The Great Ends: Mission Statement for Every Presbyterian
Written by Jim Singleton and Quinn Fox   
Sunday, 24 January 2010 20:58
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singleton3.jpgquinn-fox3.jpgMission statements; everyone seems to have them. Corporations, small businesses and even individuals are encouraged to reflect upon their core values and create an essential, focused expression of who or what they are (or hope to be).  Increasingly congregations are adopting mission statements as well.  According to a popular business website, a mission statement should be “a clear and succinct representation of the enterprise’s purpose for existence… incorporating socially meaningful and measurable criteria…. The intent of the Mission Statement should be the first consideration… (in) evaluating a strategic decision. The statement can range from a very simple to a very complex set of ideas.”[1]

Does your congregation have a mission statement?  (This is a trick question.)  Putting one together can be a profitable and helpful exercise for a congregation seeking to assess the unique work to which God has called them in a particular time and place.  It has become normative for healthy congregations to have an established set of goals to guide them in a purposeful direction, and to provide a means to evaluate their effectiveness.

An older word that means the same thing as purpose or goal is “end.” The meaning is best understood in terms of the Greek word, telos. Rich in meaning, telos connotes a combination of our words: goal, meaning, and purpose.  So it is not just the final goal, the end result or the outcome that is important; the very reason or purpose for being is also crucial.  It is in the same sense that the well-known first question of The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith is phrased: “What is the chief end of humanity?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.” Understood in this way, glorifying and enjoying God is not just something we are to look forward to when we have reached the end of our earthly pilgrimage; it is what motivates us during every waking moment of our lives.


So what is the mission or the end for a local congregation?  Nearly 100 years ago the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPNA), in the midst of revising its constitution, settled on six “great ends” of the church to focus their mission for a new century.[2] This now-classic statement, “The Great Ends of the Church,” originally adopted by the UPNA in 1910, was incorporated into our present Constitution (G-1.0200) in 1983 when the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA – which had included the UPNA in a 1958 merger) and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) united to form the Presbyterian Church (USA):

The six “Great Ends” form a timely and comprehensive focus for congregations within the PC(USA). It is interesting to compare these six with a more popular list that was formed just over a decade ago by Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Community Church.  He urged congregations to be “purpose-driven” by following a balance of five biblical purposes, given by Jesus Christ: (1) worship, (2) fellowship, (3) discipleship, (4) ministry (as service to others), and (5) evangelism.[3] Anything approaching a thorough evaluation of Warren’s Purpose-Driven ministry and its relationship to the Great Ends of the Church is not possible at present. Nonetheless, a simple comparison of Warren’s five purposes with the six Great Ends of the Church yields significant similarities.  Furthermore, in an open letter from the moderator and stated clerk of the 209th General Assembly, language summarizing the Great Ends bears an even more pronounced similarity to Warren’s Purpose-Driven language.[4] Take a fresh look at our six Great Ends.  Compare the following [moderator/stated clerk’s language in brackets], (Warren’s language in parentheses):


Moreover, when the two purpose statements are compared, the much older Presbyterian statement would appear to be more comprehensive.[7] In the Great Ends of the Church we have the purpose statements and evaluative criteria—the marching orders—for individual congregations.  When a congregation needs to craft their focus, we need look no farther than the Great Ends of the Church.  When there is question about a congregation’s faithfulness to our call, the Great Ends are the measurement standards.  So, in answer to our “trick question” above, The Great Ends of the Church, even if they are not known or acknowledged, are in fact the vision or mission statement for every PC(USA) congregation.[8] And, as understood in the context of local congregations, we might see that every Presbyterian has, in the Great Ends, a blueprint for his or her own “purpose-driven life.”[9] Insofar as a congregation manifests the characteristics described in the Great Ends, they are being faithful to their purpose as a church of Jesus Christ. To the extent to which we fail to identify and order our corporate life after these ends, to some degree we forfeit the description of church, having become some other kind of human organization, a club with purposes it has established on its own.


