The Bus Ministry: Reward Motivation

By Mike Willis

Sometime ago, I sat in on a confrontation with a man who had stolen another man’s wife. As the discussion progressed, I noticed an absence of guilt on this man’s heart, even though I knew that he had heard God’s word sufficiently to know that his conduct was sinful. Consequently, I asked the man if he saw anything wrong in divorcing his wife and marrying the wife of another man. To my consternation, the man actually tried to defend his conduct. I could hardly believe what I heard.

Similarly, I can hardly believe my eyes when I read what my brethren are writing to defend their usage of reward motivation. When I first began to investigate the bus ministry, I expected that some of the gimmicks being used were the product of some untaught zealot who simply got carried away. Now I know that is not the case. Reward motivation is a vital part of the bus ministry. It is advocated and defended by its proponents. Hence, in this article, I want to (1) acquaint our readers with the arguments used to justify reward motivation and (2) refute those arguments.

Arguments For Reward Motivation

1. Jesus used reward motivation.

The idea of being rewarded with material blessings as a result of our service is Biblical.

Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life” (Mk. 10:29-30).

Jesus points out we will receive eternal life in the world to come, but please observe that there are material blessings available for us “Now in this time,” if we serve him faithfully.

Again, notice Matt. 6:33; “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Jesus said “these things shall be added unto you” material blessings such as, food, clothing and shelter.

We are rewarded now for faithful service and then the greater blessings will be ours throughout eternity.

Why have you said this? Because some brethren will oppose giving awards to the children for their faithful attendance and their diligence in bringing others (Albert Hill, On The Move with Bus Evangelism, p. 73).

a. Mk. 10:29-30. “Jesus said, `Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for my sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and the world to come, eternal life.” If this passage authorizes reward motivation, then I will take one of those farms mentioned in this verse. I have been pretty good in my attendance and service, so just go ahead and give me one of those nice farms.

Anyone who reads this can see that this passage is not authorizing rewards to those who ride buses. It is not even discussing what the church will do. Rather, it is discussing what God will do. These material blessings are not offered as inducements or allurements to get men to follow Christ. Jesus simply stated men who left all to follow him would be blessed in this present life.

b. Matt. 6:33. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” This passage again is not offering inducements for church attendance; such is a perversion of this passage. Rather, this passage is teaching people not to worry about the physical necessities of life because God will be sure that our necessities are met. Giving bubble gum, balloons, ice cream, etc., as inducements to ride a bus is not authorized by this passage.

2. Other Arguments.

Rewards will be given from time to time to children on the busses; some will criticize this but the Lord said to compel them to come in. Matt. 10:42. Christ offered rewards. If we will just give a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, ye shall in no wise lose your reward. God rewards us for doing things. Heb. 11:6 “He that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder unto them that diligently seek after him” (Russell L. Sample, Reaching the Common Man With The Gospel of Christ Through the Bus Ministry, p.5).

Our Lord also promised that just by giving “a cup of cold water” that “he shall in no wise lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42) Friends, if giving a drink of water is scriptural, then would it matter much if it had a little sweetener added, was colored and perhaps called “Kool-Aid”? I think not! If drinks of water in the name even of a “disciple” will be blessed by the Savior, then will donuts, Kool-Aid, cookies, gum and sandwiches, receive any less of a blessing? Such reasoning that opposes the giving of “treats” out of Christian love and concern, yet defends the water fountain in the foyer is illogical if not characteristic of sheer stupidity! (Carl W. Wade, Joy Bus Evangelism, p. 46).

Matt. 10:42 does not command or infer that reward motivation is scriptural. Jesus was not suggesting that we give cokes, ice cream, candy or bubble gum to children to induce them to come to services. What Jesus was discussing was the giving of a drink of water to quench the thirst of a brother. The person who served his brother because he was a fellow Christian will not lose his reward. His reward, of course, will be given in heaven.

