Ends and means have always challenged the people of God … and everyone else, for that matter.
We talk a lot about outcomes but have little concern for processes. Indeed, the faster we can get to the destination, the better. And this thinking undermines both the Church and our own spiritual vitality.
Within the church we’ll organize a big event with guest artists and celebrity speakers. We ratchet up the lighting and sound, and promote the occasion(s) heavily on radio or via direct mailing. We attract a large crowd and call it a “success” without much thought to the process or the implications.
An old mentor of mine used to say, “What you win people with is what you win people to.” If it’s the show that they like, then the show must go on, and on, and on.
“Means and ends” are just as challenging at a personal level. We want education without study. We want wisdom without experience. We want success without effort. We want fitness without exercise. We want weight loss without personal restraint. We want employment without qualification. We want retirement without saving. And so it goes.
However, this mentality also erodes our spiritual vitality.
We can sit around and dream of being close to God. We can talk endlessly about spiritual formation. We can affirm prayer and Scripture and community and truth, but will we devote ourselves to the processes that produce, by God’s grace, transformation?
The ends (goals) look so attractive; the means (processes) less so.
The early Christian disciples described themselves as followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2). The title matters. It indicates that they embraced a lifestyle, not just a label. They knew, right from the start, that faith is a way to live. Faith is a process word; a means word.
Many of us perhaps set resolutions for this New Year; ends that we’d like to achieve. Perhaps we have even established some attractive, impressive, and sincere spiritual goals. What small step can we take today — and repeat tomorrow — that will move us along “the Way”? 2015 will surpass 2014 not because of a few large steps or fast bursts, but because we embrace a long obedience in the same grace-shaped and grace-motivated direction.
Let’s worry less about ends and more with means.