If you just logically and clearly tell people what to do, they will indeed do it.
Does this assumption square with your experience? Is it true in church life?
To me, it seems quaint. Actually, it is quaint, going back to Medieval times. What formal education existed at the time of the Reformation was based on three primary courses, called the Trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric.
Grammar was the basics of how to construct a sentence. Logic taught how to reason from the premise to an application. Rhetoric taught how to put together grammar and logic that would be persuasive to others. To be good at rhetoric was to be able to persuade and move people into action. Good rhetoric was the key to motivation, according to that approach.
The application in churches was in one-way sermons with the preacher telling the audience what to believe and do. Some preachers were indeed very good rhetoricians and could attract an audience, like Martin Luther, or 18th century George Whitefield or 19th century Albert Finney and Dwight Moody, or 20th century Billy Graham. Most were not and could be described as droning on and on while the minds of listeners drifted elsewhere.
The problem with the medieval lecture approach to preaching and teaching is that communication research repeatedly establishes one-way communication to be absolutely the least effective way to shape values and change behavior.
The most effective teaching is to involve the learners in discovery with others of useful knowledge and practical application. Values and behavior are changed best when discovered by the learner and affirmed by others.
Shouldn’t this insight have some application in church life? Churches are all about affirming beliefs, shaping values and presumably changing behaviors of the participants. Why depend on the least effective way to accomplish that purpose?
This issue of motivation led to the widening gap between mainline churches and the newer born-again evangelical churches. Mainline churches were all at their beginnings European state churches, which mandated what Christians should believe and do, at least in that country.
In this country, they dominated through World War II. How? A large portion of the population was seeking the community and respectability they saw in the old established church bodies. Protestantism, especial in its Calvinist forms, was the civil religion of America. Those days are swiftly disappearing.
The great revivalists—Whitfield, Finney, and Moody—worked with a different approach to motivation. Their messages ended in a call for action to consciously accept a new relationship with God that would result in a changed life. Many did come into this new relationship. But from a pastoral viewpoint, too many saw this change as something they did. They drifted away when they no longer had those intense feelings.
So, what approach to motivation is appropriate for the new circumstances Christian churches confront now? Could it have something to do with discovering that biblical beliefs and values really do work for finding a better life in this world as well as the next? Key to that outcome is a better appreciation of how the Holy Spirit changes believers and produces more of his fruit now, fruit like love, joy, peace?
Too often in previous generations, Christians could be viewed as hypocrites that did not practice what they believed, and they too often conveyed a sense of superiority that drove others away. The challenge now is to demonstrate the life-affirming changes found in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Lectures and sermons by themselves are not going to revive withering churches. The key is helping believers discover more love, joy and peace and be able to describe their growth. Those changes are best learned from the experiences of other believers.
Lee Larsen says
The full & true value of God’s blessings cannot be realized just by sitting and listening to a pastor’s sermon, whether they are a gifted speaker or not. If the church is not able to motivate and provide the opportunities to put their member’s faith into action then there is little chance of spiritual growth.
A critical part of that I feel must include a strong outreach presence as this is what provides a constant influx of diverse time, talents & treasurers to grow & strengthen the body of Christ. This added dimension is what provides excitement & encouragement because quite often these activities do not take place in the “trenches” per say. A more positive uplifting experience where we can share the love of Jesus with everyday folk through simple acts of kindness. A great way to put the gifts of the Spirit into action! To the recipients of our kindness they are thinking “Why would this person that doesn’t even know me want to help me or give to me something totally for free?” Because that is exactly what Jesus has done for us! Refreshing & unusual, but not a momentary distraction. An invitation to a lifelong journey with eternal rewards! For the doer of these acts of kindness God shows up in some mighty powerful ways. Through everyday people will come testimonies of in the moment crises and these will take place with such intricate timing leaving you with no doubt as to His divine presence. God’s desire to provide love & comfort to those that only He knows was in need of it at that specific moment in time. These experiences greatly deepens one’s faith and serves as a chain reaction as these testimonies spread through the congregation. Since with every touch of kindness comes with a church/school/youth activity/daycare… invite the result is an ever growing body of Christ and the ability to accomplish even more for the glory of our Lord! The key thing to remember is that with every act of kindness all the glory and focus must be on Jesus, not ourselves and not our church. When we sincerely do that then His blessings come to everyone involved. Bring Jesus to life in the hearts of everyone in your community and you will find He grows the most in your own. PACK (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) is a totally free outreach program that is now at work in 113 countries. Free download at: http://www.acts18.org.
David Luecke says
I just wrote recently how denominations were organized around beliefs. I think in the future congregations will be regarded in terms of actions. How well do they practice what they believe? There will be a big sorting out for old-fashioned church bodies. You PACK is really a network. Networks are replacing denominations.
paul harrington says
One thing missing from so many sermons these days is good stories that illustrate the truths the preacher is trying to convey. And if you have to explain the story, its likely not worth sharing. Good stories are remembered and applied to our lives and should be self-explanatory. Good stories paint lasting pictures in the listener’s heart and heart. Jesus told stories (parables) whenever he was teaching or preaching and we recall them 20 centuries later! It has been said that three things have to happen in a good sermon. First of all, tell me (what you want me to know). Secondly, show me (with the best real-life illustrations you can find). And thirdly, move me. So many sermons end with a “so what?” If a preacher can accomplish all three of these (tell, show, and move), the congregation will benefit greatly and will move in whatever direction the preacher may want to take them.
