Reading: Motivating your members

Motivating your members

Wayne Owen

Getting someone to take leadership in the church is a struggle that many pastors face. The pastor who finds that the first choice of the nominating committee is willing to serve considers himself lucky. Because few church members take the work of the church as seriously as pastors wish they would, the work of the pastor often becomes one of constantly prod' ding people to perform effectively.

The flow of programs generated by most denominations illustrates the necessity of the pastor's being a persuasive motivator and tireless promoter. Unfortunately, few of these programs have demonstrated the success their inventors dreamed possible. The lack of implementation has not necessarily been because the programs were poorly conceived. More often the churches simply did not catch the vision and see the potential.

Ellen G. White, herself an effective motivator and church leader, counseled that the pastor upon entering a new pastorate "should at first seek not so much to convert unbelievers, as to train the church-members for acceptable co operation." 1 This goal of helping his members both to grow and to work for others can be reached only as the members are motivated to work together. Emphasizing the pastor's role as motivator, White wrote, "Nothing lasting can be accomplished for churches . . . unless they are aroused to feel that a responsibility rests upon them." 2

In their efforts to motivate, pastors have been known to try methods ranging from instilling guilt to shaming, bribing, and coercion, and even in a few instances blackmail. The strides within business management over the past forty years offer some insights regarding the principles of motivation. These principles of management do have application to the pastor's work: " 'In some respects the pastor occupies a position similar to that of a foreman of a gang of laboring men or the captain of a ship's crew. They are expected to see that the men over whom they are set, do the work assigned them correctly and promptly, and only in case of emergency are they to execute in detail."3

Many pastors with some business background would like to have control over monetary remuneration for work that is done within the church. They would like to be able to give raises to some and to dock the pay of others. But pastors are working with volunteers rather than employees. They must use other principles of motivation.

Understanding motivation

Theories of motivation abound in the business world as a result of this century's struggle to increase production while maintaining worker satisfaction. In today's world the manager must be very competent to satisfy the goals of the company. He has to strive to reduce the amount of employee absenteeism and increase the employees' production while maintaining the maximum level of quality. Douglas McGregor, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, delineates the perception of people's attitude toward work, which for decades had influenced management. This view (he labels it Theory X) was: 1. The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can. 2. Because of this human characteristic of dislike of work, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives. 3. The average human being prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, and wants security above all. 4

Theory X has generated a whole battery of motivational techniques that McGregor identifies as the carrot-and-stick (reward-and-punishment) approach. Some pastors view the church through the eyes of Theory X, not realizing that the carrot-and-stick method will not work. Most church offices do not offer direct rewards sufficient to motivate those asked to fill them. And using "punishment" (negative reinforcement) in a volunteer organization is counterproductive--and may even drive the members away.

McGregor's Theory Y, on the other hand, based upon the research of recent years, advances another view of potential workers: 1. Humans expend physical and mental effort in work as naturally as they play or rest. 2. External control and threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing about effort toward organizational objectives. People will exercise self-control in the service of objectives to which they are committed. 3. Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement. 4. The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility. 5. The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population. 6. Under the conditions of modern industrial life, the intellectual potential of the average human being is only partially utilized.5

Both of these theories are based upon the very general concept that people do what they do because something pushes them. 6 What pushes them is the center of the controversy. Theory X holds that extrinsic forces push people, and Theory Y suggests that intrinsic forces push people. Theory Y probably reflects the realities of the church more accurately. One's basic assumptions about his church members will largely determine his effectiveness as a motivating agent.

And what comprises these intrinsic forces? Apart from the regenerating and motivating influence of the Holy Spirit, members have certain needs that must be met before they will function well in the church. The wise pastor knows the principles that govern individual behavior--why people do what they do. According to Susan Schaefer, this constitutes motivation. 7

Dr. Abraham Maslow suggests that every individual must satisfy certain basic needs. As these needs are met they no longer motivate a person. The primary universal needs that Maslow sees are the physiological--food, rest, and shelter. He suggests that when these basic needs are met a person next seeks to satisfy the need for safety, then for social relationships, next for self-esteem, and finally self-actualization.

Frederick Hersberg contributes another popular model for motivation. He suggests that personal recognition, job importance, and the opportunity for advancement motivate people. According to him, the need for self-esteem lies behind these motivating factors.

The motivational theory known as "cognitive dissonance" complements the perspective of Theory Y. Cognitive dissonance simply suggests that a person gets what he expects from others. If he expects incompetence, he will get it; if he expects competency and focuses on it, he will get competent performances. The application to the church is obvious. The pastor who has faith and has a vision will see things happen.

The theory of personal causation is also very useful for church motivation.

This theory holds that the need to cause changes in one's environment is a primary motivator. "Most people do not want to have their lives to be deter mined, to be manipulated, to be pawns." 8

Strategies for motivation

We do not have to determine which of the foregoing theories most accurately portrays human motivation. The insights these theories afford suggest several possible strategies for motivating people. But putting them into a package that church administrators can use presents a real challenge.' A pastor needs to look for strategies that, while being highly effective, do not compromise the ideals of the church. Let's examine eight potential strategies for motivation.

