Good to Great - the Flywheel and the Doom Loop

John 1:35-42

Jesus calls disciples

35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ ). 42 He led him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).


Thoughts on the passage:

When the disciple we know as Peter first meets Jesus, he has a different name, Simon, and does not seem like an important character. Prior to Jesus talking to him, all we know is that he is the brother of Andrew, who is one of the disciples of John the Baptist. If you were to guess who the more committed religious brother is, your instinct would probably be Andrew. He has been actively seeking the Messiah and in fact is so convinced of who Jesus is that he is willing to drag his brother to see this possible savior. Surely Andrew, with his early faith, passion for evangelism, and religious curiosity would be the kind of “rock” a person might want to build a church on. Yet, it is Simon who claims that title. When Jesus meets him he gives him a new name, “Rocky,” because here Jesus has found the one who can lead the church after he is gone.

So, if you were going to look at the timeline of Peter, when do you put that moment where he is suddenly the perfect disciple, the natural successor to Jesus? The moment of Pentecost would probably be where most of us begin. It certainly seems like that this is the transformational point and yet this is after Jesus is already gone. If Pentecost is all to took for Peter to be the next leader of the church, then why did he follow Jesus around and have to go through so much. While Pentecost might have been the jumping off point where he goes from disciple to apostle and really lives into his identity, it is probably safe to say that all those long years of following, listening, and serving were important in building him into the great leader we learn about in Acts.

When Jim Collins studies companies for his book “Good to Great” his researchers looked for evidence of those breakthrough moments when suddenly a company went from being average to extraordinary. What he found was that the transformation was really gradual. In several companies there were dramatic points of change, but often the switch occurred slowly over time, bit by bit. Based on this learning he developed what he called the “Flywheel and the Doom Loop.” The Doom Loop is easy enough to understand, it is when companies would fail from one project to another, desperation forcing them to abandon one idea for another in search of a magic bullet. The Flywheel is a much more complex idea, but one that fits well with what we learn from scripture.

If you are like me, you might not really know what a flywheel is. According to Wikipedia, a flywheel is a mechanical device specifically designed to efficiently store rotational energy (kinetic energy). Flywheels resist changes in rotational speed by their moment of inertia. In other words, the power you put into a flywheel helps it to keep turning. This can create a cascading effect that allows the wheel to turn faster and faster even as you continue to apply the same amount of force.

What does that look like for a company or an organization like a church? What Jim Collins found for companies was that the successful ones had a plan and continued to work on it. They started to turn their flywheels slowly and gradually, and with each passing rotation the wheel would store that energy and begin to pick up speed. The results of the previous turning of the wheel help fuel the momentum and encourage future efforts. In other words, success breeds success. While this idea is not new, the key point was that these companies started doing this long before there were outward signs of success. They work deliberately and steadily at their plans until finally that breakthrough moment happened.

An analogy that Jim Collins uses is that of an egg. He supposes that if news reporters were going to talk about the transformation of the egg into a chicken it would all focus at the final moment, when the shell breaks and the chicken emerges. It seems like a miracle and in a way it is. The miracle is not this sudden shift from chicken to egg, but rather as we know the gradual growth from a single cell, to two, then four, then eight, and so on until suddenly, beneath that calm exterior shell, a chicken is ready to emerge.

I think this is a great way to think about the transformation of Simon to Peter. It does not happen instantly, when Jesus gives him a new name, nor does it happen instantly at Pentecost with the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it takes place slowly and gradually over time. Beneath the exterior of Simon the disciple, Peter the apostle is growing and developing. Every silly question he asks Jesus is a part of his learning and growing. Every sermon he hears and every miracle he sees is exposing him to the power of the Holy Spirit. Even those agonizing moments of failure when Peter denies Christ and watches his death, are a part of the transformation. One thing has remained unchanged, Peter is committed to following God. The culmination of this comes in Acts when he baptizes thousands, raises the dead, and leads the early followers of Christ into forming a church that will live into the great commission.

What can we learn from the findings of Jim Collins and the lesson of Peter? I believe that as a church it is a reminder that we are playing a long game, our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is not an overnight event, but a long and gradual process. It happens slowly over time. We need to stay focused on that work of helping people to grow in their faith and empowering them to make a difference in the world because of their faith. That means helping to teach our kids in Sunday school. It means gathering each week for worship to restore our spiritual batteries. It means getting together in small groups to help our own growth in faith. It also means putting that faith into action through missions and through how we interact with the world. It is not a quick fix. Really, we are just still working on a plan that was put in place years ago by our founder, John Wesley. He understood the dual nature of personal piety and social holiness. He sought to both grow in his personal faith, moving on to perfection, but also to transform the world through his preaching, caring the sick, visiting those in prison, and working to reform society for the better.

It is also a reminder of what this looks like in our personal lives. My own call to ministry in many ways feels a lot like Peter. I remember as a kid my mother talking with another pastor about whether or not I might be a pastor someday. I had no plans to do so at the time, but that identity began to grow and take shape within me. It grew more and more and soon over time I started to claim it. In college, my non and nominally religious friends would still look to me as a spiritual leader and an example of what a Christian could be. My time in seminary helped me grow and begin to claim my pastoral voice and identity. The reality is that I am still growing. I know that I have learned a lot and grown a lot in my time here in Willmar and that will continue to happen. I have not reached a breakout point like Peter were suddenly I am working miracles, and I probably never will, but each and every day I seek to live into my identity and my call to love and serve God.

None of this is new. John Wesley talked about this sort of thing in his idea of prevenient grace. Most of us think of that moment of conversation, where a person suddenly and dramatically says “yes” to God, what Wesley called justifying grace. Before that moment is when prevenient grace was at work in the person. This was God stirring and working in their hearts long before they might have been ready to name and claim God for themselves. That grace is part of what shaped and formed them and brought them to that moment of conversion. Jesus gives Simon the name of Peter long before he is “the rock.” Rather, it is another example of that grace and love of God stirring in Simon and moving him forward to something greater.

God has named and called each one of us as well. We are all being called to something greater than what we are now. It is not going to be a miraculous moment where we suddenly go from being ordinary followers of Christ to amazing saints who work miracles and never make mistakes. Rather, like the flywheel, it is a process of slow and gradual turns. The more we attend to our souls and grow in our faith the more that wheel turns. It turns when we gather and worship God. It turns when we share that love of God we feel on Sunday with our neighbors on Tuesday. It turns when we sit in a small group together and learn and grow with one another. Each turn of the wheel makes a difference. Each one helps us live into that name and that calling that God has for us. Thanks be to God.


Questions to Ponder:

If God were to give you a nickname, what would it be?

What are the ways that you are working to turn the flywheel of your faith?

What are the things our church is doing that we need to keep doing to live into our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?


O God, you have called each of us by name and claimed us as your own. Help us to live into that calling and identity you have placed in our lives. Forgive us for those times like Peter when we  stumble along the way. Bless us and watch over us as we seek to be faithful disciples of you. Amen