Well, one might say, Rick Warren has written two very successful books on the purpose-driven church and life. His work is awash in Bible verses, personal anecdotes, and illustrations.  What then precisely is the “back story” on The Great Ends of The Church?  Where did they come from? When were they written?  Who was their author?  What is their biblical warrant?  These are very good questions and the answers are, at first blush, less than satisfying.

Very little is known about the precise origin of the now-familiar language of The Great Ends of the Church.  In 1997 the 209th General Assembly of the PC(USA) called for a two year emphasis on the Great Ends of the Church in order to “pull together around this inclusive vision for the life and mission of the church.”[10] The emphasis was an attempt to rediscover “common ground” in the wake of division over sexuality.[11] In light of the emphasis, George T. Adams, Jack B. Rogers, and Robert E. Blade undertook inquiries to uncover the historical roots of this potential point of unity.[12] They didn’t find very much. In brief, “no direct information regarding the legislative history of the Great Ends of the Church” was discovered.[13]

When the UPNA was formed in 1858, the language of “great ends” was apparently already in common currency.  A simpler version than our six statements appears in the Government of the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1865: “The great ends of the Church are the preservation of the truth and ordinances of true religion, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.”[14] Moreover, an earlier, more rudimentary instance of the phrase occurred as early as 1782, and was preserved in a document of one of the UPNA’s predecessor denominations. “The end of Church-fellowship is to exhibit a system of sound principles, to maintain the ordinances of Gospel worship in their purity, to promote holiness, and to prepare the saints for heaven.”[15]

William Keesecker has made a quite plausible case for tracing the rudimentary beginnings to The Westminster Standards.[16] Both predecessor denominations of the UPNA had a firm commitment to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.[17] Chapter XXV.4 would appear to contain the seeds of what became the Great Ends: “visible… particular churches… are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.”  These essential commitments to ministry from Westminster reflected since the 18th century in the government and discipline of the Associate and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Churches were part and parcel of the UPNA from its inception. 

When the General Assembly of the UPNA determined to revise The Book of Government and Directory for Worship in 1902 (a process finally ratified by the presbyteries and the General Assembly in 1910) The Great Ends of the Church were included in Part I with such insignificant discussion or debate that no record was kept in the minutes or (apparently) any other account of the proceedings.  In other words, having been thoroughly shaped theologically by Westminster, when the time came to write its “preliminary principles” The Great Ends of the Church had become second nature to an entire denomination![18]

Although arguments from silence can be slippery justifications, in the case of The Great Ends the paucity of information—that there is no discernible history regarding the origin or history of language of the Great Ends of the Church—can be seen as a welcome set of circumstances.[19] Apparently there was no controversy; there was nary a comment recorded in the General Assembly Minutes.  There was nothing at all remarkable about the Great Ends of the Church 100 years ago.  And so they were easily adopted by a denomination thoroughly committed to this vision of being the Church.


Most contemporary Presbyterians would be hard pressed to name even one of the Great Ends. Because they appear in the Book of Order, and perhaps even more given that they were elevated by a recent General Assembly as a diversion from the squabble over sexuality and the “ordination standards” debate, conservatives and evangelicals might even be inclined to view the Great Ends with at least a modicum of suspicion.  After all, what do they really mean; where do they come from?  It turns out this great vision of our purposes—our mission statement—comes from deep within the heritage of our forbears, forged in the Reformed confessional tradition.  Alas, at some point during the last century, the origin of this statement (and more importantly, the theological and missional significance of The Great Ends) slipped from being a second-nature summary of core values rooted in the Westminster Standards, falling out of our corporate memory.

How does such a thing happen? Sadly, it happens all the time.  God’s people are characterized throughout Scripture by their propensity to forget.  According to Psalm 106 Israel forgot God’s very act of deliverance from Egyptian bondage: they forgot God’s salvation. In II Kings 22 we read how the High Priest Hilkiah rediscovered the Book of the Law in the Temple; Israel had forgotten, of all things, the Bible.  So the lack of historical record concerning the origin of the Great Ends ought to give us pause.  And like Josiah and Israel, we would do well to repent and return to this century-old vision for a purpose-driven church.

