St. Peter’s Principle #79: The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

May 10, 2019

by Peter Lillback


When a leader wrestles with the significance of his organization’s mission—its reason to be, and its vision, how the organization is going to get its job done—he begins to create a strategy. A strategy is a plan of action to achieve the vision that has been identified in support of fulfilling the mission. Careful planning is needed to accomplish an encompassing and effective strategy.

Christ’s last command, “Go therefore and make disciples,” should be our first concern as Christians. As leaders, we must make sure that our followers never forget what their first concern is.

To illustrate, let’s say that the mission of our organization, “Dress for Success,” is to get men to dress better. The vision of the group had been to get CEOs to require their upper-level management to wear ties at work. Their strategy had been to take every CEO out to lunch and present the main reasons why wearing ties improves business outcomes. But now management has changed at Dress for Success. The mission is still the same. But the new leader has a new vision. His vision is to get CEOs to wear ties to work. His strategy is to meet every CEO in the CEO’s office and give the CEO a choice of three ties from Dress for Success’s collection.

The point is that the vision can change when it makes sense to change it, but that whatever the vision is, it must always be in support of the mission. The strategy can change, too, but that plan must always be a way to achieve the vision. So vision and strategy can change. When the mission changes, however, the organization is no longer the same organization. It has changed its reason to exist. Strategy achieves the vision, and the vision advances the unchangeable mission.

St. Peter knew that his Master’s mission was to reach the entire world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He knew that there was only one mission—to go and tell to make disciples. There was only mission A, no mission B. The mission was to make disciples, who would make disciples, who would make disciples (2 Tim. 2:2), and so on until the world had been reached with the Lord’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). The vision varied, to be sure. For St. Peter, it was primarily to achieve the mission by reaching the Jews. For St. Paul, it was primarily to achieve the mission by reaching the Gentiles. Further, there are other possible visions or ways available to fulfill the mission. To fulfill Christ’s mission through the centuries, some have gone out to clothe and to heal. Others have gone out to educate and to civilize. Some have gone far away while others have stayed close to home as ways to reach the world for Christ. Through all these means, the mission to go and make Christian disciples was the unquestioned mission. This unchanging central mission allows for variations of vision and differences in strategy to reach distinctive fields or, to use business terms, what could be termed markets or targets.

[Peter] knew that there was only one mission—to go and tell to make disciples. There was only mission A, no mission B.

The leadership incompetence that we encounter in our swirling lives as leaders is to lose our focus. St. Peter warns of this in 2 Peter 1:9: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” In this context, we could say that if we don’t focus on our main goal, we’ll become nearsighted and blind and forget our mission. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. St. Peter knew how easy it was to fail at this point. Even after the resurrection, he was ready to go fishing for fish rather than to fish for men. We, too, can lose our focus by becoming so nearsighted with our vision that we’re blinded to the primary mission of our organization. Similarly, we can confuse our vision with our strategy as we engage our strategy.

When it comes to your organization’s mission, do you maintain it as the unquestioned definition of who your community is and what you do? Has this mission created the vision that you are endeavoring to achieve? Have this mission and vision been so clearly in mind that your strategies to fulfill them shape your structures, policies, and purposes of what you are doing at every level of your institution’s or community’s life? Strategy and planning are necessary for long-term vitality. Without them, to use St. Peter’s words, we are “nearsighted” and “blind” leaders. If we continue in this way, we may eventually forget the very reason why our organizations exist. So keep the mission, vision, and strategy clearly illuminated in the minds of your team. To do so, you must keep them ever before you in your ongoing concerns. Here are some suggestions that may help:


  • Recognize your forgetfulness. Distill your mission, your vision, and your strategy into simple, short statements and memorize them. Quote them to yourself In the meetings of your team and your followers, regularly say them aloud.
  • When you print your materials, let these simple messages be included and properly highlighted
  • On a routine basis—quarterly as a guide—ask the classic journalistic questions of your strategic plan: (1) Why does it exist? Answer: to fulfill your mission. (2) Who’s doing it? (3) What is it today? (4) How is it being done? (5) When will the defined goals be accomplished? (6) Where is the plan in the life of the people and where is it actually being implemented? (7) So what? Does it really matter that we’re doing this? Are there any measurable results to show that we’re making a difference?
  • Report on your findings to these questions to your team, your board, your followers.
  • Based on the wisdom gained, evaluate your strategy, your plans. Are they working to achieve your vision? If they are not, after careful reflection, discuss the salient issues with your team. Take their suggestions to heart if they make sense, and continue the process.
  • If you fail to do this, your organization will drift, fail, or die. If St. Peter’s words describe your efforts—nearsighted, blind, forgetful—expect to have a catastrophe. After all, St. Peter’s Master said, “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14).

On a routine basis ask the classic journalistic questions of your strategic plan: who, what, when, where, why and how


Christ’s last command, “Go therefore and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19), should be our first concern as Christians. As leaders, we must make sure that our followers never forget what their first concern is. If they lose sight of the mission, your vision and strategy will fail.  And before too long, you will have given your last command. Sound strategy flows from an unforgotten mission and supporting vision. As our St. Peter’s Principle puts it, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” lest we as leaders become so nearsighted with immediate tasks that we become blind to our mission.




  1. State the mission of your organization. Can your team say it?
  2. What is your organization’s vision? What was it before you began to lead? Is it in need of revision? Why or why not?
  3. What key strategies are you and your leadership using now? Do they harmonize with your mission and vision? Explain how they do.
  4. Give an example of an organization that lost sight of its orig- inal vision and mission. Did it change them intentionally or by the course it followed?
  5. As you hone your vision, is there a strategic plan that defines where you’re going in the days ahead? Is it simple enough to be readily explained to others?
  6. When your strategic plan is completed, is it just put on the shelf, or is it on your desk to be regularly consulted and updated as you move forward?
  7. What forces are at work to make your organization near- sighted, blind, or forgetful of your mission?
  8. How can strategy or vision unwittingly supplant mission? Is this a current threat to your organization?


Excerpted from Peter A. Lillback, Saint Peter’s Principles: Leadership for Those Who Already Know Their Incompetence (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2019), 290–294. Used with permission of the publisher.

Peter Lillback

Dr. Lillback (PhD, Westminster) is president and professor of historical theology.

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