Tim Johnson says
Good advice. I’ve heard some of these sermons of yours and I know you practice the story, what you preach, in everyday life. That’s the key, and what I try to do as well. Thanks.
David Luecke says
Well said. As someone with a philosophy background, it took me many years to learn “tell, show and move”. I once heard a mission executive preach a whole sermon of propositions about mission without one story from the mission field. I doubt he moved anybody.
One thing missing from so many sermons these days is the Pastor who lives what he proclaims
jeanne menich says
I think you will find the concept of social distancing, being introduced into our society. will affect our worship even more. it will change the concept of motivation on all kinds of levels. It is difficult to talk to a small group of people. one’s motivation changes dramatically the smaller the audience. It will take a while for people to feel comfortable in a setting that has a lot of people in it. motivation has many qualities to it. It can be based on something as simple as how one feels at the time, or how receptive your audience is. I have noticed Lutherans are not the most receptive audience out there. they have been taught to be reticent. Unfortunately, that reticence does not creat much motivation. one thing I have noticed at Royal Redeemer is exactly how different that really is. the services in the sanctuary, at times, seem almost dead. People, for the most part, don’t sing much at that service. at times, while doing power point, i felt like there was no motivation. there was nobody there encouraging a sense of being motivated. even the sermons felt unmotivating. there is a slight difference in the gym. people seem to be more engaged and more motivated to be part of the service. When people feel a part of something, they are more apt to be motivated. When people are motivated a pastor is going to feel more motivated. He becomes a part of what he is doing, not just being robotic at doing it. The pastor has to feel the spirit inside of himself to feel motivated. Unfortunately, the concept of the spirit seems dead in way too many churches, esp. the mainline churches.
David Luecke says
I can remember preaching at a county nursing home with a largely African-American audience. Getting that verbal “Amen” to something I said would certainly stimulate me to say something like that again. I do think informality is key and makes it easier for the Spirit to touch hearts. I have a blog in my newest collection that addresses how to make contemporary worship even better.
Right now there are two cultures at work among churches: the old one and the new one. I don’t think it is wise to take the old one away. It is working for many. Meanwhile let’s work on building up the new more informal one.
David J Maurice says
Jesus told the apostles that he would not leave them orphaned. He would send His Spirit.
One theologian, sorry for loss of memory of his name, said “first came Christ, then came the Church.”
Sad to say, that from the death of the last apostle, until now, the body of Christ has evolved more into the image of man and not the image of God or Jesus’ message and life.
I don’t judge my fellow Christians no matter what denomination they are involved in.
For me, I was very blessed due to a movement that was affecting many denominations and presented itself no matter who experienced the impact of the Holy Spirit. Ann Arbor Michigan, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, small and large churches all over the country experienced some type of Holy Spirit revival starting in the 60s through the early 90s. To go back in American History, I cannot forget Asuza Street. The minister was black, I believe he came from North Carolina and he was blind in one eye. That revival impacted through Jesus’ promise not to leave us orphans.
Some of Church Doctrine is a reaction to an inaccuracy. Other Church doctrine has withstood time well before the medieval ages.
David Luecke says
Yes, the church after the fourth century was warped by leaders to work to their advantage. That’s what brought Luther’s Reformation. Several generations later Protestant churches also shaped themselves to their leader’s advantage. Christian churches need to be continually reformed every generation or so. In our new post-modern generation, churches that stay stuck to their past traditions will probably shrink. My goal is to promote Spirit shaped grace focused ministries.
Thanks for your comments.
jeanne menich says
I agree with your article. We have lost the concept of motivation. motivation, now, means how we react emotionally to something. very few pastors can command our attention for more then 5 minutes at a time. However, as a side issue, I would say we have an even greater problem. we, as a nation and even as a world, are basically uneducated. If you don’t believe me, try to pass a school test from the 1800″s. I have a copy and it is really difficult. we no longer teach real grammar, logic, or rhetoric. we have lost our ability to think logically about issues. now, we think emotionally instead and if the emotion is right, our decision must be right. as for rhetoric, I suspect most people do not even know what that means. being able to understand an argument, let alone react to it, is not taught in our school systems. most of our kids, today, cannot argue an idea rationally. again, they react emotionally and think that reaction is a rational response. i prefer the written medium because that is how I best respond. yet, today, the comma has all but disappeared. sentence construction is almost passe. all of these things, to some degree, have a bearing on motivation. if we think of motivation only as an emotional response than no amount of sermons will ever really be of much help.
David Luecke says
I agree with your analysis. The old days are gone.