Last year The Washington Post published a story about a church that was giving away cars through a raffle to celebrate the opening of its new location. One person who attended in hopes of walking away with a new vehicle said, “Who doesn’t need a new car? Different people have different things that bring them to Christ, to church. It doesn’t always have to be traditional methods.”
While there are many different scenarios and circumstances in which people hear the gospel, the apostle Paul is clear that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom 10:17). This is not simply a problem that faces the church in the present day. In the late 1800s, Baptist churches in England were trading the gospel for entertainment to entice people to join them. The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, rebuked those who partook in this approach as he exposed this movement for compromising the gospel. This problem of trying to create kingdoms rather than playing a part in God building His kingdom goes back even further than the 1800s.
In Numbers 20, we find the people of God grumbling because they are without water. The people quarrel with Moses. God tells Moses to speak to the rock that is before him, and from it shall flow water. This would satisfy the people of God and their livestock. Instead of obeying God, Moses decides to strike the rock with his staff while speaking disparagingly to the Israelites. Moses decided to achieve the ends without honoring God through the means.
In light of these events in Numbers 20, David Platt offers a needed warning:
I want you to notice this, and particularly those who are in any leadership position in the church. The need in Numbers 20 was for water, and the people got water. So the end justifies the means, right? Whatever it takes, they got water. That’s the point. No, it’s not the point. It’s not just about getting to a certain outcome or having a certain need met. How we get there matters. How we represent God getting there matters. And I just mention that because there is much temptation—and there’s so much to dive into here—in church leadership to achieve ends in ways that do not honor God through the means.
A simple example. We can draw a lot of people into a room for an event, but how we do that and what we communicate about God in that is extremely important. Are we representing God as holy? Are we doing exactly what God has said in order to draw people to himself? These are questions that leaders among God’s people must ask. We can’t just say, “Look, everybody who was thirsty got water. It was awesome.” No, we’ve got to ask, Did we follow God’s word and do we represent God’s holiness? Did we bring glory to him with the way we went about this? Did we do God’s work God’s way?
So, as a pastor, I pray for this. I pray for this in my life and in my leadership. I pray for this in other pastors around me in the church. I pray for other pastors and other churches, other leaders at other churches. Oh God, the leaders in the church I pastor, God, please, please, please, help us to do your work your way. God, help us to do your work according to your Word, to trust your Word. Not to go outside the bounds of your Word. Not to take things into our own hands, do things that we think might work better. Oh God, may it not be so. Deliver us from that kind of thinking. Deliver us from a pragmatism that says, “Just do whatever works.” Whatever’s most efficient, most effective in this way or that way. Not that efficiency and effectiveness are bad in and of themselves, but God, if they bypass your Word, your ways, your truth, reflecting your holiness, your character, we don’t want to be efficient or effective. We don’t want to get to ends through means that don’t bring honor and glory to you, that don’t represent you the way you called us to represent you. So God, please, please keep us tethered to your Word and leadership in the church and cause us to reflect your holiness, we pray, in all that we do. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
–This excerpt was adapted from the “Pray the Word” podcast titled “When the End Doesn’t Justify the Means” (episode #602).