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Have you ever seen the show The West Wing? It’s easily one of my 5 favorite shows that has ever been on TV, and if you haven’t seen it, you should start watching it tonight.
There is this episode that I watched recently with my wife where the President is in prep mode for an upcoming presidential debate, and his team is struggling to come up with what they call 10 word answers. A 10 word answer is something that the other candidate has perfected, just a short sentence to capture the heart of a policy or idea. They discover that he’s getting a lot of these short ideas from a motivational speaker whose book takes great thoughts from the great philosophers from history, and boils them down into bite size chunks that the “Average” person can understand.
As we watched this episode, all I could think of was the countless number of Facebook posts, tweets, and instagram images that are these 10 word answers. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I’ve thought of how we can continue to cultivate an amazing community in our Facebook groups for YouthMin.org. I’ve had this pent up frustration with the number of times someone will post a question seeking an answer in the group, but they don’t want a tough answer, they don’t want understanding, they just want a 10 word answer they can reiterate to their supervisor to sound good.
Back to the West Wing, what I loved in the episode is in the debate, the Presidents opponent classically gives a 10 word answer on taxes, and President Bartlet replies
“What are the next 10 words? That all sounds great, but how are you going to do it? If you can give me the next 10 words, I’ll drop out of this race right now.”
It’s so easy in ministry to rely on these 10 word answers. As I’ve gone through the interview process with churches, and seen the job descriptions posted, how easy is it for a candidate to regurgitate these 10 word answers churches are looking for, to say of course I love small groups, of course Parent Ministry is vital to an effective Youth Ministry. But the thought I keep coming back to is this:
I’ve been lucky to get to attend Willow Creek the last few months, and I’m getting to serve at the Global Leadership Summit in a few weeks. As I’ve been thinking about this idea, I keep looking over to my copy of Axiom by Bill Hybels, one of my favorite books to read, and yet, its a book full of this concept, of the 10 word answers. I’ve thought a lot about the idea that great leaders can take complex ideas and communicate them clearly to the masses. And thats extremely true. But the reason Bill Hybels book is so successful, the reason Bill Hybels is such a great leader is because he doesn’t solely rely on the 10 word answers, he understands the concepts well enough to boil them down.
Ministry needs more than 10 word answers, more than twitter sized wisdom. One of the biggest reasons I hate this current “buzz-worthy” trend on the internet is because it has so dumbed us down. This post will get a fraction of the views on our site that a list of the top 10 word answers would get on our site. We seem too lazy to put in the work to discover the answers, and instead want to settle for just knowing them.
Move beyond the quips, seek to understand for yourself, and let’s help ministry more than ministry helps us.