Simon Sinek’s talk and book about the importance of starting with the question “why?” has a lot of fans and followers.
At the heart of his argument is the claim that very few people and organizations know why they do what they do. They don’t know their purpose or their reasoning for being.
Here’s the video if want more than my brief summary:
If Sinek is correct, it helps explain why the United Methodist Church’s mission and marketing slogans seem so uninspiring.
“Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
This operates more of less on the level of what we do and how we do it, perhaps getting to why at the end. The why, it turns out, is to transform this world, although we hide that part at the end.
Or how about: “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.”
That is a “how” statement, if I understand Sinek’s categories properly. Maybe it is a “what” statement. What I know for sure is that it does not tell us “why” we do what we do.
Here is my understanding of how John Wesley thought about and talked about what he was doing.
His purpose was to show people the way to happiness in eternity. Everything he did was motivated by the belief that each one of us is hanging over a great gulf and we will either fall into an eternity of pain and suffering and darkness or land on a happy shore of joy, peace, and light.
If you want to know the way to that shore, Wesley said, I can show you the way that the Bible teaches to arrive there. And here is the best news. It is not only something you arrive at after you die. You can taste it right now. You can see, feel, and experience today. It starts in this life.
Do you want to know how?
I don’t think I could point to any single place where Wesley put it precisely this way, but I don’t think this is an unfair example of how Wesley would explain the “why” of what he did. And — to Sinek’s point — I believe the “why” was always forefront in Wesley’s mind and actions.
I don’t think we today in United Methodism can begin to answer the why question — why do we do what we do — in any coherent or uniform way. And I don’t believe we really are aware of that. We can talk a good game about what we do. We have lots of support for how to be a United Methodist. All our metrics about “vital congregations” tell us what thriving churches do and offer some theories about how those actions create vitality, but we rarely talk about why any of that matters to anyone else. How many of us and how many of our people can answer the simple question: “Why do you do what you do?”
Do you see an answer to this “why” question in United Methodism today that I am missing?