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.
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What Makes a Faith Nurturer?

So you have filled that last teacher spot… take a breath, pat yourself on the back, and remember that this is not your last contact with this group of people.  They accepted the big commitment to teach.  It is up to the church to continue to support teachers.  A monthly appreciation is one idea — a Sunday off, a special Bible study class so that teachers can be fed spiritually, and quarterly teacher training are a few more things your Christian Education committee should be involved in planning to let these teachers feel supported and appreciated, but not overwhelmed. (Let me know if I can help you do any of those things or provide more ideas!)

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Now, when you were getting these commitments, did you go to the same people who have done this role in the past effectively? I encourage you to challenge yourself to reach out to individuals who may need a slight nudge toward teaching.  There are some great online resources, such as the free ecumenical site Opening Doors to Discipleship, which might be just what these individuals need to make that final step in discerning that they can teach even if they don’t have to have all the answers.  The first course on this website deals with some very basic teacher training helps and is easy to work through as an individual or as a small group together so that sharing reflections can take place.  The second course is a simple Bible overview.  How many times do you think people feel like they can’t teach because they don’t know enough about the Bible?  The key to this problem is that no one has all the answers and a good, basic knowledge will be all that is needed.  Try to identify individuals in your congregation that might be thinking about taking on a role in teaching and use these courses in a small class to help them to decide if teaching is a calling for them.  This will build your pool of people that you can go to when you are looking to staff Sunday School classes again.  Hopefully some new faces will emerge and breathe fresh air into your program.

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A good place to begin all this would be to bring your teachers to Kernersville Moravian Church on Saturday, October 24 from 10:00-2:00 where they will hear about the essentials of the Moravian faith, what it means to them as teachers, and how to begin teaching these essentials to various age level classes during the year.  There will be a chicken pie lunch, a new, free Moravian resource, and many other opportunities for fellowship and learning.  Register online today and bring not only your teachers, but also your camp counselors, small group leaders,  VBS volunteers, and faith nurturers of every type (parents! grandparents!) so that we all can learn the Moravian essentials for educational ministry.

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Beth Hayes is  the Director of Congregational Resources and Ministries for the Board of Cooperative Ministries.

Time for Every Matter

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I wanted to write this month on time and thought about finding some popular songs that refer to time. There were so many, I decided not to sort through them to find a few that seemed most appropriate. We are so obsessed with time, so I’ll bet a song will quickly come to your mind if it hasn’t already.  After I gave up on songs, I started looking at famous quotes regarding time. There are a lot of those, too. Here is one from Thomas Jefferson:
“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing.”
Boy, Thomas Jefferson sure wanted us to be busy! He also said:
“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

In reviewing famous quotes on the subject of time, I also found this one from Mother Teresa’s book A Simple Path (Random House Publishing Group, 1995)
“In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East — especially in India — I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving — it is not in the result of loving.”

four seasonsWhat different perspectives on the use of time! The author of Ecclesiastes tells us “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (3:1, NRSV) This verse is followed by fourteen pairs of differing uses of time. What are we to make of our time? Which of the differing uses of our time is right for this time, this place, this situation?

The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “time” on 765 occasions. Job 27:10 asks the question “Will they take delight in the Almighty? Will they call upon God at all times?” Here are a few of many verses of scripture that tell us about our good and godly use of time (emphases mine):

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psalm 34:1)
Trust in [God] at all times (Psalm 62:8a)
Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. (Psalm 106:3)
My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times. (Psalm 119:20)
A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
Be alert at all times, (Luke 21:36a)
It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, (Galatians 4:18a)
Be filled with the Spirit, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b,20)
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

To me, these scriptures seem to agree with Thomas Jefferson on the matter of always being conscious of our use of time while seeming to also agree with Mother Teresa on loving and being present with God and to one another with our time. Certainly both of these renowned figures were very familiar with the Holy Bible and the teachings of Christianity. I have a high degree of confidence that both of them did what they did and were where they were, at least in part if not wholly, because of their unique understanding of God’s calling on their very different lives.

In the coming weeks, spend some time talking about and thinking about our use of the years, days, and hours that God has laid before us. I ask you to consider how you make use of your time in good and Godly ways. What are the actions that you are called to perform and where are you called to serve to best become the authentic, unique child of God that you are called to be?

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Co 9:11–15)

walter bishop

The Rev. Walter Bishop is pastor at Hopewell Moravian Church.

(All scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

More than a Classroom

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common…And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47

christian education

Teaching and attending Sunday School is important.

From toddlers to teenagers, I have been teaching Sunday school for many years and have learned from my students each Sunday. I thank God that he has allowed his little ones to bring me to a deeper spirituality.

Why don’t more people teach?  Many times I have ended up being my child’s teacher because no one else would step up to the blessing of teaching. I know that my now grown children would have benefited spiritually to have more Christian adults as mentors during their Sunday school years.

