Motivating the Troops

In the Jimmy Stewart movie, “Rear Window,” Grace Kelly stands at the back of his apartment soaking in the lovely music drifting in from a penthouse across the way where the composer is slaving away. She asks, “Where does a person get the inspiration to write such beautiful music?”

Stewart answers, “Well, he gets it from his landlord the first of each month.”

Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes.

Every captain works on finding ways to motivate the crew. It comes with the job. The coach looks for ways to fire up the team for one more game, the sales manager for one more contest, the pastor for one more service, the major for one more battle.

Driving south on the interstate recently, I was reflecting on my assignment for that evening. An association in South Alabama was gathering its leaders–its troops–for what they call “M Night.” The M, most people have long forgotten even though this event has been around for 50 years, once stood for Mobilization. The idea was to get the churches revved up in the area of discipleship.

I’ve attended a bunch of these annual evenings over the years and been the featured speaker at quite a number. To me, however, the M always stood for Motivation. It’s a kissing cousin to Mobilization, I figure, because if you get the team motivated, they will mobilize, meaning they’ll get out there and do the job.

The radio was on, tuned to a station that was dying with its waning signal. I heard only this part of the interview.

Interviewer: “You are nationally known for these speeches. I suppose you call yourself a Motivational Speaker.”

Subject: “No, never. The way I look at it, motivation doesn’t last. Strategy lasts. I call myself a Strategist.”

Out of range, I lost the station. But that was enough. A word from God? I’m not sure, but it sure set me to thinking.

Maybe it was not sufficient to talk to the Baptists of Geneva County, Alabama, about their motivation, not if it would last only a few hours and then vanish with the dawn. There ought to be something heavier, more solid, longer lasting.

So, I spoke on strategy.

Today, something in the Times-Picayune sports pages jerked me back to motivation, however. Saints Coach Sean Payton motivates his team week in and week out to face yet another foe, some fearsome and some almost laughable. The fact that their record is now 9-0 says something about his success.

How Payton gets his teams up is worth a look.

The heading of sportswriter Jim Duncan’s article reads: “Payton finding ways to keep Saints players on edge.”

He begins, “The NFL regular season covers five long months. It begins in the humid heat of September and ends in the frigid frost of January. Along the way, minds can wander, focus can falter, motivation can wane. Throw in a 9-0 start and a four-game lead in the division, and you have a recipe for complacency.”

Payton spends time each week preparing a mission statement “to mold the minds of his players and hone their focus.” In their Wednesday team meeting, he displays it on powerpoint.

Quarterback Drew Brees says Payton is a master at this. “(He has to find) a motivational tactic of some kind that will get guys to play each week.”

The more cynical among us might say those multi-million dollar contracts ought to be sufficient. Laws of human nature, however, apply to these guys the same way as to the rest of us.

What Coach Payton does is assign staff people to study the other team’s record against the Saints. He looks for anything, such as the way the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Jake Delhomme had a 6 game winning streak in the Superdome. So, Payton printed up flyers for the locker room showing the dome and asking the question, “Whose house is it–theirs or ours?”

The Saints won the game over the Panthers 30-20.

Looking for an edge, studying the other teams, knowing his own people. That’s what he does. Coach Payton takes seriously the business of motivating his people.

Motivation doesn’t last? It doesn’t need to. All Payton wants his motivational techniques to do is last for four days, from Wednesday through the game Sunday afternoon.

Jesus was highly motivated during His ministry on earth. The secret, if we may call it that, was clear.

“I do always do the things that please the Father,” He said, in John 8:29. That was His motivation. What will make the Father happy?

The New Testament must give a hundred different types of motivation for the Lord’s disciples. Here are some of them….

–Rewards. See Jesus’s statement to Peter in Mark 10:29-30. See Jesus’s promise to believers in Matthew 10:41-42 and 25:21,23. Then, see Paul’s own testimony on this subject in II Timothy 4:8.

