by The Rev. Dr. Stuart Baskin
A lot of people have remarked on my weight loss. I frequently hear three questions: first, “How much have you lost?” Second, “How did you do it?” And third, this one usually in a hushed voice, head leaning toward me, “Did you mean to lose weight?” I always chuckle a little bit at that last one because it’s a sign of my age, that people want to make sure I don’t have some dreaded disease that is causing me to lose weight! I don’t.
I lost weight because I had a compelling “why.”
A couple of years ago my doctor told me I had crossed the line separating someone with high blood sugar and someone with type 2 diabetes. Don’t be alarmed. I treated it as a blessing in disguise. I asked the questions, “What do I have to do to make sure that (1) I don’t lose my feet or legs, (2) I don’t go blind, and (3) I don’t die prematurely? And can I avoid taking medication and insulin injections?” The answer was pretty simple: “Change your diet and start exercising.” This was in August of 2016.
I had my “why.”
Since then, I have been running regularly and I have made a few significant changes in my diet. The result is that I have lost 35 pounds and maintained that weight loss for 2 years now. That’s very hard to do…unless you’re properly motivated, unless you have your “why.”
So now, what’s your “why?” Or better yet, what’s our “why” as a congregation?
I see hand-wringing from time to time about our church, that our membership numbers are not increasing dramatically, and our worship attendance is slipping. These things are true as far as it goes. They are also problems that are pretty straightforward to solve, but there is one ingredient that is essential that does not involve new programs or fancy techniques. It is the question of why we exist. Do we exist to have a comfortable and congenial place to worship and belong? That’s not a sufficient answer. If our answer is inward-focused, if our answer is simply that we want our church to be a little bigger, we will never grow.
Our “why” must be focused on the mission we’re given by God. And that mission is always outward-focused. If I may be so bold, I want to suggest that we have one mission in two parts. Our mission, to put it simply, is to bear witness to the good news of the reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ. The first part of that mission is to share this good news with others. The second part of that mission is to demonstrate this good news through acts of radical generosity in the world around us.
We can organize ourselves till the cows come home; we can have the greatest programs in the world; we can have outstanding worship and music; but unless we, both individually and as a congregation, are on fire to bear witness to what God has done—unless we have a significant “why”—we will always be stuck in second gear.
It’s not really rocket science. We can do all the right things and still not grow. Growing our church depends almost entirely on our own sense of “why.” Until our “why” is focused on the mission God has given us, things won’t change much. But if we get our “why” straight, we’ll be in great shape!