I love to play games and I am fortunate that I get to play a lot of hobby board and card games. In order to play all of these games I have read a lot of rulebooks, and I know how to play a lot of different games. The end result of all this is that when I am at a gathering where games are being played there is a good chance I am teaching a game. I have taught a lot of games.
Every time I am teaching a game I always begin the exact same way by stating “The goal of the game is to win.” From there I will then explain how to win. It seems like common sense to state that the goal of any given game is to win. However, it is important because in the midst of playing the game it can be very easy to forget. Many newer hobby games employ a wide variety of mechanisms. It can be surprisingly easy to get caught up in exploring these mechanisms and lose sight of the goal of the game.
For example, there is a popular card game called Dominion. This is a “deck building” game where every player starts off with the same deck of cards and they slowly acquire more cards that allow the players more options and abilities. Ultimately, players are building up their deck to the point that they can afford to get the high cost point cards, because in the end the player with the most points wins. The cards players acquire to their decks can allow for a lot of synergy and combos. I have seen more than one player get really caught up in this and be enamored by the big card combos they can pull off. However, doing this does not necessarily lead to acquiring point cards. The player lost sight of the goal of winning, they focused on making big combos and not on getting the point needed to win.
Another example is the game Pandemic. In Pandemic all of the players work cooperatively to win by curing diseases. However, it is possible to lose if the diseases spread too quickly, so the player also have to prevent that from happening. It can be easy for the team of players to get so focused on being defensive and stopping the spread of diseases that they do not focus on the victory conditions. The game will also end when a deck of cards runs out, so when players do not aggressively pursue curing the diseases they run out of time before they can win the game.
The goal of any game is to win, but it can be deceptively easy to lose sight of that through the course of playing a game. The same principle is true for being a disciple of Jesus. In what is commonly called the great commission, Jesus himself told us the goal of faith at the end of the gospel of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
As followers of Christ that is our goal, but just like in playing games it is possible to lose sight of the goal. Followers of Christ need to always keep the goal in mind or else we can easily get distracted. Unfortunately, this can be seen in churches. We have lost sight of the goal when the church calendar is full of fellowship events but the word evangelism is never mentioned. We have lost sight of the goal when programs, even well-meaning programs, become an ends to themselves. The reality for churches is that if a program or ministry is not somehow making new disciples, deepening the discipleship of current disciples, or teaching the commands of Jesus then it is a distraction at best.
In playing a game it is important to be reflective and evaluate decisions. If previous decisions are not leading to the goal of winning, then players will adjust their strategy. In a game it would make little sense to keep making the same sub-optimal move that does not move any closer to the goal of winning. Yet many churches are saddled with traditions that continue year after year. These events are done the same way “because we’ve always done it that way”, yet they yield no fruit and they do not make new disciples or deepen discipleship in discernable ways. In playing a game it is important to always be focusing one’s strategy on the goal of winning. In the same way, in the Christian faith it is important to always be focusing on how to better fulfill the great commission.
The goal of Christianity is to follow Jesus and share Jesus with others. That is the main thing. May we keep the main thing the main thing. May we not lose sight of the goal, and as we seek to make disciples may we claim the promise that Jesus himself gives us: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”