Behavioral sciences have demonstrated that humans typically act according to five basic motivations: money, recognition, self-preservation, romance, and achievement.
All of us have each of these basic motivations present in our daily lives to a greater or lesser extent. One, however, is typically dominant and may be identified by noting the brief descriptions below and observing the preoccupations of our personal thinking and behavior patterns.
Money-motivated individuals are likely interested in acquiring and possessing as a representation of personal worth. A person need not be rich to be money motivated. In fact, the process of acquiring something, or the degree of curiosity about any item's price, may be a much more significant indicator than the actual possession of wealth.
Recognition-oriented people love the spotlight and enjoy being thought of as unique, different, or standing above and beyond the crowd. Delinquent teens, for example, who have failed to achieve fame will settle for infamy in order to focus others on their status.
Romance-motivated individuals are entranced with that which is new, exciting, and different. Adventure for the sake of a new experience fascinates, and the "call of the open road" beckons strongly.
Self-preservationists are motivated by comfort, guaranteed results, and ease of process. They are willing to work hard but desire assurance that their efforts will pay off.
Achievement-oriented people are motivated by accomplishment—not the recognition or rewards for accomplishment as much as self-awareness of a job "well done" or the personal satisfaction of attainment.
With these brief descriptions in mind, it is easier to see that how I communicate may determine whether my message is received or rejected. For example, it might be futile to speak to a money-motivated individual about the high cost of discipleship and the great financial sacrifice expected of believers. On the other hand, the simple story of an individual whose need for possessions was so great that he felt dissatisfied without additional and larger ware houses, but who lost his most valuable possession on the eve of inaugurating his new buildings, will galvanize the attention of someone who wishes to retain their most valuable possession even if they do not yet recognize Jesus as the Pearl of great price.
When I first began to study human motivation and its potential in evangelism, I was concerned that each of these five areas was basically selfish.
Should I employ selfish motives in proclaiming a pure gospel? Then I made two discoveries. First, Jesus Himself uses these same motivations in His own preaching. In fact, I believe he has used all five in one passage (Mark 8:34-9:1).
'"Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'" What an appeal to a romance-motivated person to venture forth into the adventure of discipleship!
'"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, hut whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it "'The self-preservationist immediately sees the assurance of ultimate victory even in view of sacrifice.
'"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"' Clearly, the money-motivated will first consider "what is the value of my soul?"
'"For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words... of him the Son of Man will also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father"' Recognition-motivated individuals would be challenged by this reversal of Christ's positive promise made elsewhere, '"If you confess my name before man, I will confess your name before the angels and my Heavenly Father!"
"'Assuredly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.'" Achievement motives are present in this passage. There are those who will "not taste death" before they experience the accomplishment of the promise.
I find it encouraging that Jesus employed various motivational appeals to reach different people. The other discovery, which helped me understand why we might address selfish motivations in order to arrest the attention of those with whom we want to share the gospel, is a challenging quote from The Desire of Ages-, page 200. Speaking of Jesus, it says, "He desires us to renounce the selfish ness that leads us to seek Him"
Isn't that reassuring! Our Saviour understands our individual motivations and extends His grace to each of us just as we are. He accepts us and even capitalizes on our selfishness, but He wants to move us onward to something more. I find that to be the essence of sanctification—God's grace, Jesus' redeeming love, and the Holy Spirit's presence in my life moving me within justification toward the goal of glorification when our Lord returns!