Starting with “Why”

Start with Why

Recently, a good friend recommended a leadership resource. Immediately it captured my fascination about what creates community and purpose in a business, church, or individual life. Start with Why, by Simon Sinek (Penguin Press: 2009) provides a remarkable challenge. We all start a project from one of three places: what you want to do, how you want to do it, or why you want to do it. Oddly, according to Sinek’s research, only a small fraction of people and organizations start with “why”. But they are by far the ones who change history and experience the highest success.

These are the same tracks we take in congregational ministry and leadership. It is very easy to spend the focus on what we are doing and how we are doing it. Truth be told, we can easily go through the motions and forget the whole reason “why” projects and events are important. On the other hand, when there is a clear sense of “why” we are doing what we do as a congregation (or fellowship group), and we rally around the same “why”, Sinek promises the outcome is far better. I think he is right – especially for faith communities. In fact, when we start any project at “why” our energy is greater, our vision is clearer, and our patience has a greater chance to stay in tact for the long haul.

Having a clear sense of “why” you do what you do, Sinek contends, is the difference between the great movements and leaders of history, and everything else. However, we live in a culture overwhelmed with focus on “what” to do and “how” to do it – mainly via product advertisement. The few companies that promote themselves based on their “why” are so few that they stand out (read the book for specific examples).

I am a collector of leadership resources – stories of business leaders, coaches, and spiritual pioneers. I found Sinek’s writing to be very practical, easily accessible, and compelling. One particular point was the treatment of “gut” level discernment versus rational decision-making. While both are necessary, he contends that research reveals that rationalizing “what” we are doing and “how” we wish to do it often becomes a trap of poor decisions, delayed decisions, or indecision. This is mainly because our culture stresses the rational facts over all other forms of discernment.

heart vs headOn the other hand, “gut” level decisions require emotional assessment. Individuals who start with clarity about “why” they are attempting a project tend to have a more compelling level of energy and vision because they naturally work from the inside out – the heart (or gut) to the head. Sinek explains this process in an easy to understand manner. His examples include Dr. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Regan.

Start with Why offers a great lens through which to consider the history of the Moravian movement, and is a great starting place to consider why so many denominations today are struggling with identity and purpose. I suggest renewal is about recovering “why” we are a congregation, province, and denomination. It is about remembering why our spiritual ancestors placed such a high value on responding to every decision of life with faith, love and hope. What does this mean today? Is this the “why” we need to recover?

It is fairly easy to observe that most congregations are blessed with a supply of very spiritual people and groups. In fact, many rate well on the number and diversity of small group ministry options. But the issue is having a clear and common awareness of “why” a given congregation is seeking to do ministry together – and manifesting that “why” in what they do and how they do it. Sinek offers a simple way to take a look at this reality.

Start with Why is, first and foremost, a resource for personal reflection. It is a great read for anyone seeking to look more deeply at one’s own motivation for life. It is helping me to rekindle the reason why I choose to follow Jesus Christ in the present moment. While it is not a specifically spiritual resource, it is an excellent piece for anyone interested in sharpening his/her own sense of call and purpose.

A synopsis of this resource is available on youtube as a TED talk from Simon Sinek.

neil headshot  The Rev. Dr. Neil Routh is pastor at King Moravian Church.