Why are these things important? Why do we do things in this particular way? Why does any of this matter?
These are questions I’ve never a church, annual conference, or even The United Methodist Church as a whole ask before. Simon Sinek brilliantly points out that there are three circles of questions leaders must address and each circle (or question) goes deeper than the previous one. Most of us ask the first two questions all the time – What sorts of things are we to be about? How do we do these things? Church leaders know we have a purpose for existence. If you’re a United Methodist, then you definitely know we have a process to tell us how we are to do things (committees, structures, endless rules on procedure, etc.). But what struck me by this talk is the fact that we rarely get around to asking the deepest and most difficult question of all – Why should any of this matter?
At the local church level, most of us could answer the “what” question – What sorts of things are we to do? Some would say, “make disciples.” Others might say, “be the church.” Still others would say, “bring people to Christ” or “preach, teach, and serve.” Most churches would even answer the “how” question – How do we go about doing these important tasks? Maybe some would say, “baptize people and teach them the ways of Jesus.” Another answer might be, “engage people in spiritual disciplines or service.” As United Methodists, we have an entire Book of Discipline that tells us just about every way possible to go about being the church and local churches are expected to abide by these pre-prescribed procedures.
But why is any of this important?
This is the season where United Methodists everywhere gather for annual conferences across the Connection. And I can imagine that most gatherings would do a good job of telling us what our mission is (“to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world). Many are probably trying to get us excited about our mission by sharing ways we can accomplish it (different ways of being active in ministry).
But how many conferences are getting to the question of why this is important?
In his TED Talk, Simon Sinek notes that the circles order reflects the places in our brain where we comprehend what’s going on around us and learn. And it should come as no surprise that the “why” question correlates with the limbic system in the brain. We can talk about “what” and “how” because those questions touch on parts of the brain where language is easy to attach to brain activity. But the limbic system is different. This complex system of the brain deals with things like passion, motivation, impulses – the stuff we know is there but is really hard to put words on.
Maybe Simon Sinek is onto something here for we United Methodists – maybe we never get around to the “why” question because it’s hard to talk about? The only trouble is, by definition, the “what” or “how” of being a Christian motivates no one. In other words, the question of “why” is the only true motivator for new people to care about what the mission of the church is all about. This is the stuff we share in testimony. It’s the stuff that’s hard to put words on (transformation always is). It’s the stuff that brings us to tears and makes our hearts swell.
No one outside of the church cares about mission statements and bumper stickers.
No one outside of the church cares about structures and doing things a certain weird way for no better reason than, “we’ve always done it this way.”
No one cares that we need new members and more money to continue to survive as the church.
No one cares about any of this, that is, until they know WHY we exist in the first place. And by the way, we inside the church could stand to spend a little more time with the “why” question too. If all we do is talk about what we do and how we do it, then the only motivation for being the church is to take care of ourselves and those who agree with us or understand us. That’s a sad, and dare I say it unfaithful, reason to exist.
Why are we called to gather as the church? Maybe that answer begins in the fact that the God who calls us and saves us, says we can’t keep that gift – we have to live the sort of life where we give things like love, mercy, and forgiveness away to others. And as Simon Sinek would remind all good leaders – we have to begin with the “why” before we move on to the “how” or “what.”
So how does your church or conference address the question of “Why”?
Some “Why” Questions that might lead us to change:
- Why do we prioritize things like money or members or attendance? Is it because those things point us to something deeper about how we are helping people grow in their faith? Or is it because it looks good on a statistical report or somehow ensures we have a secure future?
- Why do we do certain things in a certain way in the local church? Is it because we’ve always done it this way? Does this way of doing things need to change in order to better address the question of why we are followers of Jesus?
- For conference leaders: Why do we appoint pastors from one church to the next? Is it because our system says pastors move along a certain trajectory? Or do we attempt to appoint pastors based on things like gifts, graces, and mission areas (not just local church settings)?
- For The United Methodist Church as a whole: Why do we do the things we do in the ways we do? Are we really trying to form communities of people who follow in the ways of Jesus? Or are we just trying to protect the only “what” and “how” of being the church we’ve ever known?