The wonderful team of people I have the privilege of serving here at Southeastern talk about a principle all of the time. I have come to refer to it simply as the “Discipline of Why?”
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 35 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 that 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? 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 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 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 His mission with more endurance.
The principle works, just ask me “Why?”
John Ewart serves as the Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives and the Director for Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
A native of Oklahoma, Dr. Ewart has lived and worked, in various capacities, all over the world. He served for over 20 years in local churches in Texas, the Philippines, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky as an associate and senior pastor. John also served with the International Mission Board in the Philippines.