The Motivation Gap in Christianity

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The track record on what we have used to motivate in the churches of Christ seems to shift to extremes at times. As with many other groups in Christianity the modus oporondi of the day decades back was guilt communicated through legalistic means. Feel guilty if you don’t come when the doors are open. Feel guilty if you don’t take the Lord’s Supper. Feel guilty if you don’t ___________.It was the old check box mentality. Those with the fewest boxes checked should feel the most guilty. The problem with legalism is it is fed by the belief that if we do enough for God he will respond to us.

From there came a whole reactionary group of motivators known as the Crossroads movement. They were extremely motivated in their discipling techniques placing extremely high expectations on members to reach out to others and bring people to Christ. They also played on guilt and emotion and in some ways, although reactionary to a legalistic perspective, were still quite legalistic in their owns ways. The problem with this mentality is it robs people of the want to and replaces it with a half to. Things are done out of obligation rather than healthy desire in many instances and we can easily be robbed of the joy that comes from following God because we constantly have the feeling of not being good enough.

Both of these groups found out the same thing. Guilt works. High standards works. People are motivated enough to avoid feelings of guilt that they will show up. They will reach the lost if it means assuaging their guilt. People will show up when the doors are open and even bring someone with them if there is enough arm twisting. But as we know today guilt is probably not the best or most healthy motivator in all circumstances and so we avoid it altogether. And so we find ourselves today in a motivational gap. We don’t want to be legalists. We don’t want to guilt people into doing things. We have avoided the check boxes and told people you can’t earn your salvation. What has been the result? We have found that many Christians today are rarely motivated to be there when the doors are open or to reach people or to live very Christ-like at all.

What is the solution? Part of it may be that we have missed some benefit by being present predominantly in the extremes. Is it possible that guilt is a powerful and appropriate motive for certain things? For instance shouldn’t people feel guilty if they have sinned? If we whitewash or brush over sin so much that people no longer feel guilty for it isn’t that just as much a problem as using guilt as the sole motivator? While legalism isn’t the answer either, is it possible that we do need some since of obligation to do things that are right even when we don’t feel like it? That might be one third of the answer. I think the other two-thirds of the answer is a healthy alternative to extremes of guilt and legalism that people need to hear over and over and over in order to reprogram their Christian thinking to something that is far more scriptural.

In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love because he first loved us.” Our motivation is not from legalism or guilt. Our motivation is in the form of response. God initiated great things on our behalf because of his great love for us (Eph 2). Our response should be that we love him so much because of what he has done and who he is that we actually want to respond! We want to respond in a way that he loves and respects. We respond in a way that demonstrates our own understanding of his magnificence and awesomeness. We respond in a way that is respectful and loving toward our fellow man because we realize that just as God initiated something toward us he has toward them as well. We respond through holy, righteous , and ethical living because that is what he asked us to do and it is the natural response of a life dedicated to the one who loved us first.

The motivation gap is filled, not with guilt or legalism but with the motivation that who we are and what we are doing is a response to God’s gracious acts on our behalf.

0 Responses

  1. Yeah!

    I remember Tom Olbricht saying, “God never asked us to do anything he hasn’t already done.”

    Personally, the only guilt that has motivated me has been related to specific personal sins at different times and places. By far the biggest motivator has been seeing other people’s response to what God has done and feeling a pull within me toward that kind of life.

  2. What a great entry, Matt. I immediately thought about how in prior years our fellowship totally ignored this passage from Titus:

    “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

    GRACE as motivation. GRACE as schoolmaster for what is right & wrong. Grace working to make us eager to to good. Those are concepts that our fellowship completely missed for years.

    Instead we made people feel guilty about checkmark issues & sang songs about an all-seeing eye watching us. You can’t call that anything other than what it is: full-scale legalism.

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