Earlier today I watched a mind-blowing TED talk by Simon Sinek (which you can find here) about how our brains work in controlling our actions. It’s an absolutely fascinating video and I hope you’ll watch it. The main thing he talked about was a group of three circles (as you can see on the left) labeled why, how, and what. He says most generic companies advertise by moving from the outside of the circle in, by telling you what you can buy and how it will make your life better. But they seldom explore the question of why. He says on the contrary, innovative companies that provide great leadership in their field work from the inside of the circle out. He uses the example of Apple.
Apple advertises by starting with challenging the status quo (why you should by our product). They believe in thinking differently. They challenge the status quo by making sleek, user-friendly products (how they challenge the status quo). We also make great computers (what they actually make). They end their commercial with what their product is. They move explicitly outward in this circle and it makes us want one all the more.
One of the big things Simon hammers home in his talk is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
So let’s look at the church — particularly the youth parts of the church. The programmatic model of youth ministry seeks to answer the “what” question first. “Here’s what we do.” If we’re lucky, it moves into a how and a why. But a relational and theological look at youth ministry begins in the huge, messy, stubborn questions of why.
- Why are we here?
- Why is there something instead of nothing?
- Why do I live the life that I do?
Then it seeks to assemble a how do we minister to each other that honors these deep questions about God and existence. Finally, we end with a ‘what’. With the what do we do about it? What is to be done?
Ministry that starts with questions of “what” will never get past the how into the why. And that’s where the real questions are. It’s only in the theological and existential questions of why that we can encounter the people we do ministry with in all their imperfections. It may just be the only way forward.
p.s. I didn’t even go into Simon’s stuff on brain chemistry and why this is such an appealing model. It’s fascinating, but it just didn’t seem to fit. Check out the video for more on that.