In his recent, best-selling book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink challenges his readers to move beyond a “carrots and sticks” approach to motivating employees.  “Carrots” usually involve financial bonuses of some type.  “Sticks” are threats of various types (termination, demotion, lack of promotion, etc.) if certain performance goals aren’t met.  In fact, Pink shows convincingly that such an approach fails with today’s workers. 

            As a young adult, I worked on a production line for a couple of years in an Oscar Mayer meat-packing plant in Madison, Wisconsin.  At the plant, industrial engineers established a baseline level of daily production for various departments.  Any extra production the workers generated that surpassed the baseline entitled them to bonus money.  In many weeks, my department was able to increase our paychecks by as much as 20%. 

            However, as Pink rightly points out, there are very few production lines in today’s workplaces.  Instead, we are doing tasks where it is hard to quantify a baseline.  This is most definitely true in the church.  Will we receive a bonus if we recruit “x” number of new members?  How can we gauge the impact of a sermon or pastoral counseling session?   What constitutes a good education program?

            Actually, there are ways to quantify results in ministry.  Worship attendance, new members, pastoral calls made, and number of programs running successfully are just a few.  However, we cannot view them as targets for which, depending on the outcome, we will receive external rewards or punishments.  Instead, our motivation needs to come from internal needs and desires. 

            Key to unleashing internal motivation is allowing employees the opportunity to be creative and have autonomy.  I knew a pastor who required his staff to report what they were doing in one hour increments.  What does this say to the employees about their autonomy?  How creative can we be when someone is breathing down our throat?

            Pink uses illustrations of companies who are allowing their employees a certain number of hours per week to pursue creatively their own ideas about what would improve the company.  One of the most famous examples is the Post-It which was created by a 3M employee who was given time to invent things on company time.  The employee made some extra money.  The company continues to reap the financial benefits. 

            What would happen if we unleashed our employees to be creative?  Certainly, they would need more autonomy and less job description-driven work.  However, might not the Holy Spirit makes its way into the midst of such creative autonomy?

            In another blog post, I will write about some of the problems with this approach.  Most important for me, what happens when employees use their creative time to feather their own cap rather than feather the cap of the congregation as well?  But before we can even deal with that problem, we need to allow employees more freedom to pursue ideas for ministry.  As they pursue such ideas, the motivation will come from within, not from their pastoral or lay supervisors.


About jwwimberly

I am a Presbyterian pastor who recently retired after thirty years of serving a congregation in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I am currently a Field Consultant for the Alban Institute as well as author of books dealing with management issues in congregations. I am a devoted potter, throwing pots on the wheel and teaching the wheel when my schedule allows. Finally, I consider Mexico my second homeland since we have a home in San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico.
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