What Is Our Why?
Michael Jr. is a Christian comedian that travels the world not only doing stand up comedy but also listening to people's stories of inspiration, passion, and joy. During one particular show, he engaged in conversation with a man sitting in the audience who said he teaches music at a school. After asking the man a bit about his profession, he jokingly asked the music director if he himself could sing. When the man said yes, Michael Jr. asked him to sing a few bars of Amazing Grace. After the music director sang a few bars of the song, it was evident he was quite talented.
Yet, then something fascinating and awe-inspiring unfolded. Michael Jr. asked the man to sing Amazing Grace again, but that time he asked him to sing the song as if he was reflecting on a lifetime and experience of difficulty and sorrow. The difference was truly amazing. The man sang the same song, but he told a different story. It was a story through song that connected with the music and the audience erupted in applause and appreciation.
Here is the video.
It was the same song, the same singer, but the second time it was a very different presentation and a very different response from those hearing it. What was the difference? It was the story behind the message. It was what Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, would name as the difference of what happens inside of people and how others are drawn to us when we start with our true, core WHY. Our why is our core purpose that motivates us, propels us and keeps us going not out of obligation, duty or even responsibility, but because our WHY is so strong we can't imagine doing anything else. Others have also named this principle, our compelling reason.
Recently, I have wondered if we have lost our WHY in the church. We spend a great deal of time talking and focusing on the WHAT-We want more people in the pews, more money in the offering plate or new leaders to inspire us and lead us in new directions. We also spend a great deal of time talking and focusing on our HOW (often this also is tied to comparing ourselves to others and a whole lot of shoulds)-such as "We really should do something different with our Sunday School." "We should put words on the screen or have a contemporary band like that church that is growing." "We should be trying to get more people in the neighborhood to attend."
Now, these conversations and ideas are not inherently bad in themselves, but if they are not rooted in the most foundational piece-our WHY, then they are a flawed conversation and process that will leave us frustrated and confused as to why things do not change that much. For example, when we say we want more people in the pews and more money in the offering plate, we must dig deep and ask ourselves-WHY? We often start with the surface answers to that question-"Well, to keep the doors of our church open. To preserve our traditions or to pass on the church to a new generation." BUT WHY? Are these compelling enough reasons for others to buy in, be inspired, and be moved to share the vision and work with us?
Imagine if Jesus' only WHY, his only compelling reasons were "Well, I just want to see how many people will follow me." Or "I just want to make sure people know the traditions of the faith." These reasons would not be compelling and inspiring enough to create a movement, message, ministry and mission that would continue to be relevant over 2000 years later.
However, the WHY of Christ that is rooted in hope, salvation, grace, and offering unconditional love and inclusion of ALL people is!! The WHY of Christ does not need a Public Relations team. It is a message that needs no fancy marketing campaign, branding or programming, as it is compelling and transformative enough on its own. It is a message that stands alone when the story is told and shared authentically, boldly, and invitationally.
Imagine what could happen in our churches if we took seriously our WHY. If we sincerely considered why we exist, why we gather, why we want others to join us and why our neighbors, our communities, our world need what we have to offer. I challenge you as members, leaders, pastors to ask, and seek the compelling reasons to the question--What is our WHY? Start with the WHY and see what happens.
Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister