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