Published: 3 years ago

Explain the Why

You’ve undoubtedly heard the story of the husband and the ham. It’s a must-do illustration for all pastors. So much so, that all Southern Baptist seminaries require graduates to sign a contract stipulating that they will use the ham story in at least three sermons per year.

Doesn’t ring any bells? Let me indulge you: a newlywed notices that every time his wife cooks a ham for dinner, she cuts 6-8 inches off of the end before putting it in a pan and tossing it in the oven. His curiosity gets the best of him, and he asks why she performs this particular ritual. The answer: “That’s the way my mom always did it.”

So the husband goes to his mother-in-law. He explains the situation, tells of his intrigue, and asks her the same question. And again, the same answer: “That’s the way my mom cooked her hams.”

On to the grandmother. He tells her of his bewilderment and begs for a better answer. The wise grandmother replies, “I don’t know why my daughter or granddaughter cuts the end off of their hams, but I did it because mine would never fit in my pan.”


Traditions are great and there’s nothing inherently wrong with routine. Both give us a sense of history, of place, and of familiarity. But there is usually a “why” behind our traditions, and along with that why, a good reason to explain the why.

Here are three:

1. Explaining the why gives clarity. If I have a new person on my team, the why gives context. It helps them to see their part in the bigger picture. It’s all too easy for me to roll into another event with the assumption that everyone knows exactly why we’re doing the event and how their particular task fits in. But leaving out the why can leave a team member frustrated, confused, and can prevent them from having full buy in.

2. Explaining the why allows for inspection. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear ourselves explain ourselves. We can get caught in the rut of doing things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. Speaking it out loud can expose fallacies, allow for new ideas, and give others the chance to poke holes and add value.

3. Explaining the why makes us refocus. At our church, I’ve led our First Impressions Training somewhere in the neighborhood of several hundred times (give or take a dozen). There are many others on our team who can and do lead that same training. Technically, I could have given it up and totally handed it over years ago. But I don’t. Why? Because every time I cover the basics with new team members, I’m reminding myself of why we do what we do. For all of our details and policies and procedures, it’s incredibly helpful for me to revisit the why on a regular basis so that I – as the leader – don’t lose the vision.

Do you know your why? Better yet, do you take the time to explain your why? If not, why not?


(photo credit)

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