Motivating Brethren To Do Personal Work

By Jimmy Tuten

It has been said repeatedly that it takes the personal touch which radiates a genuine interest in the lost and a willingness to spend and be spent in order to bring people to a knowledge of truth. The lack of meaningful growth of the church of the eighties is a problem of serious proportion. It cannot be denied that we grow in direct proportion to our personal activities through visitation, home studies, and other forms of teaching. We cannot ignore the power of personal contact in dealing with people.

Why is it then, that so few who are members of the church take the work of reaching the lost with the saving gospel of Christ as seriously as preachers wish they would? Why have most of our efforts as preachers evolved around attempts to constantly prod brethren to visit and teach? The answer is obvious: Congregations as a whole have not caught the vision “of turning the world upside down.” So much time is spent trying to “train” church members for acceptable labor that not much energy is left for converting unbelievers. But if we truly believe (as did the early church of the first century) in the great commission of our Lord we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to go into all the world, beginning in our own community (Matt. 28:19-20).

We see the truth of this, but we do not feel it! We know what we ought to do, yet we have not felt the awfulness of the guilt of our failure. This simply points up the fact that it is not enough to convince brethren how the great commission applies to them and how practical it is for them to act it out in a sincere, genuine way-but we must “persuade men” just as one would in converting people to obey the gospel (Acts 2:40; 2 Cor. 5:11). We know full well that many brethren see their duty in this regard and still neglect it! So it takes some urging, some motivation some determination to act as we propose. A mere appeal to the feelings of the individual is not sufficient. But note that there is a big difference between motivation and manipulation. Too, some are masters at motivation (Jerry Falwell, etc.) who have yet to teach those they seek to move to become children of God (the only way to become a Christian is in response to the call of the gospel, or the motivations of the Lord, Acts 22:16; 2 Thess. 2:14)). There is truly a difference in biblical motivations for reaching the lost and the manipulations of men which appeal purely to emotions rather than reason. We must not manipulate-we must motivate!

What Is Motivation?

Motivation has been defined as giving “impetus to, to incite, to impel” (Webster). This involves “motive,” which in itself takes in the inner drive, or intention that causes one to act a certain way. “Persuasion” (often used as a synonym) is that process by which one is caused to do something by inducement, the urging or prevailing upon, especially by reason. In Let’s Go Fishing For Men, Homer Hailey cites a quotation that cuts to the heart of the concept of motivation, i.e., being led to action by inner forces and desires (p. 130), or more specifically, acting upon one’s feelings. Motivation comes from within. But it is not mere appeal to one’s feelings that brings the best motivational results. It is done by urging some motive for action.

Some motivational techniques are nothing more than carrot-and-stick approaches (reward and punishment). This does not work too well in personal work because there are not enough direct or visible rewards sufficient to get people into homes. To try to induce brethren to volunteer for personal work by using punishment (sometimes called a negative reinforcement) as an inducement only drives them further away. There is a difference in manipulating brethren to work and in conversion (2 Cor. 5:11). This is why the so-called “specialists” in the church, i.e., religious education ministers, campaign ministers, bus ministers, etc. are dangerous. Instead of specializing in the Bible where true motivation comes from in the first place, they have developed a sinful manipulation approach and the use of gimmickry. This approach to motivating brethren is based upon the belief that brethren act generally by forces that are not really connected with the thing they are trying to get brethren to accomplish (so they use a $5 bill under a bus seat, swallowing gold fish to stimulate attendance, etc.). The psychologists refer to this as extrinsic forces (Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960], pp. 33-34).

McGregor discusses another concept that is nearer the truth taught in the Bible (pp. 47-48). Applied to our discussion this simply means that brethren are willing to expend effort and will exercise self-control in the area of objectives to which they are committed. In other words, commitment as a Christian motivates him to do what God expects him to do. I must confess that while some understanding of motivational concepts is good, I am opposed to most of what I am seeing in the liberal churches (and occasionally among conservative brethren). So much of it constitutes something quite different from the “persuade men” concept of the Bible (2 Cor. 5:11).

There is yet a third concept of motivation, i.e., understanding why people do what they do (Susan Davidson Schaefer, The Motivation Process [Cambridge: Winthrop Publishers, 1977], p. 3). Some of the theories (whether they are accurate or not does not fall within the confines of this treatise) that move people to act are:

(1) The need to satisfy certain basic requirements. These are physiological: food, rest, shelter, need for safety, social relationships, self-esteem and self-actualization.

