I never understood what the phrase "means to an end" meant until I started teaching drum lessons. (Shameless self-plug.) I was with my guitar-slinging brother-in-law one morning having coffee and I was telling him about my new endeavor of music lessons. The inevitable question, "Do you teach your students to read music?" came up, and, without really thinking about it, I said, "yeah, but reading music is really just a means to an end--'The end' being personal expression through music."
For the sake of teaching someone the whacky idea of playing music, we have to speak the same language. But once you've learned the language, you don't need to think about it. You think through the language, without thinking about it. (Like George Orwell taught us in his book 1984.)
A quick aside: This is why I love the aptly named "chord charts" so often used in modern worship music (and also improvised jazz music). They give you the lyrics along with the chords that make up the "foundation" and the "mood" of the piece. The rest you have to figure out on your own--In other words, just feel it. That's what musicianship is: Feeling it.
Reading sheet music does not make you a musician any more than reading words makes you an author. Reading music is nothing more than a stepping stone in the journey towards the next opportunity to express yourself through music. And success happens when each of those opportunities leaves you with nothing more than the desire to do it again.