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Q&A: Peter Greer and Chris Horst on “Mission Drift” (Part Two)

This is the second part of an interview (read part one) with Peter Greer and Chris Horst of HOPE International on their new book “Mission Drift.” They discuss organizational humility, remaining true to Christian identity and the key role of faith-based institutions in society.

Mission Drift

4. As Christian nonprofit organizations are competing for funding and grants, how can they effectively balance the need for donors and funding with a commitment to remaining Mission True?

To be candid, this is really difficult. We open the book with our own story, which illustrates the tensions facing leaders of faith-based organizations. We had a donor willing to give a major grant to our organization—HOPE International—if we were willing to tone down the “Jesus stuff.” But after wrestling with this decision, we determined it was impossible for us in good conscience to accept the donation because of how central our Christian faith is to all that we do at HOPE.

My advice for leaders of faith-based organizations is to be forthright about what exactly you mean when you say you’re “faith-based.” How does your distinctively Christian approach affect the work that you do? It might seem like being coy or guarded in your language will allow you to appease more donors. But, our research indicates that transparency and honesty should be preeminently valued in our communication and relationships with donors.

5. In the book, you speak about the importance of Christ-like humility in preventing Mission Drift. How can a posture of humility be fostered at an institutional level?

First and foremost, organizations must acknowledge that they do not have everything figured out or that they are immune to drift. Drift is a reality for every organization and an important safeguard is to acknowledge the areas where you’ve compromised or made mistakes. In a competitive landscape, universities, urban ministries, think tanks and missions agencies face the temptation to constantly position themselves as the superior choice to their peers. They have to make it appear as if they’ve figured it all out.

When an organization embeds humility within their institution, they start from a different place. They acknowledge the strengths and uniqueness of their peers and aren’t afraid to vocalize their own mistakes and limitations. They understand staying on mission is a daily decision.

6. Despite increasing societal pressure to secularize, do you remain hopeful that faith-based organizations will remain Mission True to their foundational Christian identity?

Dr. Stanley Carlos-Thies, perhaps the nation’s foremost expert on the state of faith-based organizations, founded the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and previously served in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

[pullquote]     When an organization embeds humility within their institution, they start from a different place.[/pullquote]

“The U.S. has a strong tradition of religious freedom, but we may have become complacent about freedom for parachurch organizations,”Carlson-Thies noted. “The landscape itself is starting to change…leaders better understand and use their religious freedoms, and persuasively communicate why that freedom is important for society.”

We need to be capable of persuasively communicating the unique contributions our organizations make to the world because of our Christian identity. If we’re able to better articulate why faith-based organizations matter to society, we’ll set ourselves up as a vital pillar to healthy society.

A compelling example of this is in the foster care and adoption movement. Project 1:27, a faith-based adoption agency in Denver, has positioned itself as a leader in Colorado’s movement to care for our vulnerable children. Project 1:27’s leaders articulate clearly the Christian rationale for adoption. Denver’s civic leaders know Project 1:27 is overtly faith-based and are excited to partner with them to address one of the more complex and challenging issues facing the city. With many municipal budgets strained, Denver’s leaders have recognized they can accomplish more by linking arms with faith-based organizations like Project 1:27, even if they don’t necessarily affirm everything Project 1:27 believes.

You can connect with Peter and Chris on Twitter, @peterkgreer and @chrishorst. Their next book—“Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing”—will be published by AEI’s Values & Capitalism Project.