The Unanswerable Argument

When brethren resort to the Scriptures to authorize what they are doing, a man can examine the context to see whether the evidence is sufficient to warrant the conclusion drawn from it. In the passages cited in the above quotations, one can see that the evidence is insufficient. However, there is one line of argumentation which is unanswerable. Read the following:

It is perfectly all right to have “fellowship” for the “church” but heresy if you have a “party” for the children! What is the difference except for the semantics?! None! (Carl W. Wade, op, cit., p. 47).

During V.B.S. we reward the children for their work in bringing other. We offer them prizes for their work-a Bible, a picnic, a special trip, etc. If it is scriptural to do this one week out of a year, can we do it fifty-two weeks out of the year?

Also, during V.B.S., we serve refreshments. Usually, it consists of “watered-down” kool-aid and cookies purchased at a bargain. If we can do this one week out of a year, can we do it fifty-two? (Albert Hill, op. cit., pp. 72-73).

That argument is unanswerable. Brother Hill and Brother Wade are right. If it is right to use reward motivation once, it is right to use it all of the time.

However, who has proven that it is right to use reward motivation once? Although these brethren’s argument carries weight with those liberals who use reward motivation during their Vacation Bible School and conduct adult parties called fellowship dinners, it does not prove very much to those of us who have opposed such things all along. Rather, the bus ministry is just another example of the chickens having come home to roost, from our point of view.

How Successful Is Reward Motivation?

Those involved in the bus ministry will laud the praises of reward motivation. However, some teachers are not quite as convinced. Hugh M. Salisbury and Larry D. Peabody wrote the following in A Guide To Effective Bible Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966; p. 92):

At the village church in Kalonovka, Russia, attendance at Sunday school picked up after the priest started handing out candy to the peasant children. One of the most faithful was a pug-nosed, pugnacious lad who recited his Scriptures with proper piety, pocketed his reward, then fled into the fields to munch on it. The priest took a liking to the boy, persuaded him to attend church school. This was preferable to doing household chores from which his devout parents excused him. By offering other inducements, the priest managed to teach the boy the four Gospels. In fact, he won a special prize for learning all four by heart and reciting them nonstop in church. Now 60 years later, he still likes to recite Scriptures, but in a context that would horrify the old priest. For the prize pupil, who memorized so much of the Bible is Nikita Khruschev, the former Communist Czar.

From a practical standpoint, reward motivation does not produce the inward character necessary for true spirituality. It might produce an outward form of godliness to get the prize offered, but it will not build character.

Jesus condemned the doing of righteousness to obtain an earthly reward in Matt. 6:1-6. He said,

Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give alms sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men, Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men, Truly, I say to you they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

This passage plainly forbids the practice of righteousness to be seen of men, much less to be rewarded by men. Furthermore, I remind you that Jesus would not accept those as His disciples who followed Him merely for the loaves and the fish (Jn. 6). Such a follower was worthless to Him.


Even the denominationalists are beginning to see that reward motivation is sinful. In Visions of Bubble Gum, Forrest L. Keener, a Baptist preacher, criticized the reward motivations of certain Baptist Churches. In his conclusion, he quoted the poem “Gimmicks” by Gene Sutton.

My brethren need to learn this lesson! God’s power to save is not hamburgers, bubble gum, lollipops, etc.; it is the gospel! This is what God uses to draw men to Him (Jn. 6:44-45).

It seems that churches everywhere

are doing things today

To try to bring their attendance up

by giving things away.

They’re running buses all over town

in a way they think is dandy

Giving all the boys and girls that ride

some bubble gum or candy.

And maybe they’ll have a contest

give the winner a free plane ride

Or offer them a ten-speed bike

that would make one swell with pride.

God does not use this kind of plan

to save one from his sin

But uses visitation

to bring the sinner in.

So if you’re using this unscriptural plan

perhaps you had better stop

Or your reward in heaven

might be just a lollipop.

Truth Magazine XXII: 20, pp. 323-325
May 18, 1978