For many, this season of ministry feels like an uphill climb. Perhaps, like me, your calendar is overloaded. Maybe you’re discouraged by things in the news, or worship attendance at your church isn’t growing quickly enough. How do you find motivation during difficult seasons of life and ministry? How do you keep your team motivated and charging ahead toward the vision and purpose of your church or organization?
Last year, Barna published research stating 38% of pastors thought about quitting full-time ministry. Then, by March of 2022 the percentage increased to 42%. Why do pastors, staff, and key volunteers seem to be giving up? For many ministry leaders, the motivation to keep climbing has finally waned. In another study, Barna researchers noted that only one in three pastors is considered healthy in categories of well-being, such as spiritual, emotional, physical, vocational, and financial. Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs out there as well. For example, less than a month ago, Adam Hamilton shared a Menti poll which showed church leaders attending Resurrection’s Leadership Institute were equal parts weary and hopeful, indicating a significant increase in hopefulness over attendees the year prior.
If you find yourself climbing, keep on climbing! There’s often an amazing view at the top. However, the climb may not be your biggest challenge. The biggest challenge might be finding the motivation for you and your team.
Motivation is a well-researched topic. Psychologists’ understanding of what motivates people has changed in recent decades. Here’s a hint—it isn’t money, power, fear, punishment, or even reward. Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, two psychologists who developed self-determination theory, an approach to human motivation and personality, highlight two sources of motivation:
The difference between these two types of motivation has to do with our satisfaction and well-being. Intrinsic motivation is the deep well that drives us to pursue passions, interests, and meaningful work. Often, this kind of work drives our interest, joy, and deep satisfaction. Yet, within our work, we contend with pressure to perform tasks or attend to responsibilities that arise from our organization, supervisor, or board. External factors are part of every job. Interestingly, psychologists suggest that sustained motivation comes from our intrinsic drive rather than external factors. They also note a pay raise, a job promotion, or other work-related rewards—external motivations—only go so far in driving human motivation. People motivated by an inner drive are typically more engaged than those motivated only by external factors like compensation, deadlines, and enforced goals.
If you lead an organization, staff or team, this seems like bad news. Is it possible to motivate anyone? Not all hope is lost! It is possible to align our intrinsic motivation—the things that drive our passion—with extrinsic motivations such as organizational values, behaviors, and purpose.
How do you find, sustain, and encourage motivation within yourself and others?
People require three needs to be met to maintain high levels of intrinsic motivation: competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
If you are a leader in any capacity, ask yourself: Do I create a social environment that promotes competence, relatedness, and autonomy or one that imposes, controls, and over-directs? Psychologists argue that by addressing these three human needs, organizations function more effectively and are places that promote well-being.
If you are struggling to find motivation, ask yourself: Do I feel competent in my work? Am I connected to other people? Do I have the autonomy to learn, grow, and align with the goals, objectives, or vision of my team, organization, or church? If you answer no to these, how can you gain competence, relatedness or autonomy? If you work on a team or for a supervisor, autonomy might be difficult to acquire. So, instead, consider how you might positively contribute to your organization. Establishing or expanding a network can increase your relatedness within your organization or community. Finally, look for new skills you could learn to grow and gain competence.
It is possible to remain highly motivated in difficult seasons of life and ministry. The best research suggests finding people who encourage you and say, “You can do this!” Create a sense of belonging within your organization or team and give people permission to learn, explore, and make mistakes with choice and autonomy.
Rev. Dr. Joshua Clough serves as Location Pastor for Resurrection Overland Park. Joshua also partners with our ShareChurch team as Director of the ShareChurch Academy to provide practical leadership resources to pastors and other leaders. Joshua completed his doctorate in Practical Theology and Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. He runs marathons, ultra-marathons, and because he grew up in Seattle, drinks a lot of coffee.
 https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being/; https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-quitting-ministry/
 For a deep dive, here’s the academic article: https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2000_RyanDeci_SDT.pdf