Sunday school is not just for kids; it is also a wonderful time for adults to gain deeper understanding of God’s holy word.  Questions can be asked, and friendships can be made.

“Sunday school is on the death list of many in today’s church…Maybe we aren’t seeing the whole picture. Maybe there is more to this movement than we have been willing to acknowledge. Maybe there is new life just waiting to emerge from unsuspecting rooms where children, youth, and adults are learning lessons not provided in other venues. Could it be that the effectiveness of the Sunday school in the years to come is more about living our faith in effective ways, than it is about our identifying, quantifying, and stratifying the Sunday school as it was or is?”

In our baptism liturgy we say the words, “We come before you with joy, O God, to claim the promises of your covenant.” When we baptize our young people, we as the church repeat these words “For God’s promise is to us and to our children.”

Sunday School: a time to come and claim the promise of the Lord’s Covenant.

Jo Beth Boyles


Jo Beth Boyles worships and serves the Lord at Bethabara Moravian Church, part of the Pilot Mountain RCC, and Jesus is her joy!

Quotes are taken from the book Sacred Challenge: Blazing a New Path for the Sunday School of the FutureVisit our online library to find this and other resources about Sunday school.

Knowing Our Neighbors

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I didn’t take Hebrew when I was in seminary. I figured reading right to left was going to make learning a new language doubly difficult, so I opted for Greek. I still managed to pick up on some nuances of the Hebrew language which transform how we understand who we are as people of faith. For example, the intimacy of the relationship God shares with the people, and vice-versa, was wrapped up in a word we translate as “to know.” God“knows” us and we are to “know” God, in the way two people in loving covenantal life “know” each other.

I have been thinking about that deep Hebrew word recently while reflecting on the dual practices Jesus tells his followers to commit to: love God and love your neighbor. I am positive that the direction my life is supposed to take in loving God looks more like that Hebrew word for “to know” than the sentimentality that can define how I “love.” Of course, that’s not a radically new insight for us.

But I am further challenged when I look at the second part of Jesus’ demand of his followers: love your neighbor. What if sentimentality toward my neighbor isn’t enough? More specifically, what if kind-hearted acts of service isn’t the point? What if Jesus is asking of his followers that we get to “know” our neighbors as though we were in a covenantal relationship together? That may change much about how we operate as followers of Christ, and how those we are called to minister to experience us – not as do-gooder’s or volunteers (or worse, as disinterested religious folk), but as people who will stand with the hurting and ignored until we “know” them.

urlNow, before I bring this point home, let me be transparent: I am writing this short article with an agenda. Through March 31, There is an opportunity for Winston-Salem Moravians to spend time with the homeless community at an emergency shelter in First Baptist Church. I invite you to get to know these vulnerable persons in our city. While we “love” our homeless neighbors, we may not “know” them. You would be amazed at the journey and experiences of our homeless neighbors in our city, and you would be amazed at how realistic it is to journey together with and commit to one another.

But I am getting ahead of myself. A little. I invite you, your small group, or some part of your congregation to come help at the shelter one evening. Come to help, and come to begin a journey alongside your neighbor who is homeless, that we might “know” each other better.

Russ May is a founder of Anthony’s Plot, a Moravian intentional Christian community in Winston-Salem, NC. The cold weather shelter was started through Anthony’s Plot Community in January with assistance from First Baptist W-S, Centenary UMC, and WS First Assembly. During March, we are inviting 2-3 persons per night to help at First Baptist from 7:30-9:30pm. Email Russ May at info@anthonysplot.org to sign up, or for more information about how you and your church can grow in relationship and ministry to Winston-Salem’s homeless population. 

“Give Me Oil in My Lamp, Keep It Burning” or “Time to Check the Oil”

One of the many little songs we learned as children is Give Me Oil in My Lamp. The tune is familiar to us and the words stay with us as well. I am reminded of vacation Bible school, handmade napkin holders, and felt figures on a green cloth board picturing the Jericho Road and the Good Samaritan. This little song remains in my memory and continues to teach a vital lesson in the Christian life.

empty fuel gauge One of the musts for all folks who own a car is to check the oil! If you ignore the check you could ruin your engine for good! In this Season of Lent, I believe it is a great time to “check the oil” in our hearts to see if we are fully protected against the friction in our lives which wears out the inner spiritual lining of our souls just as oil protects the inter cylinders of an engine.

To extend the metaphor we may include the fuel in our gas tanks. Who would start across a desert road without checking the gas gauge?

During this contemplative season we would do well to examine our lives and answer the questions “Are we ready for the Second coming?” and” Are we prepared to go out to Him when He knocks at the door of our hearts?” Will our lamps be burning or will they be burned out? Of course the “oil” of which I write is the “oil” of faith and sudden appearing of the Lord’s return which Jesus had in mind when he taught the haunting parable from Matthew 25:1-13.

