Most resources on making disciples assume you have believers who are ready and waiting for discipling. If only this were true, it would make our task much easier. Leaders must consider the crucial — but often missing — factor of motivation. Without it, the best methods and materials have little value.
My appreciation of the need for strong, sustained motivation escalated when I discovered four powerful enemies of discipleship: inherent difficulties; urgent concerns, such as family responsibilities and work pressures; culture seductions, including career success, possessions, and entertainment; and cultural misbeliefs that regularly assault our minds and weaken our resolve to fully follow Jesus.
Duty or Desire
How can we motivate believers for discipleship despite these challenges? Early in my ministry I tried guilt. I quickly found this only has limited, short-term effectiveness. I have emphasized, duty but this also falls short. What delight does God take in the attitude, “I’m obeying You because it is my duty as a believer”?
The only adequate motivation for following Jesus is desire. In the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, the man joyfully sells all he has to buy the field because its value far exceeds the cost (Matthew 13:44). How can leaders provide and sustain such motivation for discipleship? Through the years I have discovered six sources.
Biblical Vision of God and Reality
A strong biblical vision of God serves as the primary motivator. Believers need to see God’s holiness and greatness, and appreciate His goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness. Foundational is the reality of a loving God who is for us, not against us. Richard Foster wisely observes, “The Christian life comes not by gritting our teeth but by falling in love.”1
Disciple makers must also convey that living for God produces growing joy, wholeness, hope, and a fruitful life in fulfilling God’s purposes. Ultimately we gain eternal life with the God who loves us. We must sincerely believe: “While difficult, serving God overwhelmingly beats any alternative — so it’s hardly a choice at all.”
Appreciation of God’s Law and Revulsion Toward Sin
For sustained obedience, believers must be convinced of the desirability of God’s standards. As a pastor, I regularly reminded my congregation that God’s laws are descriptions of reality.He gave them for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12,13), so we can live the best life possible — that which accords with reality and offers eternal significance. To ignore His laws means to ignore reality, and results in diminished and distorted living, and eventually destruction.
A right perception of sin complements a correct view of God’s laws. Sin attracts us because it seems to offer satisfaction. While it may partially and temporarily do so, it cannot yield lasting or complete fulfillment. Instead, it damages our lives.
Recognition of Incompleteness
Those who realize their poverty and incompleteness will seek more of God and His reign in their lives (Matthew 5:3). Spiritual lukewarmness characterizes those who lack this awareness (Revelation 3:15–18). Often it takes a crisis to force us to deep and honest examination of our lives. In doing so, we recognize the inability of any earthly circumstances or relationships to satisfy our deepest need. We also may discover inner wounds and broken places that need God’s healing.
Joyful Experiences of God
The Book of Acts contains numerous accounts of believers who experienced the reality of God. Consequently, they felt highly motivated to serve Him despite persecution. We can experience God in various ways: genuine worship, answered prayer, His working in our lives, and the infilling of His Spirit. These experiences of God inspire and motivate us to grow in relationship with Him.
Lives, Testimony, and Encouragement of Others
The quality of other believers’ lives and their testimonies of God at work in and through them also motivate us. These put flesh and blood on spiritual principles and demonstrate their effectiveness. Hearing fresh stories from others, we vicariously experience what they experienced, stimulating our growth. Also, the encouragement of others enables us to push through difficult and dry times in our spiritual journey toward maturity.
The Joy of Growing
Although our bodies quit growing and decline, emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual growth can proceed unabated. God wants us to grow to the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Growing in any area brings satisfaction that motivates me to desire even more growth. When I fail to grow, my life becomes routine and I experience the boredom of stagnation. When I grow, however, I experience a freshness and aliveness in my life.
Without strong, sustained motivation on the part of Christians, growth in discipleship will be anemic. With the empowering of God’s Spirit, we can use six sources to generate and maintain desire for spiritual maturity.
Stephen Lim, Springfield, Missouri
1. Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998), 51.