The promise of rewards is a huge motivator. Ask NFL players how much they’d give to wear a Super Bowl ring on their finger. Ask major league baseballers about that World Series ring and you’ll understand why some use steroids and risk destroying their health and shortening their lives, all for those few moments of glory.

–Fear. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (II Corinthians 5:11)

–And no doubt the greatest motivator of all is the Holy Spirit. Here is how Jesus put it in Acts 1:8…

“You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.”

One thing we know: yesterday’s motivation does not work for today’s challenges. That’s why it is every believer’s duty to stay close to the Father in the Word, in prayer, in obedience, in order for the motivating influence that drives him to be from God and not something of the flesh.

Fleshly motivators have always lured God’s people to do the best things for the worst reasons…

A friend of mine worked hard at winning people to the Lord, getting them into church, and through the baptismal waters. He labored night and day to fill the pews and increase the numbers of worshipers. And it would appear he succeeded.

Then it all came out. What was driving him was ambition. He had observed that those elected to high office in our denomination pastored the largest churches and sported massive numbers of offerings, baptisms, and such. If that was the way the game was played, he reasoned, that’s how he would play it.

But alas, that kind of motivation doesn’t last either. Eventually, his ego–a twin to ambition–trapped him in another kind of sin and that ended both his ministry (for the time being at least) and his quest for recognition.

The classic movie station last night played the Burt Lancaster movie based on Sinclair Lewis’ novel, “Elmer Gantry,” about an unscrupulous preacher. As with the Jim Jones’ and a few others we could name, Gantry’s motivations seemed to me multi-faceted, but all revolved around satisfying his lusts–for women, for power, for money.

Doing ministry for money is not a new phenomenon. Peter’s First Epistle cautions the Lord’s pastors to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve….” (I Pet. 5:2).

In your grandfather’s day, pastors were paid more conservatively. When I began pastoring just after seminary, a family could live well on $150 a week. Due to inflation and the rise of a lot of things–megachurches among them–the salaries began skyrocketing. In the old days it might have been laughable for a man to enter the ministry because of the lure of money. These days, it is nothing for pastors of medium-sized churches to receive more than $100,000 annually in compensation.

A former member of the church I was pastoring, who had joined a megachurch in a distant city a half-dozen years earlier, asked me, “What do you think my pastor makes?” I didn’t have a clue. He said, “I don’t know exactly, but three years ago, he was earning $350,000. No telling what it is now.” That was 10 years ago; my mind boggles at these numbers.

I’m all in favor of paying the preacher well. I’m not in favor of being stupid.

At this moment, sports people are discussing what Notre Dame will do about their football coach Charlie Weis who has compiled another in a series of mediocre records for this year. Saturday, after another loss, a commentator said, “They want to replace him, no doubt. The problem is he has a contract that guarantees him $15 million if they do.” How did that happen? He explained, “After his second season, when his team had done so well, the administration and alumni feared some pro team would entice him away, so they extended his contract and guaranteed this sum if he was dismissed.”

All that money did not motivate the coach to produce winning teams, but did provide him plenty of reason to stay put.

I have no qualms about a coach taking all the money they offer. I have lots of scruples against churches handing out small fortunes to pastors. Sooner or later, their leadership should ask what Jesus would want them to do in such a situation. They might be surprised.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.”

It’s all about us serving the Lord, pleasing Him, glorifying Him.

If that doesn’t motivate us to give us best and do our all, something basic is lacking in our faith.

3 thoughts on “Motivating the Troops

  1. Motivation of leaders is a continuing mystery to me. 35 yrs ago we built a new bldg, going from 1 to 6 SS depts, adding a few classes, but greatly increasing space. We were still doing ok, but no spectacular gains. So I set up a personal mtg with three state guys in Alec, each of which I respected. As I saw the problem, I asked their advice on how to motivate the teachers, who were just getting through the lessons. I was never more disappointed. They simply didn’t know. The only partial solution I developed was individual conferences with teachers and sermons aimed at SS. Lots of work needs doing here.

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