My jobs require me to motivate others. As a teacher, I have to motivate students to do the work that leads to learning. As a pastor, I have to motivate people to engage in the practices that constitute a life with Christ. As a teacher, knowing stuff is fairly easy. Motivation is extremely difficult. Likewise, as a pastor, some things are easy. Preaching, after all these years, comes fairly easily. Motivation? Still difficult.

John Maxwell deals with motivation in some recent blog posts. Comparing types of motivation he says,

The best motivation is self-motivation. In fact, not many people succeed in life without self-generated drive. If you rely on others to energize you, or hesitate until the right mood hits, or delay until circumstances are ideal, then you’ll spend most of your life waiting. Leaders motivate themselves internally rather than depending on external incentives.

We are at a point in academia now where the message I hear is that faculty have the job of motivating students to learn. When the siren calls of tv, music, parties, games, even doing nothing, call so loudly, we’re supposed to motivate students to put themselves to the activities of learning instead.

We assume it’s possible to motivate others. But is it? In another post Maxwell claims that it’s not. What looks like motivating others is awakening in them the self-motivation already present. So is there any hope? Maxwell thinks there is:

To stir up the innate motivation in others, we must see through their eyes and feel through their emotions. As a leader, your goal isn’t to provide people with the enthusiasm to act, but to discover the desires that naturally animate them. Over the course of an hour-long dinner conversation you can almost always identify what makes another person tick by asking three simple questions.

In my role of pastor, I know how to do this. I visit with people – in their homes, in their workplaces, over a meal – and talk with them. I enter their worlds and learn where they’re going. I’m still trying to figure out how to do it as a teacher, given the highly-structured nature of the classroom, and the fact that I tend to have 5 classes and 120-150 students each semester. I do know that motivation requires treating them as individuals, not merely as some sort of student object, like a piece of clay to be molded.

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