Jesus taught a vital parable about oil in the lamps of the bridesmaids called “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.” In this parable is the essence of Christian life preparedness. Being ready for the Lord’s coming is our responsibility. Jesus wanted us to take note of this truth about the Second Coming, so we might be ready to go with Him, be with Him, and have eternal life.

Five of the maidens were ready. They brought oil enough for the wait. The New International Study Bible footnote helps us understand the scene better when we read: Ten virgins: The bridesmaids who were responsible for preparing the bride to meet the bridegroom. Lamps: Torches that consisted of a long pole with oil-drenched rags at the top. (Small clay lamps would have been of little use in an outdoor procession.)oil torch

These five wise maidens were prepared for the coming of the groom. They had thought ahead for they were aware that no one knew when He might come. It may be sudden or in the distant future. Jesus taught even to the end of his teaching ministry that no one will know the time (Acts 1:6-7). Our responsibility is to be ready. Our loving God has warned us of this suddenness so we might be saved. An unloving God would have taught nothing and just come suddenly, leaving us behind.

Therefore, the lesson teaches us of His grace and leaves us time for a season – a time until. However, for us all, until the Second Coming our time to respond comes to an end when we die. After death, there is no more time to prepare or to decide. The groom comes and calls us out by name. The question for all of us is, “Am I ready?”

The five foolish maidens were not bad people, but they were foolish insomuch as they were not ready for the sudden coming. Their oil ran out. In a foolish life, one would run out of “spiritual oil” or that Oil of the Spirit which illumines our path. Being ready is surrendering ourselves to Him completely, turning our lives around by way of repentance, and living each hour for Him. It means not putting off the decision to follow Him. Jesus said, “Come, follow me – pick up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24-28).

Some who are reading this message need to surrender all of their life to the Lord Jesus. They need to make Him first in all they do. Some are waiting until they are “good” before they say yes, as though anyone could be good enough. Do not put it off one more day.

Dear friends, there is oil enough for the wise who love the Lord. Trim your lamps – read your Bible, pray, praise, and love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. Come to church and praise His name. Come together with others who trim their lamps in the abundance of God’s grace (Hebrews 10:25).

Some early morning there will come out of the darkness a cry, “Here’s the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” During this season of Lent, take the time to check the “oil”—you will be blessed and glad you did!

Are you ready?

This article appeared in the Friedberg Moravian Church Folio in February, 2013.

Pastor G. Thomas (Tom) Shelton is pastor of Friedberg Moravian Church. He’ll be retiring from active ministry in June of 2013. 

Long Distance Faith

It’s been a week since I hopped on a plane heading to Amsterdam, and from there caught a train to Leiden, the city where I will be studying for a semester. It still feels unreal being here.

This time last year I had no idea I would be here, or even that I would study abroad. But after the study abroad advisor visited one of my courses, a seed was planted in my mind. A seed of faith. Faith that I could be accepted for such an opportunity. Faith that I could put two feet on a plane in the country where I was born, and have lived all my life, and place two feet down in a country where I have never been and make a life there.

door long distance faith

When I stepped onto the plane in Philadelphia, my heart plummeted. Everything for months had built up to that moment, and its importance suddenly hit me. My nervousness almost overcame me, and my brain told me to turn around and walk the other way. But my faith spurred me onward, calmed my nerves, and let me take the next step.

God works in subtle ways. You may think leading me to take a journey across the world is anything but subtle, but my nervousness isn’t one huge emotion, but thousands of “what if” questions that keep me awake at night. My faith has taught me to let “what if” become “God can.” He can take an introverted girl halfway around the world and give her the courage to make it there.
Do I have moments of doubt? Oh, yes. When I first arrived, my heat was broken, my apartment was small, very cold, and I knew no one. I doubted myself and my faith. But after managing to call a mechanic despite language differences, and hearing his assurance that my heat would be fine, I began to warm up inside and out. God gave me the strength to make it through the first scary steps into a new way of life. And I have never felt stronger or more connected to him before now.

As I cycled to the city from my apartment today, with the wind at my back, I felt like a new person. Ready to face new challenges, ready to renew myself. Hearing Dutch spoken around me no longer frightened me, it encouraged me. There is a word in Dutch, gezellig, which is hard to translate into English, but connotes a sense of belonging and togetherness. It is the feeling of sitting down to dinner with good friends and good food. It is seeing a close friend after a long time. It is visiting family and being welcomed with open arms.

Being here is gezellig. It is right, and I feel welcome and at peace. For me, the love of God is gezellig, because with His presence and support I know I am in the place I belong—no matter how far I may be from my hometown and the friends and family I left behind. And even as I cycled back to my apartment, fighting the cold wind as it blew in my face, I had the faith to know I could make it. I had faith in the fact that I would open the door to my apartment and feel gezellig despite the odds. My advice to you? Find your gezellig. Because you don’t need to travel the world searching for it—it is within you.

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Megan Mericle is a Professional Writing student at Western Carolina University from Leaksville Moravian Church. She is currently studying abroad at Leiden University in the Netherlands.