In the late 1800's, the railroads were the biggest companies in North America. They achieved monumental success, even changing the landscape of both Canada and the United States. However, they became obsessed with WHAT they did - they were in the railroad business. And consequently they invested all of their enormous wealth into tracks and crossties and engines. But at the beginning of the twentieth century, new technology was introduced. Trucks and airplanes became the preferred method of transporting goods and people. And all of those big railroad companies eventually went out of business.
What if they had defined themselves by their WHY - as being in the transportation business? Perhaps they would have invested their monies differently. Perhaps they would have seen opportunities that they otherwise missed. Perhaps they would still be among the biggest companies in the world, owning all of the airlines, bus and trucking companies today.
The plight of the railroad companies raises a question about the long-term stability of the church. If we become obsessed with WHAT we do because we have been doing it the same way for so long, we too may become obsolete and irrelevant to our society. And for some, this is a closer reality than we might be willing to admit.
Acts 26 tells of Paul the Apostle, who was nearing the end of his journeys. We find him standing before King Agrippa in defense of his ministry and his life. Imagine his appearance by this point. Here was a man who had been shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, and scourged within an inch of his life several times. I'm sure he was a sight to behold. King Agrippa was curious. He was curious as to why a man who once had title, wealth and authority would have given it all up to choose a life of such suffering and torment. And Paul was happy to explain why.
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision."
This "heavenly vision", as he described it, was his WHY. Paul gave the king a detailed description of his WHY. He said God told him, "'I'm sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I'm sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me.'"
Paul's was clear on his WHY. This WHY drove WHAT he did and HOW he did it. His focus was the "outsiders". His purpose was to reach every available person at every available time by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And nothing was going to stop him. Not the beatings. Not imprisonment. Not King Agrippa. No, not even death. Talk about inspiring!
As the church of today, a remnant of Paul's willingness to sacrifice, should our WHY be any different? What if we, like Paul, focused more on those we are trying to reach and less on those we are trying to keep? Would this continued focus on "outsiders" keep us from becoming irrelevant and outdated? Would this focus allow us to be flexible with our WHAT and our HOW while protecting the sacredness of our message?