need to define them?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.