Programs are the right answers to the wrong questions

Before I get serious, know this: I need to listen to more Arcade Fire.

Last week at the SYMC 2011 Inside Track Team Summit, I ran into a guy named Mark Riddle; he runs an organization called “The Riddle Group“, an advisory group to churches and ministries.  I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while, and today, he pointed us to a blog post entitled “A few ideas to wrestle with.”  There were 13 choices.  I’m picking number 7: “Programs are the right answers to the wrong questions”.

Wrong question: What should we study next?
Right question: How will a study of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love create relationship and community within our church?  
Wrong question: What can we do to get more people involved?
Right question: What does involvement look like?  
Wrong question: Why isn’t our church growing?  What do we need to do to get more people to come?
Right question: Are we being faithful to what God has called us to?
Wrong questions typically involve “doing”.  They typically lead to programs that often are too tightly held and eventually become tradition.  For instance, prior to last year, Eastview always had a joint youth group (middle school/high school) that met on Wednesday nights.  When we first brought up the possibility of splitting the group, there were objections like “we need the older kids to be an example to the younger…are we adding another night of programming…etc”.  Some valid points in there.  But, when we looked deeper, and started asking “why?”, we found that our high school students were not modeling good behaviors, in fact, they were having nothing to do with our middle school students.  Then ones that did want to grow were often frustrated by the MS students.  While our MS numbers grew during that time, our HS numbers shrank.  So, we split the group, and now we have more kids between the two, and on a consistent basis, than ever.  We have a 2:1 student:leader ratio in MS (unheard of) and a 4:1 in high school.  
Wrong questions typically involve doing.  (Didn’t I just say that?)  In our western culture, “doing” typically leads to feelings of accomplishment.  Just look at all I’ve accomplished…I’ve read my bible (check), prayed (check), gone to small group (check), gone to a ministry team meeting (check), attended Sunday service (check), and on and on it goes.  
Right questions point to motivation.  Often, church calendars are filled with events that are used to measure people’s commitments.  Start asking “why?” and watch people’s temperatures (and voices) rise.  When we defend things (programs) based on the wrong questions, we tend to get territorial.
At the end of the day, when we ask the wrong questions, we end with a bunch of programs that are haphazardly put together that many do not attend.  Why?  Because we failed to ask and get to the REAL question…WHY?  This is why there is huge value in a single philosophy of ministry.  
  1. A philosophy of ministry provides a lens through which we plan.  If our philosophy of ministry values relationship, than our events should value relationship.  We should ask questions like:
    1. How will this event build relationship?
    2. How will it get people talking with one another in meaningful ways?
    3. Is the event at a time when people can attend?
  2. A philosophy if ministry helps us discern whether or not we should do something.  Again, should our value be relationship, we should ask:
    1. What are some possible outcomes from this event (good or bad)?
    2. Does this event fit into our philosophy?  This is similar to “How will this event build relationship?” above, but is different in that the above question is a “practical” question.  This question takes scope and sequence into account.
  3. A philosophy of ministry forces us to ask the right questions.  Right questions begin with the word “why…?”.  I once heard that you should ask 5 “Whys?”.  By the time you get to the fifth “why?” the right (real, honest) answer is revealed.  Sometimes, it may be “I don’t know”, which is ok because it’s honest.  

I have struggled with this in youth ministry…often.  I’ve both done things that don’t fit and not done things that do fit.  Sometimes out of tradition, other times out of territorial selfishness.  A good place to start is by asking yourself “why?”.  If you cannot do that honestly, find a person whom you trust and give him or her permission to ask it.

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1 Comment

Filed under arcade fire, riddle group

One response to “Programs are the right answers to the wrong questions

  1. Jon

    Good post. Made me re-think some things.

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