Pastoral ministry is a boiling cauldron of relentless deadlines, impossible demands, unreasonable expectations, and inadequate resources.
Pastors are either eggs, coffee beans or potatoes. When you drop them into the boiling pot they’ll harden (eggs), get mushy (potatoes), or become rich and savory (coffee beans).
Motivation – the reason(s) why we do what we do – determines how we respond to the hot water. It’s important that pastors, who spend much of their time in the heat, learn the art of self-motivation. Otherwise, they may become hardened or squishy at crucial moments.
Motivation Insight #1: Control stimulates motivation
Charles Duhigg, in Smarter Faster Better, recalls an important insight about motivation from Gen. Charles Krulak, USMC.1
Most recruits don’t know how to start something hard. But if we can train them to take the first step by doing something that makes them feel in charge, it’s easier to keep going.
Insurmountable challenges, unreasonable expectations, fatigue, family demands, or overwhelming responsibilities cause us to freeze. We struggle to keep going.
Taking charge restores our motivation.
Motivation Insight #2: Goals sustain motivation
Duhigg reveals another insight that will resonate with pastors. Motivation surges when we see how our choices advance our causes.2
Self-motivation becomes easier when we see our choices as affirmations of our deeper goals and values.
We’re motivated when we feel that our choices are important, that they affirm a significant value or move us closer to a meaningful goal. When we ask “why?”, self-motivation energizes us to tackle the next obstacle on the road to success.
Motivation Skill #1: Retain a sense of control
Motivation ebbs when we feel overwhelmed. Responding with “I’m in control” messages restores it. Frame your thoughts, choices, and responses like the driver rather than a hapless passenger.
When that email, asking you to attend the initial meeting to plan next summer’s Vacation Bible School hits your Inbox, respond as if you control your own schedule.
Chew on these suggestions. Perhaps they will move you in the right direction.
- Deputize someone else to attend in your behalf.
- Tell them that the only opening in your schedule is right after next Sunday’s services (you’ll be surprised how quickly people do business when they’re eager to get home after church!).
- Tell them you’ve only got 30 minutes to meet with them, and insist that they submit a written agenda before you accept the meeting.
Take a moment to check the requests (and demands) for “just a moment” of your time. Pick one that makes you feel trapped. Brainstorm at least three ways you can respond that restore the sense that you’re in control of your own calendar.
However you respond – no matter what the issue – include a token of control for yourself.
Motivation Skill #2: Focus on goals and values
All pastors struggle with a lack of motivation at one time or another. When you’d rather attend that Slackers Anonymous meeting than tackle your endless task list, take a moment and ask, “Why should I do this?”
- Does it advance the church’s mission?
- Is it conguent with our corporate values?
- Will it move you closer to achieving a meaningful goal?
We motivate ourselves when our tasks affirm important values or move us toward important goals. Asking “why” links our tasks and choices to goals and values. Answering the question providesintrinsic motivation to sustain your efforts.
If the task, request or responsibility isn’t linked to your goals and values, hit the DELETE button.
Peter Drucker is supposed to have said that being a pastor is one of the most difficult jobs in the world.3
Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and … a pastor.
This calling isn’t for the faint of heart, the indolent or the emotionally needy. But the job will be a bit easier when you practice the arts of self-motivation.
- Rick Warren, “18 Ways to Motivate Yourself in Ministry.“
- John Piper, “The Art of Motivation.”
- Karl Vaters, “How to Stay Motivated as a Small Church Pastor.”
- p. 271. Earlier in the book he notes an important study conducted at Columbia University, which concluded that “when people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster.” P. 19. ↩︎
- P. 272. ↩︎
- “What Peter Drucker said about pastors and churches.” This may be an urban legend, but pastors will tell you in chorus just how grueling the job is. It is provocative to note that all four positions cited are in the non-profit sector! Well, I suppose that “president” could be considered government service, but if you’ve noticed our national debt you’d probably conclude that that, too, is non-profit! ↩︎