John Ewart on the Discipline of Why

I have been thinking and talking about a subject a lot lately. I am currently serving as an interim pastor for a church in Virginia and the leaders there and I have been praying through and talking about this issue constantly. The wonderful team of people I have the privilege of serving here at Southeastern talk about this principle all of the time as well. I have come to refer to it simply as the “Discipline of Why?” I have alluded to this principle in previous blogs but want to zero in on it for just a moment. If nothing else, this will help me put it into better words for the future. Thank you for allowing me to think out loud for a paragraph or two!

The Discipline of Why Principle goes something like this: “Why?” must always precede “Who?” which must always precede “What?” which must always precede ‘How?” This disciplined way of thinking and planning seems simple right? The problem is, after 34 years of ministry, I continue to constantly notice its absence. It makes me want to ask, well, why?

So many leaders it seems want to immediately plunge into the “How?” How can I fix this? How can we do that? How can we change? How can we grow? How can we reach people? Seemingly good questions with good intent. I mean, nuts and bolts type stuff, right? The problem is, however, without the more important questions being asked in preparation for this stage, they often become victims of reactionary thinking and doing. They hop from one “How?” to the next without much long term success or effectiveness.

We could begin by asking, “What?” What do we need to do? What do we need to do it? Questions like this. Again, seemingly a very reasonable path, but it is still lacking much depth and proactivity. Our “Whats?” and “Hows?” are often driven by what we see happening on the surface around us and do not require much true theological or even contextual assessment or searching. They are basic questions of tasks and resources, programming and projects. Catalogs, conferences and calendars can answer most of these questions.

“Who?” is a question of identity. It is a search of being and not just doing. Who are we? Who does God want us to be? Who is our community? Who does God want them to be? This line of inquiry takes us much deeper. These are questions of theology and relationship and discipleship and contextualization that should define the resulting needed tasks and resources. We need answers to these questions of identification in order to even begin to uncover in what actions we are supposed to engage and use how we are supposed to engage in them.

But the discipline of beginning with “Why?” is even greater. “Why?” is a question of purpose, of mission, of existence. Why did God create and save me? Why did He put me or us in this place at this time with these people? “Why?” changes everything else. The answers provide us with proper perspective and focus. Knowing “Why?” produces the opportunity for obedience and to bring God glory. Our motivation, our reason for everything comes from these answers.

I am a very task oriented person. Very. It is an innate default setting for me to hop to “How?” I am thankful for those God has placed in my life who have helped me to understand the incredible value of asking the right questions in the right order. I challenge you to become disciplined in the “Why?” You will see His mission more clearly, be able to remain focused upon that mission and be strengthened to follow the mission with more endurance.

The principle works, just ask me “Why?”

The CGCS: No Free Lunches

Wednesday mornings at Between the Times are dedicated to highlighting the work and writing of the Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern. This week we share a post by Keelan Cook (@keelancook), a PhD student in Biblical Studies at Southeastern. Keelan writes about the how churches can provide help that really helps as they plan and go on mission trips. This is the second of two posts.

Here’s an excerpt:

Will this trip position these people to do better later… when we’re not there? Sure, what you do in that two weeks may help them a ton, during that two weeks. However, we must make sure that we do not create an unsustainable system for the people we try to help. I have heard of American churches building whole conference centers out in the bush and building them in such a way that they cannot be maintained. The local churches have neither the money nor the expertise to run such a facility, and it becomes a burden instead of a help. Bigger is not always better. Instead, a good trip will do something that can be carried on after they leave. Perhaps it is training in a skill that can be sustained.

Read the full post here, and the first post here.

 

John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 4

John Ewart is Director of the Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching and Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives. This is the fourth post in a series on Critical Abilities in Pastoral Leadership. 

Previously I have posted that the first two critical abilities a missional leader must possess are 1) the ability to understand the true mission and 2) to establish a biblical vision. With these in place, the tracks are laid; the train has been built and set into place.

Now how does the train stay on track and move forward? I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the question of how do new churches make decisions concerning what they are going to actually do. I was concerned with the “now what?” question. We have planted a church, now what do we do and how do we decide that in order to best move forward?

Over the years I have seen a plethora of churches that cannot make healthy decisions, do not realize they need to, and/or if they did, have unhealthy practices in which they make them. This inability has led to a lot of contextual chaos…bumper cars from a previous post, or a train wreck. They are either going in a million directions with no cohesive process or they are doing virtually nothing. If they continue, they often end up in reverse or totally off track.

So what can a leader do? The third critical ability of a missional leader is to build bridges of leadership. If there is no understanding of the true mission or a strong biblical vision, leaders will not be able to guide the church down the tracks in the proper direction or at the proper speed. But even with those first two abilities, it is absolutely critical to put in place the right leadership team with a proper understanding of bridge building.

Railway_bridge_over_the_Aar_Berne

A bridge connects two sides of a gap of some kind. Some bridges are designed for one-way traffic; others are for two-way traffic. Some leadership relationships are one-way while others are two-way. Let me illustrate just a couple of them.

The first leadership bridge a missional leader must build and cross is the leadership relationship between leader (himself) and God. This is a one-way bridge. Not the relationship but the leadership. I never lead God. God must always lead me. It is amazing how often pastors and church leaders need to be reminded of this basic truth. This is where it begins and ends. How is your total submission to the leadership of God? Are you trying to lead Him? How is that working for you?

Another bridge to build and cross is the leadership relationship of leader to leaders. Some may argue that this is a one-way bridge. I do not. In fact I am confident this is part of the problem sometimes. I believe this is a two-way bridge. Missional leaders recognize they can still learn from and at times be led by other leaders.

I always worked closely with the other key church leaders, both vocational and volunteer, as a pastor. We worked together in synergy, moving down the tracks as one. We met and communicated with one another frequently and learned to trust and love one another. We were friends and co-laborers. We were on the same page.

I am convinced that if this type of understanding and harmony existed among the leaders of churches, then the health of the church would vastly improve.

Remember a third leadership bridge. The leadership relationship of God to leaders. I actually believe that I do not own the market on discerning God’s will. God speaks to others through His Word as well. This is a one-way bridge for them just like it is for me. A wise man will seek wise godly counsel from God-led people and not attempt to lead alone.

How are you relating to and leading those with whom you serve? Once these initial bridges are built, there are several others to cross. These include leaders to congregation, God to congregation and congregation to the world. Understanding these connections and the proper way they fit together is critical for missional motion down the tracks.

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