Motivational leadership

Motivation in local church leadership

Samuel Thomas, Jr. is senior pastor in Elk Grove, California.

Jim Burke, who was once head of a new products group at Johnson & Johnson, developed as one of his first products a children's chest rub. When it failed, Jim believed he would be fired.

Calling Jim into his office, the chair person asked if he was the one who just cost the company so much money. When Jim nodded, the chairperson said, "Well, I want to congratulate you. If you made a mistake it means you took a risk, and if we don't take risks we will never grow. That is what business is all about."

Years later Jim Burke became the chairperson of Johnson & Johnson.

In response to this, some might say that the church is not a business and these parallels don't apply. But that is not necessarily true. After all, is not the functional side of the church to be run in a business like way? With this in mind, the church leadership must engage tough-minded leaders, not afraid to take chances, if it ever wants to motivate growth, development, and change. Without it, your church will stagnate.

Early in my ministry, after struggling with various models of leadership and management, I discovered what's called motivational leadership, which has given me a vision for leading my church to live up to its potential, whatever the risks involved. Motivational leadership is built around the acronym MOPP: motivating, organizing, planning, and programming.


The first, and most crucial aspect, is motivation. Motivation must come from within. The potential of a volunteer organization, such as the church, can be realized only if the energy is unlocked from within the leader. Self-motivation inspires. If the leader isn't motivated, neither will the church be. Self-motivation does not wait for an agenda; it has the agenda. Leaders must have this self-motivation before they can expect others to experience it. This means leaders must allow for a reordering of their priorities and discover their potentialities and possibilities. This reordering is essential for visionary leaders. A visionary leader is never satisfied with a job completed, for something always awaits on the horizon, something challenging, something unfinished, something with risks.

Motivation goes beyond self-motivation to include the motivation of others. Giving others a clearer view of oneself provides credibility, thereby providing greater effectiveness. The emphasis here is on socialization and a sense of community. By involving oneself in the common tasks of church life, by being there with other members of the faith community, a leader can model the elements of greatness: service and teamwork.

Motivational leadership also involves modeling, or what might be called motivation by example. Of the fourteen requirements of a spiritual leader mentioned by Blackaby and Brandt, ten are directly related to motivation by example. A leader:

• has a strong sense of urgency (Matt. 9:35-37)

• has an absolute priority and commitment to prayer (Matt. 9:38)

• is unconditionally related to Jesus Christ as Lord (Matt. 10:1)

• dwells with and under Christ's ab solute spiritual authority and demonstrates this in his or her life (Matt. 10:1, 8)

• is Kingdom-oriented (Matt. 6:33)

• is a person of deep faith and trust (Matt. 10:9,10)

• lives with a clear sense of God-given direction (Matt. 10:5-7,11-16)

• has a clear commitment to pattern his or her life after Jesus, the master Servant (Matt. 10:24, 25)

• bears an open witness to everyone of the lordship of Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:32,33)

• lives out a life of unmistakable identity with Jesus Christ and does so with an eye to the day of accountability (Matt. 10:40-42)1

Some of these principles maybe more implicit than explicit in their relationship to modeling. Nevertheless, modeling is crucial to motivation. By modeling we establish believability, credibility, trust, and, ultimately, integrity. And "the need for integrity today is perhaps as great as it has ever been.... It is absolutely essential for anyone who desires to become a person of influence."2 Of course, modeling with ab solute integrity may require that the leader make tough choices, but the end result will be a superior standing with the people the leader wishes to motivate.


Second in this paradigm of motivational leadership is the principle of organizing. Organizing is critical for moving people from concept to planning. This function is most often mishandled when a leader with no organizational skills attempts to bring the motivated group together. If you don't have organization skills, get someone involved who does. Share with him or her your vision and personally identify yourself with that person. Owning the vision and buying into its source enhances leadership all around. Organizing should not be viewed as a step-by-step mode be cause of the danger of being over-organized. The tension must be maintained between structure and fluidity. This allows for periodic reorganizing. This level can only go as far as the aptitude, experience, and expo sure of the group will allow. Through continued motivation, organization can take on more complex forms.


From organizing, the paradigm of motivational leadership moves to planning. Planning is a simple but crucial step. Planning involves ownership. Better understood through the acronym OURS, planning takes organizing to be accepted by the majority of the group. Ownership: Develop a sense of ownership. Utilization: Utilize the skills taught and modeled within the context of the church, Reenforcement and reward: Reenforce and reward the accomplishments. Scrutiny: Scrutinize the effectiveness of the projected plan.

A plan is not really a plan unless implemented. Without implementation, the vision is just an idea. The idea must receive the impetus toward becoming a reality, and here's where ongoing motivation becomes essential.


The final process is programming. Programming can be defined as the plan executed. Properly executed, this level be comes the catalyst for complete change and establishes a new level of productivity in the body of believers. Frankly, this final step is the beginning of new, innovative, creative, and dynamic interchanges that further strengthen the leader's overall vision. Programming aims to realize the vision.


Pastoral ministry is one of the most under-appreciated roles in church work. Pastors are expected to perform as spiritual counselors, emotional counselors, expositors of the Word, theologians, experts in practics, business planners, financial consultants, motivational speakers, marriage counselors, and more. No other area of church work requires so much from one individual.

That's why ministers need to be motivational leaders. They can't do it all. The true success of pastors isn't found so much in the variety of functions they perform; rather, success comes when they can motivate their church to do what they themselves cannot. As leaders, our task is to show our church members their potential in Christ and the high watermark of spiritual excellence to which He has called us and then lead them to fulfill it.

This involves risks. And no one, especially a pastor, can be any kind of visionary leader without taking them, even if it means, as Jim Burke could testify, a few hard bumps along the way.

1. Henry T. Blackaby, Henry R. Brandt, Kerry L. Skinner, and Kenny Skinner, The Power of the Call (Broadman and Holman Pub., 1997), 14-17.

2. John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan, Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1997), 19.

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Samuel Thomas, Jr. is senior pastor in Elk Grove, California.

October 1998

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