Are We Making Cabinets or Managing a Cabinet Shop?

Imagine yourself in the shop of a master cabinet maker. Wherever you turn you see saws, chisels, marking and measuring tools, routers, and planes of every kind. The focal point of the woodworker’s shop is an assembly line with many cabinets of various shapes and sizes in various stages of construction.

The cabinet maker’s mission is quite clear in his own mind: "I make cabinets." He is equally clear about what tools he needs to do quality work. He understands his success will be measured by the quantity and quality of cabinets he produces. He knows that the chisels and planes are merely the means–making cabinets is the end.

The church can be likened to the shop of a master cabinet maker. Of course, God Himself is the Master Cabinet Maker, but He has appointed pastors as His assistants. He entrusts pastors with people, facilities, programs, and ministries. But which are the tools and which are the cabinets? Either programs (programs, facilities, and ministries) are the tools and people are the cabinets; or people are the tools and programs are the cabinets. 

I’m not asking for the "correct" answer, but "your" answer. What do you measure? And what do you celebrate? Do you celebrate program success or changed lives? It is no small difference.

Patsy and I have invested 25 years in our church–a quarter century! We have nothing but great memories. Recently I told our pastor, "I am what this church is all about. I am the product. My wife is the product. My children are the product. My changed life and the change lives of thousands of others–that is something worth celebrating! Through this church we became disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 

I suspect that every church starts with a passion to make cabinets–to put people on an assembly line and craft them into disciples. The programs, facilities, and ministries the church selects seem like the appropriate tools to cut, chisel, and scrape people into the likeness of Jesus.

But as any businessman will tell you, once you build up several business units with overheads, they take on a life of their own. Often, feeding and maintaining "the beast" takes priority. Vision gets foggy; resources get stretched thin; there are not enough leaders; people feel overworked; plans go awry; quality drops off; miscommunication runs rampant; morale suffers; the organization doesn’t execute like it used to; internal resistance builds. The ends and the means get confused. Ultimately, production and sales both suffer. Unless the business gets back to its reason for existing, the downward spiral will continue. 

Once the programs, facilities, and ministries of the church take on a life of their own, they will not naturally be content to remain "means" but, like in a business, will vie to become the "ends." For example, suppose your church starts a Crisis Pregnancy Center and a Shelter for Abused Women. Unguarded, the tendency will be for those ministries to become "the reason we exist," rather than the means for building up our people into disciples.

Frankly, the cabinet maker has it easy. The cabinets can’t pitch in and help, so the cabinet maker would never dream of taking a cabinet off the line before it is finished. But people can pitch in and help, and because there is so much work to do, it is tempting to take a person off the assembly line before they are ready. 

It takes courage to keep the main thing the main thing. It is a vision issue. Will we make "cabinets," with programs as our "tools?" Or will we run programs, and use people as the tools to keep them running?

Reflection and Discussion Questions: 

  • To an outsider, what would be the focal point of your "shop"?
  • Are you clear about your mission? 
  • Are you equally clear about the tools you will need to do quality work?
  • Do you understand that your success will be based upon the quantity and quality of disciples you produce? 
  • What do you measure?
  • What do you celebrate?
  • Do you have any programs that have taken on a life of their own (where the means have become the end)? 
  • If I randomly asked several of your people, "What is your church producing?" would they understand that it’s about making disciples and changed lives? 
  • If applicable, what would it take for you to get back to your mission?

Yours for changed lives, 

Patrick Morley, Ph.D.

Man in the Mirror

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