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What drives your motivation?

| by Bud Brown

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 either harden (eggs), fall apart (potatoes), or become rich and savory (coffee beans).

Motivation - the reason(s) why we respond as we do - plays a large role in determining what happens when we're in hot water. Since pastors spend most of their time in the cauldron, it's important that they master the art of self-motivation lest they become hardened or fall apart at a crucial moment

Motivation insight #1: Control stimulates motivation

In his book Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg records 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.

We freeze when we're inundated by enormous challenges, unreasonable expectations, fatigue, family demands, or overwhelming responsibilities. We struggle to find energy (mental and physical) to keep at it.

Taking charge restores our motivation.

Motivation insight #2: Goals sustain motivation

Duhigg's research reveals a second insight. Motivation flows from meaningful choices, which will resonate with pastors and ministry leaders.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 an "I'm in control" mesage 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.

  1. Deputize someone else to attend in your behalf.

  2. 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!).

  3. Tell them you only have 30 minutes to meet, 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.

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.


  1. 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. ↩︎

  2. p. 272. ↩︎

Photo source: istock

Bud Brown

An experienced ministry leader, writer and educator, Bud Brown is co-founder of Turnaround Pastors and co-author of the ground-breaking Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Leader. He is a change leader in many venues — small rural, upscale suburban and mega-sized churches. He brings special expertise to change leadership in the local church, mentoring pastors to become revitalization leaders, training churches how to find and recruit the best talent, and training leadership teams how to achieve their shared goals. Bud also trains pastors in conferences, workshops and coaching sessions. 

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