GROWING IN GRACE
I’m currently reading a great book titled “The Power of Habit: Why We Do the Things We Do” by Charles Duhigg. The book looks at our daily habits and unpacks the science behind why we do the things we do. For example, it is believed that up to 40 percent of our daily activity comes from habits engrained in us instead of conscious choices. You might think you’re making a conscious decision to put on shoes, but the way you put them on the same way every time comes from a habit deeply engrained in your brain. It’s also why a teenager drives a car and is (hopefully) very conscious about everything they’re doing – the pressure they’re putting on the pedals, the need to use a turn signal, etc. – but why someone who has been driving for many years can do all of this while giving it very little active thought. It’s a habit.
Another key point from the book is the identification of keystone habits. Keystone habits, Duhigg notes, are the habits that have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits along the way. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. As an example, Duhigg profiles a Fortune 500 company who under a new CEO decided to focus on safety when profits were plummeting. The focus on safety, the new CEO argued, would influence every other aspect of business. And that it did. Twenty years into his time with the company, the safety standards he implemented revolutionized the market, increased production and effectiveness, won respect from union leaders who saw a company truly care about its employees, and increased the value of the company’s stock by more than 500%.
When we think about our faith and the effectiveness of our local churches, this notion of creating habits is what we call discipline – the very root of the word discipleship. As we begin 2015 with making new resolutions and promises for the New Year, how can we focus on creating new habits in our lives and in our churches? What sort of keystone habits can we identify and focus on in the coming year that will help us grow as disciples of Jesus Christ?
I want to offer a couple of ideas to start with.
First, as individuals can we look at the ways we express our ideas and even our feelings about faith? For example, we call ourselves Christians and many of us go to church every week. But we might also spend a great deal of time getting worked up over political and social issues, posting argumentative comments on social media, forwarding ugly emails, and growing in our anger for a politician or political party. We even add a layer of moral justification to this habit by saying we are “speaking out for our faith.” What if we look at this simple habit as a keystone habit to adjust? What if we stop perusing the Internet for news commentary that will inevitably make us angry? What if we actively try to avoid debates on social media? What if we ask those dear and well-meaning friends to stop forwarding inflammatory political emails? What if we stay silent when political or social issues come up in conversation or let our actions speak more – an art St. Francis called “preaching and only when necessary using words.”
Secondly, what if we could spend some time identifying keystone habits that might keep us from being the local church God calls us to be? What if we decide to spend a little less time worrying about in-house matters and spend a little more time worrying about what is happening in our neighborhood, community, and around the world? Maybe we create a small space at every church council meeting this year to talk about “outside matters” even if it means dropping a normal in-house discussion topic from the agenda? You see, before we rattle off ideas for more programs or initiatives, we need to cultivate a culture where people care about something beyond just what’s going with us in our church. Maybe there’s just a slight shift of focus that can take place this year in your local church that will begin a trickle-down effect where we finally make the daring move to be the church beyond our walls and programs?
Cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I would add that we should never doubt the impact of shifting a seemingly small habit our lives – it just might have the potential to transform our lives and the world around us.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is the senior pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.