The Art of Motivation

Motivating people to serve is not an easy task. Ask any Christian leader.

So what’s the key?

This was a question from Josh (a pastor), to John Piper, in today’s Ask Pastor John podcast.

Motivation is an art, and like any art it requires wisdom and skill. And like any art, it can be done poorly. An agitated verbal assault from the pulpit may be an awkward spectacle that goes viral on YouTube, but in reality we know berating Christians into service by a verbal lashing from the pulpit is a powerless strategy.

Motivating Joy

Wise Christian motivation centers on joy, and it centers on joy because all Christian ministry has as its aim the increasing delight in God (2 Corinthians 1:23–24; Philippians 1:25; Romans 15:13).

John Piper learned this lesson firsthand during his doubt-filled days as a twenty-two-year-old student at Fuller Seminary (1968–69). In today’s podcast he says, “When I was out of love with the church, and, like an idiot, wondering if the church had any future, I went to Ray Ortlund, Sr.’s church in Pasadena. Sunday after Sunday I watched this man in the pulpit love his God, love his church, love his ministry, and summon people into his loves. And everything in me fell in love with the Church. Here was a man who so manifestly exulted over the Word of God, so manifestly exulted over the Church of God, and over the ministry God had called him to. How could you not want that? He was so happy in his ministry and so loved his ministry. I wanted what he had.”

What Piper learned about motivating ministry in his early twenties stuck with him many years later throughout his ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities. “With more or less success, what I tried to do for thirty-three years is motivate people for ministry by talking more about God and less about ministry. When people have asked me: How do you motivate people for world missions? I say, stop talking about world missions and start talking about a global God. And I don’t mean just talk about him. I mean love him, I mean exult in him, I mean blow people away with his vision for this world and his absolute promises that this gospel is going to be preached to all the nations and the glories that are going to happen for this Christ when all the nations stream to him.”

Serving from Overflowing Joy

The takeaway lesson for any Christian leader is this: “People don’t get excited about burdens being laid on their back, they get excited about a burden-lifter,” said Piper. “They get excited about a God infinitely worthy of their allegiance and their worship. So my counsel is, put very little emphasis on programs in the church. Rather, put a huge emphasis on heralding and exulting over the greatness of God, the unsearchable riches of Christ, the glories of our salvation, the wonders of the Bible, and weave into that a life of prayer for your people that God would give them a taste for this glory so that they don’t feel forced. You don’t want service because you have twisted their arm into it. You want service that is overflowing out of joy in God.”

Such was the model he saw in Ray Ortlund, Sr. and in Scripture, a model of motivation he sought to emulate for thirty-three years at Bethlehem.

Listen to the entire Ask Pastor John episode on motivating ministry here (seven-minute audio):