Rick Warren, with his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” brought the search for purpose into the mainstream. To date millions of people in a desperate attempt to discover what their purpose is or at least make some sense of their lives have read his book and others like it . Many people have been greatly helped as they sincerely sought to discover their purpose by asking great questions about life, meaning, significance and eternity. I think you’ll agree that everyone could benefit from doing this type of soul searching.
Recently though I have become aware of a troubling trend. A trend found within many Christian circles, groups, organizations and in many churches. I have to admit I am guilty of being swept up by this trend too. My concern is that this trend threatens to undermine purposeful living. In effort to stress the need to discover one’s purpose teachers, authors and leaders may have caused purpose to become the new standard by which we judge a person’s value and worth.
There are several issues I have noticed since purpose has become more mainstream. A major factor is how some Christian leaders, including myself until recently, have been teaching about purpose. Here are my concerns:
- When you attempt to gain meaning only from what you DO instead of who you ARE a troubling pattern emerges. First, you begin to base your worth and value as a human being on success, contribution and accomplishment. Second, you begin to judge other people’s worth and value based on their success, contribution and accomplishment. These two ideals oppose a very important basic belief that many people accept. People like the founding fathers (see the Declaration of Independence), Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the person they got the idea from – Jesus. They all believed that all people have innate value and worth based on one truth. All men are created equal. Everyone is created in the image of God.
- Purpose has now become institutionalized instead of personal. In other words organizations, churches, etc. are teaching that without them you can’t know your purpose. Or they will tell you that you should seek to discover what your purpose is and they will be glad to help you but then proceed tell you they know what your purpose is. Your purpose is to serve in their organization, give to their organization, or join their organization. Once you begin to do those things you will discover your purpose because those things are your purpose. Yet, even though the individual may feel good about those things because in many cases doing those things are good things to do the individual is no closer to discovering his or her purpose. I might add that the person is no better off because he or she has unknowingly exchanged institutional purpose for personal responsibility. (That can be good especially when what one’s purpose has been to indulge in rebellion and sin. But that is a fledgling type of faith that all new Christians need and experience as they learn what it means to live in Christ). Be cautious: “I will follow the institution” may replace “I will seek and follow Christ.”
Riding on the coattails of point 2 is the next point:
- Purpose is in danger of becoming the new legalism. It is the new standard for measuring a person’s faith, performance, devotion, relationship to God and righteousness. Much like the Pharisee’s of Jesus day who used the law to manipulate the masses and stay in control of the Jewish religious system some Christian Leaders, Churches and organizations have with good intentions unintentionally “institutionalized” purpose.
Don’t get me wrong I do believe that a person who is connected to a healthy body of believers will be motivated to discover his purpose and to live purposefully. But purpose has almost become a measurement used to discover who is greater, better, more devoted, more obedient, more sacrificial, etc. Worse, some Church leaders use a person’s deep longing to have meaning to manipulate, control and guilt them into action. Even worse (and this is why it is the new legalism) finding your purpose is being promoted with such veracity in some circles that it becomes the new law that needs to be observed in order to attain, sustain or improve a person’s standing with God. In other words, purpose has become a works based righteousness instead of something that flows out of an abiding, faith in, relationship with Jesus.
So, we’ve come full circle. Is one’s worth and value found by “doing” or “being”? Surely since “you are” you have inherent worth and value. Jesus died for you before you did anything – good or bad. Since, that is true your inherent value and worth cannot be increased by what you do including; perfectly living in God’s perfect will. Now, don’t misinterpret what I am saying because “doing” will erupt out of “being”. (I will share in an upcoming post how I believe we can know our value and worth. Surprisingly, it is by recognizing the inherent value and worth in others. Hint: It’s found in The Greatest Commandment.)
However, that is not how “Purpose” is being taught, therein lies the danger of it becoming new version of works-based righteousness. When purpose is taught as “You have to find and live in your purpose or you won’t be acceptable or pleasing to God” it becomes a works based righteousness. Can you see the danger in that line of reasoning?
In the next post I intend to explore “purpose” more. I intend to address our tendency to stress over and worry whether or not we are in “God’s perfect will for our lives”. As I now see it I find it hard to believe that many of the people whose lives are recorded in the Scripture continuously fretted over “discovering” their purpose or spent near as much time as we modern people do worrying about it.