Is this barrel moving?

In a recent “TED” talk, the speaker addressed the need to move from the “what” and “how” to the “why.”

The logic was simple and compelling.  Many businesses and institutions readily can tell you what they do and how they do it.  Precious few are clear on why.  They often confuse the what and how with the why  and in so doing make the forms the point, the reason d’etre.  So churches may mistakenly think their why is only a certain worship style, and yet worship style is merely one of a churches what’s.

This concept of what was brought starkly to mind in Gregory Smith’s recent letter of resignation from Goldman Sachs, a letter in which he said that he stopped hearing the question asked, “How can we serve the customer?” in meetings within the company.

Institutional forms of religion, like Goldman Sachs, have little future unless they start asking this question.  Growing forms of faith have little hope of maintaning growth if they fail to continue asking this question.

That question is not about simple pandering to the whims of the masses.  At the core, it is about asking who do we serve, ourselves or others?  Do we serve those in the seats or do we create disciples to serve those not in the seats?  This faith is clear on that point – the answer is the latter – loving others remains inextricably linked to loving God.  We must serve those outside ourselves and I humbly think my job, as it true for many pastors. is to continually remind ourselves and those around us of this foundational truth.

See creating disciples to serve those not in the seats will call us to places we don’t want to go.  It pulls us at the core towards discomfort.  There is no pandering there.  The same cannot be said of congregations who incessantly asks congregants what they want to do, what they like, and serve that answer myopically.  I am often tempted to do just such a thing.  It is the difference between asking “What do we want to do?” vs. “What do we want to do for others?”  The former question is pandering and unfortunately will feel very good to all involved.  (To see how this has played out dangerously in the medical field, read “Hospitals Are Not Hotels” in the NYT)

Those who want a bigger answer about who to serve will simply vote with their feet.  They will find churches or other institutions with bigger more, engaging missions or simply decide to go “solo.”  Those who stay with the small answer, only asking of themselves what they want/ like, will be left with the question, “What’s happening?  Why is this barrel moving?”

Let’s keep asking the bigger question!  If you want to know what the answer looks like see the work the congregation is putting in around the “Breathing Room” cancer support weekend in April.  It will leave you inspired.

There is both space and need to serve those within the congregation; fellowship and community is critically important as a starting point.   However, the wider project of those outside a congregation must remain ever present in our thoughts and aim.



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