Every individual we associate with is surrounded by issues or activities that preoccupy their thoughts and prevent our communication from getting through. Such issues may include work, health, study, family problems, entertainment, sports, or "the cares of this world."
In an earlier Pastor's Pastor we noted that humans respond to five basic motivations: money, recognition, self-preservation, romance, and achievement.
How our motivations function
All of us have each of these basic motivations present in our daily lives to a greater or lesser extent, with one typically dominant. A crisis may shift our priority, but afterwards we will tend to revert back to our basic mode.
For example, if we are all together on a sinking ship, the romance-motivated individual would not exclaim, "Whee! What an exciting new experience!" That person would immediately shift their priority from romance to self-preservation. But after the ship's passengers are rescued and safely delivered to port, the romance-motivated person will revert to being primarily moved by the new and exciting, expanding the severity of the trauma at sea into a tale of grand adventure and imminent near-death.
After rescue, money-motivated passengers will calculate the financial reward a lawsuit against the ship's owners might bring. Self-preservationists will vow never to travel by ship again.
What motivates the average listener
What motivates the various [ attendees at your worship services? I No doubt some show up just from force of habit. Others are truly engaged in a relational worship experience with their Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many others are somewhere in between.
How we say what we say can motivate our listeners to find both an enhanced anticipation of worship and also an active behavioral follow-through. But again, we will accomplish little or nothing if we don't get our message through their preoccupation barrier.
Motivational appeals, which use words that focus on the priority motivations of your hearers, pierce the preoccupation barrier. Your message gets through to them because you are "speaking their language." This is much easier to do if you speak to a single individual and if you know what preoccupies their attention and which of these five basic issues motivates them. More logically, however, you should conclude that any audience to whom you preach will have people present from each of these groups.
Most speakers over-rely on words and phrases which emphasize their own, personal emotional priority. However, by utilizing words, phrases, parables, illustrations, and visual aids within the same sermon that appeal to various motivational backgrounds, your presentation becomes stronger than if you relied only on those words which appeal to your own motivational orientation.
For example, it would be of little value to describe heaven as a place for intergalactic space ventures if you were speaking only to a self-preservationist. While such descriptions would appeal to a romanticist, your self-preservationist listeners would be much more encouraged and moved by texts which assure them that there will be no sickness, pain, death, or sorrow in God's coming kingdom. Likewise, money-motivated hearers might be intrigued by streets of gold and gates of pearl, but the achievement oriented would be much more interested in opportunities to expand their intellectual pursuits or to discuss unanswered questions with their Lord.
Speaking "motivational language"
Wise speakers select a variety of approaches to appeal to various individuals in their audience and thus have greater potential for piercing the preoccupation barriers of more people.
Some have misunderstood the use of motivational appeals and concluded that if you say the right thing to the right person, you can guarantee their positive response.
I disagree with this assumption because it strikes at the very foundation of free choice. I do believe, however, that if you say the right thing to the right person, you can guarantee that they will hear you. Why? Because you are "speaking their language."
I recently experienced this reality in a large crowd of individuals who were all speaking another language. Suddenly my ear tuned to one person, a stranger, who was speaking English. That individual's voice was no louder or more distinct than anyone else in the crowd, but I "heard" them because, literally, they were "speaking my language."
Just as Jesus told the parable of the sower whose seed was distributed on various types of ground which represented various spiritual attitudes and response readiness, so our preaching will more effectively communicate what we intend to say if we pierce the preoccupation barrier of our listeners by employing a variety of motivational appeals.