Start with Why.

ImageRecently I ran across this short TED talk on the Power of Why. The speaker (and author of the book, “Start with Why”), Simon Sinek spoke of the power and importance of starting with asking why.

Why matters. In our church context it would lead us to ask, Why do we worship? Why be a disciple? Why be part of a church? Why questions matter because they are the questions that needs answers before other questions can be asked.

The why is before the howhow do we make worship more engaging? How do we raise more money for ministry? How might we impact the community?

The why is also before the whatwhat would contemporary worship look like? What would we need to do to update the nursery? What would be a good time to offer a new worship gathering?

Asking why first leads us down a different path.

Let’s explore each of these pieces – .

What is what we do – in the church what we do is offer worship, children’s ministry, go on a mission trip, etc. 

How is how we do it – Sunday at 9AM with traditional music or we offer nursery care with trained caregivers, or our mission trip is to Mexico during spring break. 

Usually this (the what and how) is our focus and so when we are in decline or even when we just want to improve our church life we seek to tweak these things.  So we will upgrade the music, we will paint the nursery.  And, while there is nothing wrong with this, it isn’t sufficient if we are not grounded in why we are doing what we are doing.

Why invite us into the depths – it asks: why do our churches exist?  Why do clergy need to be paid?  Why don’t I pray and read the scriptures? Why do I or don’t I invite my neighbors to worship? We’d probably all agree that here are lots of possible answers to these questions and how we answer the why question matters a lot. Answer the why one way and people are engaged and connected.  Answer another way and find people detached and ministry in decline.

In other words, people don’t buy your what if they don’t buy your why.

So if your what is “worship” but your why is “we need more young people in here to do the jobs we used to do” people feel that and don’t attend. Or if your what is a “weekly discipleship group” and your why is “because my relationship with Christ Jesus has changed my life and I want others to experience that,” people connect and lives are changed.

Let’s look at this on two levels, the personal (individuals) and organizational (church) level.

First, the question of why is a question of identity. Identity asks, who am I?

Who I believe myself to be has everything to do with why I do what I do.

For example…

Do I work as an elder because I am untrained to do anything else or do I work as an elder because I have deep passion for the church or Jesus? Which one of these is true forms who I am and those in the pews can feel it.

Or – Do I read the Bible because I have a sermon to prepare or because it forms my identity as a follower of Christ?  There is a difference between these two and while I believe study of the scripture in order to preach it has a great effect on my spiritual life what happens to my study of scripture if I am not preaching?

The why matters because our identity as clergy leaders (for those of us who are) matters not only the state of our own souls but to the churches we lead.  So if I am no longer on fire for the mission of the church but instead see this as a paycheck that matters.

Is it possible that the Churches’ decline is because we stumble to connect to our own why?  Has our why become mudded by the voices around us and our own dizzying pace of ministry? Maybe. I believe we as clergy leaders would be well served to reconnect with our why – and if our why is more about our own comfort and we don’t see the need to move past that, we may need to retire.

How do we reconnect with our why?  Certainly where we find ourselves (if we do find ourselves somewhat disconnected from our why), isn’t new.  This isn’t the first time in Christian history the church has struggled.  Times of retreat and prayer where Christian leaders pulled away from the demands of daily activities have been a foundation during times where our why has become fuzzy.  When was the last time you took a whole day to pray and listen to God?  When was the last time the scriptures spoke to the state of your own soul during a time of renewal? These are questions to honestly ask ourselves –

I believe we are renewed when we look seriously at our why.  A renewed connection to our why brings us back to our identity in Christ. Our identity as Christian leaders is rooted in being children of God who live in an ongoing connection with the Holy Spirit who changes us and renews our churches.  Starting with the why brings us back to what matters.

Second, let’s look at why on a more organizational level. The culture around us has changed but we have been slow to adapt; let’s explore one example. 

We lament that many young families (if we are even reaching young families) have children in sports on the weekend.  And while we all agree that when your child doesn’t get into her number one college soccer won’t give her hope but Christ will, we are left with today’s reality.  And what is our response?  Mostly we whine about the values of today’s families.  But there is another choice. 

If we are guided by the what  – that is, what we do is offer worship at 10AM on Sundays instead of why we do this (to make disciples), we will lament and do little. 

But if our why is to make disciples maybe we need to ask why aren’t we offering worship 5 times (Saturday night, Sunday and a weekday) in order to reach families? Or what if we offered an Internet Church so families could attend that in a pinch?  Or if we worked connectionally with other UM Churches to cover 10 services over a week and our families could go to any of 5 different churches?  This moves us from what we do to why we do it and doing that enables us to see what we do in a whole new light.

If we define ourselves by what we do instead of why we do it we will stumble and stumble badly. I believe this is much of our current problem. But imagine…what would change if our why guided our church life?

You may be familiar with how the railroad industry stumbled because it saw it self narrowly as being about railroads instead of transportation.  Or the recording industry stumbled because it saw itself as selling CDs instead of getting the music to people.  Or the newspaper industry stumbled because it focused on newspapers instead of communication.  Are we making the same mistake? I think the answer is yes.

What if we didn’t ask what should we do about our decline as a church and instead we asked why did we start doing what we are doing to begin with & what can we do to bring our cause to life in light of all the changes in our world today? (adapted from pg 51, “Start with Why”)

To do some would lead us in some new, frighten and fruitful directions.