1. Competition. For years pastors have relied upon competition to motivate the church. (One prevalent example is the fund-raising campaign in which the church divides into competing groups-- with a goal device, of course.) Competition interests people, and for that reason it has played a very significant role in our churches. It does work as a great motivator, but inevitably someone must lose. And the negative impact upon the losers makes competition totally unacceptable as a motivational strategy within the church. Those who desire to motivate children use competition especially frequently, with the unfortunate result of a damaging loss of self-esteem to the highly vulnerable victims.

Even entire churches may have low self-esteem. This has often been unwittingly fostered by insensitive pastors or departmental men who pit against each other churches of varying makeup and circumstances in an attempt to reach financial and campaign goals. The caring pastor will not risk the potential damage to child, adult, or church inherent in competition with others.

The pastor can safely use one form of competition as a motivator--competition with oneself. Comparison with one's own performance can be a high motivator when it arises out of the desire of the individual to excel and to offer the very best to the Lord.

2. Self-esteem. Nothing has greater impact upon motivation than self-esteem. The focus upon building and protecting a person's self-esteem is a fairly recent phenomenon. Robert Schuller suggests that this is the new reformation arising within the church. 9

In a volunteer organization the high self-esteem of the volunteers is an absolute necessity for maintaining their interest and continued support. In demonstrating the importance of self-esteem, Bernard Rosenbaum refers to Abraham Koramn's findings: 1. Individuals who are told they are incompetent to achieve a specific goal or task, even though they have had no previous experience with the task, will perform worse than those who are told they are competent to achieve the task goals. 2. Self-perceived ability based upon previous performances is positively related to later performances. 3. The more a person has failed in the past, the less he or she will aspire to succeed in the future. 4. If groups have failed previously, they set goals in ways that increase the probability of their failing again. 5. Individuals and groups with low self-esteem are less likely to achieve difficult goals they have set for themselves than individuals with high self-esteem. 10

The caring pastor will be very protective not only of his individual member's self-esteem but also of that of the group, He will do all he can through his preaching, teaching, and in his leader ship to increase each member's self-esteem.

3. Reinforcement. An often-over looked strategy for increasing people's motivation is that of positive reinforcement. This strategy succeeds simply because "people are more likely to repeat an action if its consequences are pleas ant, just as they are more likely not to repeat it if the consequences are unpleasant." 11 We need to remember, when complimenting someone on a job well done, to be specific. We should explain what we appreciate about his work. Jesus illustrated this principle in the parable of the talents. A "well done, thou good and faithful servant" goes a long way.

4. Communication. The President of the United States, as well as all political candidates and corporations, know that a good press secretary is an absolute necessity. Within the church structure there must be good communication. Every member must know what is going on, why, and when. Lack of information increases distrust and apathy.

Church committees, as well as the pastor, must recognize the value of two-way communication. Many times the church board will wrestle with a difficult financial problem that would be quickly resolved if brought to the entire congregation.

5. Goal-Setting. Most churches that take their mission to the world seriously will find themselves setting goals. In the past few years much has been written about the importance of goal-setting. Organizational theories such as management by objective and the systemic model of organization have stressed the importance of goals. But the motivating potential of goal-setting has been almost totally neglected in the organizational activity within the church. The church board argues and, finally, formulates the goals. Then the pastor and the board expect the members to rally around to implement these goals with which they have had nothing to do, and in which in some cases they are not even interested. One of the principles of motivation is that a person will attempt to achieve only the objectives to which he is committed. Pastors must seek ways of involving the full congregation in generating genuine church goals and objectives. Once the members "own" the goals, they will develop the motivation to reach them.

6. Performance appraisal. Our first reaction to the idea of appraisal may be one of cold, sweaty fear. But the volunteer worker needs to know that his work is important enough to be reviewed. We can lessen the fright by suggesting that he do his own appraisal, evaluating his own efforts. This gives the church board, or preferably the program audit committee, 12 something to reward. If the worker was pleased with success fully visiting twenty-seven homes in his neighborhood, we would have a very good basis for giving a pat-on-the-back award for a job well done.

7. Training. One sure way of motivating a person to perform a given job is to help him overcome his fear of the job. Training forms one of the steps in helping a worker reach competency. Unless the volunteer derives a feeling of satisfaction from a job well done, he will have little desire to continue in that position. Any training done must precede his functioning in the job. Once a person has performed poorly in an office it becomes almost impossible to salvage him for that job. And many times when a church gives someone a position without providing training or guidance, the church unconsciously does not expect much to happen. The results will accord with the principle of cognitive dissonance--if you expect incompetence, you will get it. This also inclines the member to view the work of the church as unimportant. The individual, then, will tend to approach all other church offices on the basis of this pattern.

Christ, in His association with the twelve, illustrated the importance of on-the-job training. He devoted His entire three and a half years of ministry to training them. One can see immediately how this must have affected the disciples' motivation to carry out their work.

8. Image. In understanding how to motivate people to serve in the church, we also need to consider the overall image of the church and the department that needs help. A good image, or reputation, will go a long way in motivating a person to give his time and energy to that department.

Admittedly, the pastor will never find the task of motivating an average church easily accomplished. But these principles of motivation, wisely practiced, will increase his effectiveness as a leader. The work of soul winning still belongs to the Holy Spirit, but without dedicated and motivated laymen the church faces defeat. These principles cannot promise success, but they can prevent the pastor's leadership from inhibiting the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the church members.

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Last modified: Monday, August 13, 2018, 9:06 AM