In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, “Start with Why” he talks about how organizations that thrive don’t just answer the “what?” and “how?” questions but also answer the most important question of all, “Why?” Why does the organization exist? That question drives what they do and how they do it. The organizations that thrive are the ones that get you to buy into their why even though their how and what are pretty much the exact same as their competitors. If you haven’t seen that video you should watch it,
In the book, “On the Verge” Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson talk about three components of an organization that basically fit that pattern. Their three are: practice (what we do), ethos (how we do it) and values (why we do it). Where Simon Sinek talks about this from a business and societal perspective, Hirsch and Ferguson apply this to congregational/organizational ministry and leadership.
In Churches of Christ, we have long focused on the what and the how. We know what we do and we know exactly how we are to do it. If you grew up in the Churches of Christ, you know exactly what I am talking about. We have what’s and how’s for everything. We take that very seriously. The part that I think has been weak at times, and as Sinek points out is the hardest thing for organizations to articulate and push is the why…the underlying value systems that drive the what and the how.
I believe that what Hirsch and Sinek are talking about are the key piece to us navigating our current identity crisis in Churches of Christ. At one point in time we were one of the fastest growing Christian groups in the United States. At that time our what, how and why matched up well with a world that was modern and where thinking was logical, linear and analytical. We were pros at speaking that language. We knew how to convert people out of other groups by analytically and logically showing believers attending other churches how right our view of scripture was and their need to correct their doctrine. That is no longer a popular approach because the value system that drove that approach has major flaws both biblically and now culturally as well. The what (converting people from other churches) and at least part of the the how (strong arm tactics and logical gymnastics – I know I am overgeneralizing when I say that…it wasn’t all that way) had to change and I believe we are still figuring out what that is supposed to look like today. But here is the point we cannot miss – you can try all the new things but until you actually change the underlying value system to something healthier and more biblical you will always flounder with adjustments to the what and the how because values always drive the other two.
So here is our challenge. We have to take one of our best and most enduring values in the Churches of Christ, our love and respect for God’s Word and our view that it is authoritative for the life and practice of the church and start looking deeper into the pages through the practices to the underlying values of the early church. When we discover, teach and equip people based on those values, I believe we will better find our way into a world that needs to hear our voice…as we echo to them those same authoritative, inspired words from scripture.