Church Life, Outreach, Missions
When the Means Become the Ends
by Ed Vasicek
Fred Thomas was a family man. He wanted to provide well for his family, so he
worked hard at the office and began climbing the corporate ladder.
As the years went by, however, Fred spent less and less time with the family, and more and more time at the office. True, his family lived in a beautiful house, had the best clothing and never bought used cars. There was only one thing missing from the family: Fred!
We can postulate the psychological factors that turned Fred into a success-driven workaholic. There might be such a thing as an addictive personality, and his upbringing might be driving him to prove himself and alleviate his insecurities. Perhaps he could receive praise at work and felt appreciated, while his family skills were weak and criticism was his lot. Such analysis, however, will have to wait.
I am not focusing on WHY things like workaholism happen as much as WHAT has happened. Fred has exchanged a "means" (working to provide for his family) for an end (instead of working to provide, he now works to workhis family has taken a back seat).
We hear of people "working at their play," (taking hobbies too seriously). One friend told me about his buddy who, along with his wife, took up ballroom dancing in an attempt to have fun and do something as a couple. Soon they thought they could be among the best if they worked at it. They took group lessons, private lessons, bought videos, and virtually danced day and night. They got to be among the bestbut their simple original intent was lost, and they gave it up.
May I suggest to you that the same phenomenon, exchanging the means for the ends, is the norm in the church? I constantly run into Christians who are excited about their church. But the church does not exist to give someone something to be excited about. It exists to make disciples to the glory of God, and its direction can be divided into two major areas: outreach to the world (evangelism and missions) and maturing of believers (teaching to observe all things).
I love it when Christians are excited BECAUSE THEY ARE GROWING or because THEY HAVE LED SOMEONE TO CHRIST. Unfortunately, most excitement I see is over supposed "means" which often do not accomplish the above mentioned ends.
I see folks excited because their church is building a new building. Yet, the experts say that, most often, when a church builds a new structure, the focus of that church for the NEXT TWENTY YEARS becomes paying off the mortgage, not ministry. Buildings are great if they actually improve ministry opportunities, but often ministry is merely the justification for building (because we take pride in beauty and spiritual growth cannot be measured, but an edifice "looks" like an advancement of the kingdom; whether a ministry is ACTUALLY enhanced or not is frequently not discussed).
I see folks excited about a church that has ACTIVITY. Again, activity is great if it actually advances either spiritual maturity or evangelism. But more is not always better. Many churches that advertise their ministry TO the family actually keep the family apart through activity.
I have two Will Rogers quotations, initially aimed at the Baptists, but applicable to most evangelical churches: "I'd be a Baptist if I had the energy." The second is like unto it: "The government taxes us to build roads, and the Baptists wear them out going to meetings."
Now, if the truth is known, we are basically a Baptist church in a sort of sideways kind of way, so don't think I am attacking a group (as a matter of fact, I think Baptists are the best of the mainlines). I hope you get the point: lots of activity gives the image of addressing family needs, but I think Christian families would be a lot better off if [please underline the rest of this sentence] they stayed home and turned off the TV more often. Ministry and even "quality" time cannot replace "quantity time" and attention.
I also see folks excited about a STYLE of church. The real truth is that no matter how innovative or stuck-in-a-rut a church is, the real measure of a church is how people who make up the particular church are maturing. It is not how much adrenaline flows through their veins, not how loud they shout "Hallelujah!", not how much Christian garb they know. It's more like, "How wise are they? How deep is their Christianity? What is their family life like? Do they know the Word? Are they strong in faith, hope, and love? Are they grounded? Do they care about the lost around the world? Do they pray and have a real devotional life? Would their children say their profession and behavior at home match?"
I see others excited about numerical growth. Growth is excitingif the people in a church are also growing in spiritual depth. A crummy church with a lot of people is really not any better than a crummy church with a few people.
Others get excited about their spiritual experiences with the Lord. That is great if such experiences bear ACTUAL fruit, not mere enthusiasm. Things like spiritual stability are much more fruitful than repeated mountaintop experiences.
I am glad that at least of few of you are excited about our churchthanks for sharing thatit is easy to believe that everyone is unhappy. I am glad for the times when we have seen numerical growth or have been able to make big renovations. I am grateful for the meaningful activity we promote, or our willingness to be innovative. But none of these things matter if we do not accomplish our ends: producing mature Christians and reaching the lost at home and abroad.
So lets not confuse the means with the ends. The "means" are genuinely exciting if they help accomplish what God's Word says our job description is. Let's not be like Fred Thomas...working to work. Let's work to edify and evangelize.
Reprinted from the August 1998 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA