I recently had the privilege of spending some time with my friend, Heath Thomas, who is the President of Oklahoma Baptist University. During our conversation, he said that he had been looking at the original charter for the University. The idea for a Baptist University in Shawnee was born before Oklahoma was even a state. The founders envisioned a place where students would be prepared to transform lives by pursuing academic excellence, integrating faith with all areas of knowledge, engaging a diverse world, and living worthy of the high calling of God in Christ. In particular, they intended for the University to be a place to pursue higher learning in all branches of advanced learning. They actually wrote this into the articles of incorporation.
The vision for OBU was bold. It included influence in all areas of knowledge with a resulting impact on lives. What it didn’t include was just as impactful. It didn’t include specific strategies for creating a university that would impact the world and change lives. In the 110 years since its inception, the University has undergone many significant changes, and it is poised to undergo many more in light of the changing world today. What will determine whether OBU thrives in the coming decades is whether they can continue to maintain the separation between mission/vision and strategy.
For any organization or community, a central question is, “why do we exist?” What is the purpose for our engagement? What are we about? The answer to that question is mission and vision. How we accomplish that mission and achieve that vision is strategy. Mission needs to be inspiring and engaging, but it also must be strategically possible. So, strategy is important; it just isn’t permanent.
Unfortunately, we often become attached to our strategies to the point where we begin to see them as our mission. We make strategy permanent. Then we cling to those strategies long past their usefulness, and they hold us prisoner to yesterday and keep us from pivoting to the future.
Kimray makes controls for the production of oil and gas, but that is not why we exist. We exist to make a difference in people’s lives. That is our mission. Our current strategy is to create the resources and opportunities to impact lives by making valves. If we see ourselves as valve makers, then whatever happens to the oil and gas industry controls our destiny. If we see ourselves as people who are committed to making a difference in people’s lives, then we can find many strategies to accomplish that mission.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a small town in a remote part of the Middle East. When he was 30, he began a three-year mission to help us understand why we are here and what we are to be about. If you were to distill those three years of messaging into a single sentence it would be, “Love God most, and love others more than yourself.” That’s the mission. It was inspiring and engaging 2000 years ago, and it is inspiring and engaging now.
This Christmas, the strategies are going to be different. Many of us will not be with family and friends in the ways we were in years past. We are changing our plans, changing our patterns, changing how we gather (if we even do), and changing our behaviors. If we see Christmas as a meal, or a place we gather, or a tradition, then we risk losing Christmas this year. If we mistake the way we observe Christmas (strategy) for Christmas itself (mission) then this current crisis will destroy Christmas for us.
However, if we understand that Christmas is much more than where we are and what we eat, we can alter our strategies and find ways to observe Christmas regardless of the circumstances. Christmas is, at its core, a celebration of the gift of hope and joy to mankind through the presence of God with us in the personhood of Christ. Most of the traditions we enjoy today were unknown for the majority of history between that silent night in Bethlehem and today. The real meaning and mission of Christmas transcends even the word “Christmas” and speaks to the reason we are here–to love others.
Change is never easy. Giving up current plans and pivoting to other methods can be painful. This Christmas will be difficult for many people. However, once we make the choice to focus on the mission and let go of the strategies, we find strength to overcome what at first may have seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. We find creativity and determination in discovering new ways to achieve our mission. Difficult? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely. As you create your new strategies for observing the meaning of Christmas, I hope you will see all the ways you have been blessed. For me, I count the people I am able to share my life with as an amazing and undeserved blessing. My prayer for our new year is that we will find more ways to care for one another and to spread our culture of value. Caring about each other is the reason for the season, and it is The Kimray Way.