Start with why

January 18, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 2
Phil Wagler |

On a rainy Lower Mainland Friday night my son and I hit the slopes. It turned out to be a beautiful evening on the mountain, where the rain turned to snow and the coniferous trees hung with powder. The line-ups were short and the runs long.

I ski. My son snowboards. As the night drew to a close, he put out the challenge that we swap equipment. I have never snowboarded. I am an old dog; don’t teach me new tricks. But pride is capable of grinding clear thought to a halt and I agreed. I took off the familiar two sticks and strapped myself onto that one board. Perilous. Stupid. How would my Sunday sermon go with a concussion?

I managed one run down the hill. Okay, I was a human snowball. Painful! I never knew falling could happen in so many different ways. Sheer German stubbornness and insulation overcame a multitude of good reasons to quit.

The whole way down one burning question echoed through the apparent empty cavern that had become my skull: Why am I doing this? I knew what I was doing, but that “what” was meaningless without the why. And the why was simple: I needed to show my son I could do it. That why was inspiration enough. That why was the starting place for what I never thought possible.

Author Simon Sinek developed “the golden circle” from his study of what motivates humans, to help us understand how the best and most inspiring leaders and organizations function. He notes they consistently start with why, then ask how, and only then get to what they do or produce. Why are we doing this? Why do we exist? Why? It’s a huge question that we don’t ask often enough—because it’s too hard. It’s too threatening a query. It’s too revealing.

In our churches we would do well to learn from Sinek’s golden circle insights. We generally spend time talking endlessly about what we do, what we should do, what we wish we could do and almost zero time asking why. Perhaps we assume the why is a given. But go ahead and ask the question, and see what type of responses—or non-responses—you get.

Once we ask why, it can initiate some rather unsettling soul-searching and angst. Is what we are doing and how we are doing it even remotely connected to the why of our existence as the people of God? There is no end of what can be done for good in this world. Furthermore, plenty of good is being done by organizations whose starting point of why is not the same as that of Christians. Are we unique? If so, why?

I have to agree with Sinek: those who inspire and make the biggest impact always start with why. And if the church exists because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead to form a citizenship of another world in this present one, then what might emerge from our local fellowships if we had the courage to ask why?

Our early inquisitiveness as children begins with why, so why not live a childlike faith that seeks this understanding always? Start with why and get ready for a healthy struggle that will make learning how to snowboard a comparative walk in a prairie park. But it might begin new inspiring adventures for the glory of God.

Phil Wagler ( lives in Surrey, B.C., because God called his family there. He is indebted to a dear friend, Tim Doherty, for engraving the question “why?” in his grown-up vocabulary.

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