Start with Why


Start with Why

Why, why, why?  Any parent will tell you of the patience testing tendency of small children to persistently ask the question ‘Why?’   I knew that I had really become a Dad the first time that I found myself saying, ‘Because I say so!’  But is the question ‘why’ something that we have lost sight of in the Church and in our endeavours to lead change?

I’ve just finished reading Simon Sinek’s excellent book ‘Start with Why’ in which he describes what he calls the ‘golden circle’.  At its centre is why.  He maintains that the most profound movements in society and the most effective organisations always start with why.  They are absolutely clear about what they are all about and the purpose that they seek to serve.  This ‘why’ has the ability to stir the emotions, to touch hearts, to spur people into action and inspire change.   Sinek outlines how effective movements and organisations build from ‘why’ and then move to the questions of how this will be done and what they will do.  He maintains that many modern organisations have either lost touch with why they first came into existence, or were never really clear about this from the outset.  In the absence of a clear ‘why’ an organisation becomes consumed by what it is doing and how they might do this.

Could this be true for many western churches?  If I were to go and ask most church congregations what their church does, I imagine that I would get a very long and comprehensive list of ministries and activities.  If I were to ask what the purpose of church is, I expect I would hear a much less clear and uniform response.  As a Church, we seem to have become increasingly focused on what we are doing and how we should do it, and become increasingly less clear about why.  The narrative that seems to dominate our thinking is framed in the pursuit of continual improvement of our church offering e.g. we need better coffee, a better welcome team, more effective pastoral services, better teaching, more lively worship, more comfortable seats, better childrens work etc. etc.  But why?  In the absence of a clear understanding of the purpose of the church, we are in grave danger of turning it into a purveyor of spiritual services, more focused on what we are doing than why.

As Christian leaders we must always start with why.  First, we have to be clear about the ‘big why’; what is our purpose as Christians and as a Church.  The second line of the Lord ’s Prayer points to this, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’  Our purpose is to be agents of Kingdom transformation wherever we are; making disciples of Jesus Christ, living out Kingdom values of love, honesty and fairness and working in partnership with God as co-creators in creation.  Secondly you need to be clear about the ‘little why’; the purpose behind the specific programme of change that God has laid on your heart.  This can’t just be the intellectual rationale for change, it has to be an emotional, visceral compulsion to make things happen; the ‘why’ that grabs our hearts as well as our minds.

Perhaps, like little children, we ought to ask ‘why’ a little more often!

Robert Funning, Project Director


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We need to wake up and smell the coffee

What has a Tyrannosaurus, Woolworths and many churches across the UK got in common?  They all failed to keep pace with changes in the world around them and became extinct. 

The harsh reality of life is we must fit the world in which we live.  The choice is as blunt as ‘change or die’.  As the world continues to change we have to be prepared to change along with it to remain relevant.

 The challenge of being ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ has one that has long vexed the church.  The gospel message should never be watered down to pander to a popularist agenda but neither should we revel in being so out of touch with modern day society that we become irrelevant.

Findings from a recent report by the Church Army’s research unit showed that in the decade up to 2010 18% of churches grew but 27% declined.  This continues the trend of previous decades of ongoing decline in church attendance.  A quote often attributed to Einstein is that insanity can be defined as, ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results’.

 If the church is to thrive it must be prepared to do things differently.  Where we have been prepared to do this, for example in the Fresh Expressions movement, we see vibrant new life.  Two thirds of all Fresh Expressions maintain growth and for every one person who becomes involved in a Fresh Expression 2.6 more people will join.  I’m not sure if I have ever seen 0.6 of a person but that’s statistics for you!

We need to wake up and smell the coffee.  The world is changing and we have to be prepared to change with it in how we communicate and engage people with gospel truths and grow disciples of Jesus.  As the fate of the dinosaurs and the sight of many abandoned church buildings across our country shows us, a stark reality faces those that fail to adapt to a changing world.

Rob Funning Emmaus Leadership Project Director

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Strategic Help

Strategic Help

“However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at the results!”  Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill has lots of memorable sound bites and another of my favourites is: “If you have to go through hell, keep going!”  A great quote I often use with leaders when things are really tough going.

Leadership is a challenging responsibility at the best of times and sometimes it is seemingly impossible and engages every bit of wit, sinew and sweat you can muster.  Too often you find yourself caught up in the day to day management of tasks and never seem to have enough time or energy left to lead your people forward to reach the vision.  You know what you want to do but often you find yourself doing the things you really don’t want to have to do ... which sounds like a bit of Romans chapter 7 but isn’t!
I have just come off the phone to two really good church leaders each of whom is pioneering new discipleship-growth initiatives in the north of England with organically developing mission communities.  They both outlined two real challenges they wanted my help with and I marvelled at their dogged determination to find the way through in order to press on towards their vision.

The defining character of these two leaders is their passionate commitment to reaching the desired outcome that will see their vision come about.  This local vision and action plan has been shaped in prayer and discussion with their people as well as by the overall diocesan vision and strategy.  As they lead the change – transformational change in both cases – they are encountering all sorts of mountains, rivers and oceans of challenge and obstruction.  But they are both faithful and humble leaders.  They know that they are called by God to lead these people at this time to the destination set by the vision.  So they keep on keeping on – through hell and high water!  And they are taking their people with them ... In fact, they are now finding that sometimes one of their people takes up the baton and leads through another difficult section of the journey.  I have a sneaking suspicion that actually they are enjoying their current challenges precisely because it assures them that they are moving forward!

Jim Collins outlines the attributes of a top-class leader or a ‘Level 5 Leader’ as he calls it in his book ‘Good to Great’ (Random House Business Books, 2004).  These leaders do five things: (1) Ask for help, (2) Take responsibility, (3) Develop discipline, (4) Find the right people, (5) Lead with passion.

He also notes that they are humble people, who often point to others strengths and successes over their own.  But their passion and discipline means that they hold their nerve with unswerving commitment to the path ahead – the strategy – to reach the step by step goals to see the successful outcome of the vision.
Perhaps the attribute of a ‘level 5 leader’ that is most forgotten – or seen as the weakest – is the very first one Jim Collins lists: Asking for help.  This is definitely not a weakness but a necessary strength for all those who are leading change (and by the way, change is ‘led’ not ‘managed’ ... more on that in a later blog!)
The Emmaus Leadership Project is set up to do just that: To help leaders who are leading a vision of transformation to reach their desired outcome.  It is a privilege to walk alongside these leaders and their teams for a while and to help them reach the tipping-point in their strategy to see the vision come about.

Why not put the first attribute of a level five leader into practice ... and ask for some help!

“If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously” (Romans 12:8 MSG)