May The Great Ends of the Church once again become our mission statement for a faithful church in the 21st century!

Quinn Fox is Associate for Theology in the Office of Theology & Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Jim Singleton is Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, CO.



2) The UPNA was formed in 1858 from theologically (and politically) conservative, Calvinistic, Scots-Irish roots through the union of the northern branch of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church with the Associate Presbyterian Church. 100 years later (1958) the UPNA merged with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to form The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). The Great Ends of the Church became part of the UPCUSA’s new constitution at this time.

3) The Purpose-Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995). This was, of course, followed by his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2003), which is organized accordingly into five parts.

4) Patricia Brown and Clifton Kirkpatrick, “Open Letter to Presbyterians from the Moderator and Stated Clerk of the Assembly” (June, 1997).

5) Warren’s well-known commitment to social concerns such as global poverty, Rwanda, global warming, HIV-Aids and Katrina relief has significantly broadened the perception of his understanding of ministry in profound ways (to include the very concerns Presbyterians would include in the fifth Great End) in the years following the publication of The Purpose-Driven Church.

6) Darrell Guder, Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World (Louisville: Witherspoon Press, 2007), rightly points out that this final Great End is itself the “end” or telos of the preceding five. In the language of Rick Warren, this last of the Great Ends might translate as “being purpose-driven.” Guder’s monograph is the final in a series of six devoted to “The Great Ends of the Church,” all of which are available through Presbyterian Marketplace (PDS) (

7) It is not our intent by making this comparison to portray Rick Warren in a negatively critical (or, for that matter, a particularly positive) light. However, given the current impact and significant popularity of Warren’s commitments, we do want to highlight the similarities, not to mention the historical precedence, of our Presbyterian heritage. The unprecedented contemporary popularity of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven approach to ministry can only underscore the fact that nearly a century earlier Presbyterians were saying some very similar kinds of things.

8) This is indeed apparent on at least one PC(USA) congregation’s website (

9) Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez, Proclamation of the Gospel for the Salvation of Humankind (Louisville: Witherspoon Press, 2003), p.3, points out that the Great Ends are not to be understood as something an individual Christian is to strive for in isolation. By their very nature the Great Ends are to be attained in the context of Christian community.

10) Brown and Kirkpatrick, “Open Letter to Presbyterians from the Moderator and Stated Clerk…” (June, 1997).

11) Jerry L. Van Marter, “Summary of Issues at the 209th General Assembly,” General Assembly News, [Presbyterian News Service, June 14-21, 1997 (]

12) George T. Adams, “Let the Great Ends Guide Us,” The Presbyterian Outlook, May 19, 1997, p. 7; Jack B. Rogers and Robert E. Blade, “The Great Ends of the Church: Two Perspectives,” Journal of Presbyterian History 76:3 (Fall 1998), pp. 181-186 (hereafter cited as “Two Perspectives”).

13) Adams, “Let the Great Ends Guide Us,” p. 7.

14) William F. Keesecker, former moderator of the General Assembly, as recorded in “The Historical Background of the Great Ends of the Church,” Style Guide to the Great Ends of the Church (unpublished papers, Louisville: OGA Library), cited by Rogers, “Two Perspectives,” p183.

15) Reformation Principles Exhibited, Part II: Being the Declaration and Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America (New York: Hopkins and Seymour, 1806), p. 73, cited by Rogers, “Two Perspectives,” p. 183.

16) The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Shorter and Larger Catechisms are found in The Book of Confessions.

17) “Historical Background of the Great Ends of the Church,” cited by Rogers, “Two Perspectives,” p. 183.

18) This is implied in a 1937 UPNA pamphlet, which began with words in reference to the Great Ends: “Little can be said on this subject that has not been said in substance a thousand times” (Adams, “Let the Great Ends Guide Us,” p. 7 and Rogers, “Two Perspectives,” p. 183).

19) Robert E. Blade, “Two Perspectives,” p. 184 has a little detail regarding a few of the individuals who appear to have been involved in crafting the statement.

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