(2) The need for personal recognition, job importance and opportunity for advancement.

(3) “Cognitive dissonance, ” i.e., getting what you expect from others. Applied to the church this means that if we have faith and vision we will see things happen. We preachers need this if we are to motivate.

(4) “Personal causation, ” i.e., to cause changes in one’s environment as a primary motivator. This is where the “Social Gospel” concept enters into the picture of some of our brethren. Too, this very concept is reaping havoc in the Catholic Church right at this time (U.S. News & World Report, “Behind Struggle For Power Inside Catholic Church,” May 27, 1985, pp. 32-34).

Some Abuses Among Brethren

There is a wide range of manipulations often disguised as motivation. One illustration that we can all identify with is the “Closing Technique” that we all will have to develop in our personal work if we are going to get people to obey the gospel. As a result of personal work and evangelism “workshops” certain techniques are proposed in getting responses from people to whom we teach the Bible. Some of these methods detract from the gospel of Christ. For example, getting a person to write a letter to the Lord telling Him why he does not want to obey the gospel is not going to get that person to respond if he does not see his need as a sinner, the Lord’s blood as the saving power of God and obedience in baptism as a means of fulfilling his needs (Rom. 6:1-6; Acts 2:39; 22:16). Why can’t our brethren see that this is a cheap ploy that humiliates people to the point of grudging baptism?

Again, what good does it do to use the play, “start to leave.” If our Lord’s death on Calvary and His love is not sufficient motivation to a sinful heart, what makes us think that the threat to walk out of a Bible study will do the job? One needs to read Acts 2 for the Bible principle of what “pricks the heart.”

A correct method of getting a response to a home study is to ask, only after you are certain that the prospect knows the truth about obeying the gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-9): “Is there anything that is keeping you from obeying the gospel right now?” This helps the prospect get to the heart of the principle, “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

It should also be noted that there is an increase in a type of emotionalism that is only slightly milder than Pentecostalism. This is being witnessed in some of the Crossroads (now referred to as “Disciple Making”) workshops, etc., where the calculated use of audience response is worked over: “yes, Lord,” “hallelujah,” “that’s right,” and other responses from both men and women. If space permitted we could add things like turning down the lights during certain parts of worship, clapping hands, swaying and weaving, etc. I have yet to learn how such externals motivate spirituality.

Proper Guidelines

There are indeed proper guidelines for motivating people to do personal work. These are the same as those that are used in the Bible to cause a person to obey the gospel. Brother Homer Hailey gives six of these in his “everyone should be a Christian” section of Let’s Go Fishing For Men (p. 136). To the things he lists as motivators, such things as glorifying God, family responsibility, debt to society, the profitableness of godliness, the value of one’s soul and you can’t get to heaven except through Jesus Christ, should be added the fact that just as Jesus drew disciples to Himself by grateful and loving affection, we should give ourselves up to Him by not only saving ourselves, but them that hear us (1 Tim. 4:16). This is the principle of love for love (1 Jn. 5:3; Jn. 15:9). I am saying that the very guidelines used in the Bible to persuade men to obey the gospel are those that should motivate us. to want to share salvation with others so that it can truly become a common salvation. I would urge you to go back and re-read my earlier installment, “Why Brethren Continue To Do Personal Work,” in this journal (Vol. 29, May 16, 1985, No. 10, pp. 304-305).


As we look at the problems of motivation in the field of personal evangelism, the following questions are in order. Are our efforts in teaching one-on-one relying on mere manipulation? Is the result of our efforts that of gaining a following for ourselves, or for the Lord? Are we more concerned about getting people to obey the gospel than we are in how many people we can convert in home studies? Most important of all, do we know when to exhort with many others words, “save thyself from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40), instead of applying pressure in a furor of emotionalism?

This is about all I know about motivation. Now I wish someone would help me with the problem: “how do I motivate my brethren to do personal work.” I only know what is in the Bible. I know the principles of persuasion found therein are right because they are God’s principles. If they do not move us, nothing will. The authority of the Great Commission is the authority of the Divine Incarnate, the Voice of God Himself, speaking in the utterances of man with austere purity and tender sympathy: “Go ye into all the world. . .” Amen!*

*I wish to give credit to Roy H. Lanier, Jr., for much of the adapted material found in this writing which was taken from a tape, “Proper Motivation In Evangelistic Preaching.”

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 17, pp. 523, 536
September 5, 1985