"Daddy, I have a question for you. . . Why are there clouds in the sky?"
"Clouds are in the sky because today is a partly cloudy day," I respond.
"Why?" says the young child.
"Today is partly cloudy because of the changing weather. This changing weather is called a 'weather front.'"
"Why?" says the child routinely.
"When the winds blow, water molecules form together and make clouds. There are different types of cloud formations. . ."
This sequence continues until eventually the adult ends exasperated with frustration exclaiming, "Because that's the way it is!" or pronouncing with theological delight "Because God made the Heavens and the Earth!"
Jim Collins, author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, has taken this basic childhood question of curiosity and leveraged it as a powerful method for achieving the essence of an organization's purpose. The method can be practiced at its elemental level. Start with the descriptive statement of what your church does. Perhaps your descriptive statement would be the mission statement of The United Methodist Church. We "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Why is that important? Ask leaders the why question five times. As one repeats the question and digs deeper into the reasoning for doing what the church does, one approaches the fundamental purpose of a particular local church. The five whys can enable the church to frame its tasks and activities in a more meaningful way.
I was privileged a while back to spend time with a few of the current great thinkers and strong leaders of The United Methodist Church – Bishop Robert Schnase, Bishop Scott Jones, Gil Rendle, and Lovett Weems. While others would certainly need to be added to this group to be representative of our denomination, they have all contributed significantly to the movement of today's Church. Their books are widely acclaimed. They represent multiple generations of the Church. They hold different roles within the Church. Yet, as I listened and talked with each of them, each one began at the same place. They started with the mission of the Church. In order to have a meaningful conversation about the Church, we needed to be clear about its purpose, core values, and mission. They encouraged persons, like me, who consult regularly with local church leaders, like you, to ask you again and again, "Why do you exist? What is the purpose of your local church? Who would miss your local church if it closed? Who is excited that your church is open? How does your local church connect to the mission of The United Methodist Church?"
Your answers to these questions and to the five whys have more to do with the stewardship of our prayers, presence, gifts, witness, and service than we may first think. It may seem cliché – but it is true – money follows mission. May God be with you as you reengage your childhood curiosity.