The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

How to Motivate Others

Posted on: March 29, 2016

How to Motivate Others.001


Years ago I went to an American Management Association conference at which I heard an expert speak on the subject of motivation. He said, “You’re all here to learn how you can motivate people. Well, I have some bad news and I have some good news. The bad news is you cannot motivate people. The good news is, you can appear to motivate people by showing them how to be successful at something they already want to do.”

He went on to explain that everyone has a reservoir of motivation within them. Some people have a large reservoir of motivation and others have a small reservoir. You cannot change the size of the reservoir. However, you can significantly affect whether or not a person achieves his potential within the inherent limitations of his inherited reservoir by showing him how to be successful at something he already wants to do.

That conference was over three decades ago, and I have had plenty of opportunity to ponder the accuracy of those observations. I have become increasingly convinced that he was right.

I have marveled at the differences in people that I have seen come to Christ. Some accept the Lord, and you can’t get them going. Others accept the Lord, and you can’t hold them back. Some yawn in the face of life-changing truth while others ignite and burn with undiminished intensity. Most are somewhere in between. However, every Christian, if he/she is truly a Christian, has at least some motivation to grow spiritually… even if that desire has been stunted by layers of failure (see the parable of the sower and seed, Matthew 13).

I have taken two lessons from this observation.

The first lesson is to match my efforts to the person. I try to be patient with slow starters, not expecting something that they are not likely to produce. And, to maintain hope for them, since sometimes slow starters catch fire later. My mentor, Howard Hendricks, used to say, “Teaching is setting a time-bomb to go off at a later date.” I have seen, and even experienced myself, time-bombs going off well after they were set. It’s always too soon to give up on anyone, including ourselves.

At the same time, I try to be on the lookout for fast starters and to be ready for those for whom a time bomb has just gone off… and to give them the nurture they need to maximize their growth. These people are rare, and deserve adequate attention.

The second lesson is to match my ministry methods with my ministry goals. Based loosely on the 80/20 rule, something like ten percent of the people you are ministering to will get what you’re teaching no matter how badly you teach it. And 10% will not get what you’re teaching no matter how well you teach it. The 80% in the middle is a good barometer of how effective you are in your ministry. (see Mastery Learning: Theory and Practice, Peter Airasian and Benjamin Bloom)

The more skillful you are in your use of methodology, the more effective you will be at showing that 80% how to be successful at something they already want to do… grow spiritually… no matter how large their motivational reservoir is. This is what has given me such a passion for matching methodology with goals… an idea that I expand on in my book, Brave New Discipleship*.

We can have significant impact in the lives of others if we play by the methodology rules. There are rules for teaching when knowledge (Know) is your goal. There are rules for teaching when lifestyle change (Be) is your goal. And there are rules for teaching when imparting a skill (Do) is your goal. If you play by these rules, you can help a person see how they can be successful at something they already want to do and rise to their highest level of potential. And while one person may have a larger motivational reservoir than another, you can help each person achieve his/her own highest potential.

The more accurately and creatively we apply these rules, the greater impact we have in the lives of people we’re ministering to. (I’ll summarize these rules in the next blog.)

This is only from an earthly perspective, however. From heaven’s perspective, God looks at faithfulness, not results. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48, Matthew 25:14-30). If someone who has been gifted with one level of earthly talents is faithful, he receives the same approval from the Lord as someone who has been gifted with 10x earthly talents who is faithful. In fact, if someone with modest earthly talents is more faithful than someone with major earthly talents, the one with modest talents receives the greater heavenly reward (2 Corinthians 9:6). So our job as disciplers is to be faithful to learning and applying God’s “methodology rules” to the best of our abilities, and leave the results to God.

So, we cannot motivate others in their Christian life. But the more effectively we play by the rules of ministering to others, the better we will be at showing people how to be successful at something they already want to do, and we will appear to motivate them in their Christian walk. The more effectively we play by the methodology rules, the more successful we will be at helping others tap into their own motivation reservoirs to Know, Be and Do.

Of course, it is not we who change them, but the Holy Spirit. But He will use us, and our spiritual gifts, as we are faithful to the rules God has created for spiritual growth and ministry.

See you next week and we will look more specifically at those “methodology rules”.

*Affiliate link where my book, Brave New Discipleship, is on sale as of this post. Use coupon code BRAVEFS and you’ll also receive free shipping for this book.


If you know someone you think may find this blog valuable, please forward it to them. I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at I will not be able to answer all emails, but I may address in future blogs the questions/issues you raise. And, please “Like” my Facebook page at