Core question surpasses who-what-when-where for every Christian
BY BISHOP JIMMY NUNN
It is time to revisit our underlying assumptions and expectations as people of faith. Let’s begin with a one-word question: WHY? That seemingly simple question is the theme for Oklahoma’s Annual Conference.
I hope each of you will be challenged by it to reflect on your personal reasons for being a Christian and a United Methodist. I put the question before all of us, not only the delegates and guests at the gathering that opens May 29 in Oklahoma City.
I’m not asking this question to point out shortcomings, gaps, or inconsistencies.
I ask it because the question of why points to purpose. Awareness of purpose is critical for any healthy organization.
In his book "Start with Why," Simon Sinek tells the story of the railroad industry in the late 1800s. The railroads were the largest companies in America at the time. They had changed the landscape of the country.
But remembering why stopped being important to them. Instead, they became obsessed with what they did. Then technological advances brought the airplane. Transportation changed, and those early companies went out of business.
Paraphrasing Simon Sinek: We must know WHY we do WHAT we do. If we don’t know WHY, how will anyone else?
Our WHY must never stop being primary to us as Christians. If we lose sight of why, we will run off the rails like those early railroads.
It is easy to be critical of them in hindsight. Their narrow perspective blinded them to the possibilities of aviation. They were so focused on what they did, rather than why they did it.
Yet many of us in The United Methodist Church have done the same thing.
We have embraced the mission statement of the Church, which is "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." But then we follow up with questions such as these: WHAT is a disciple? WHAT is transformation? We engage in circular debates and divide into factions based on our answers.
We need to ask ourselves the WHY questions.
WHY questions probe our sense of identity.
They help us to know one another.
Since coming to the Oklahoma Area, I have invited a few leaders in both annual conferences to meet in small groups to share their faith journeys and calls to ministry. Something about our stories of faith puts us in touch with our personal WHY. Sharing stories with people empowers us to belong. It helps us claim our deep beliefs and values. Through storytelling and listening, we identify our common heritage.
One of the foundational WHY stories of Methodism is John Wesley’s account of his spiritual experience on Aldersgate Street. He did not want to attend the meeting, but he went anyway, out of a sense of duty.
Wesley described that encounter this way: "I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
A clear sense of WHY challenges assumptions, sets expectations, and fuels actions.
What is your WHY story?