Ignore the blue dragon. That’s the first step to completing my daily, after-work mission. This plastic, mythical creature resides at a playground not far from my office. Of course, it’s only a real dragon in the imaginations of the kids climbing all over its built-in steps, sliding down its wavy slide, and playing hide-and-seek under its scaly tail. Yes, the blue dragon is a piece of playground equipment, but its googly-eyed gaze makes my imagination run wild.

Perhaps it would be prudent to stop for some playground research before bringing the family here this weekend? I could test out the slide or explore all the possible climbing routes that lead to the summit of this epic structure.

Alas, I keep driving. My mission is to travel from my office to my home in eleven minutes so I can spend the evening with my wife and daughters. And it’s a mission I can accomplish—but only if I ignore the blue dragon. There is no time to stop. I need to stay focused.

To be sure, there are other distractions along my route. There’s the Home Depot and their countless do-it-yourself projects that I will never get done. There’s the diner that serves milkshakes with enough Oreo to satisfy a group of preteen boys at a lock-in. The distractions are seemingly endless.

We want to make everyone happy.
We want to serve the church.
We want to serve well. 

In all fairness, none of these distractions are bad pursuits in and of themselves—in a different time, under different circumstances, with different objectives in mind. They are simply activities that will distract me from my post-workday mission, which is to travel home in eleven minutes.

Likewise, there are plenty of distractions in children’s ministry. Besides the resource room full of self-adhesive foam and glitter-covered rubber bands, there’s also the plethora of ministry ideas suggested by well-meaning parents, colleagues, our lead pastors, and even our own imaginations.

We want to make everyone happy. We want to serve the church. We want to serve well. How do we do it? How do we stay on task, stay focused, and stay sane? We do it with the same tool that gets me home in eleven minutes every afternoon—a clearly stated mission. A great mission statement is one that offers motivation and direction for decision-making. When faced with a ministry choice, we filter that choice through our mission statement in order to reach a decision.

To offer an oversimplified and somewhat satirical example, imagine if the phrase “Sing the Bible to the neighborhood!” was our mission statement. Next, imagine that an idea was hatched to host a neighborhood squash-decorating party. At first, it seems like a great ministry idea. Who doesn’t love coloring squash? Sold!

Of course, we’re professionals. So, before we order a fifty pack of neon metallic markers and buy the grocery store out of their entire stock of squash, we run this idea through our thoroughly explored, discussed, prayed-over, and agreed-upon mission statement.

Does this ministry method engage the neighborhood? Yes! We’re off to a great start.

Does this ministry method involve singing? Nope. Oops. How did we miss that?

Finally, does this method of ministry involve the Bible? Not really. Well, we can change that! We’ll write “John 3:16” on the stem of every squash! Bring on those delivery trucks!

Knowing what our mission is keeps us on task.

But hold on. Let’s back up. Kinda-sorta meeting our mission statement criteria is not our goal. And this method isn’t really what we had in mind when we carefully crafted that mission statement. The point of our intentionally chosen, thoroughly thought-out mission statement is to make sure we don’t get distracted; to make sure we only spend our time and our limited resources on ministry methods that fully align with our mission.

Knowing what our mission is keeps us on task.

Guess we better cancel the squash truck after all.

Just like a well-formed mission statement can serve as the primary sifting tool for ministry decisions, a poorly formed (or, more often, ignored) mission statement can become nothing more than a catchy slogan. Or worse, a broad or undefined mission statement can serve as a distraction-empowering excuse to chase every new idea and continue facilitating every old activity at the expense of following the mission.

After work today, I could hang out at the playground and play on the plastic blue dragon, making plans to bring my family there this weekend. It would be a great stress reliever. Plus, I need the exercise. Boy, that would be a super-fun way to spend my time after work. But, as I jump off the dragon’s nose for the last time, I’ll quickly come to a humbling realization: I’ve just spent the last hour de-stressing and having lots of fun—but I’m still eleven minutes from home.