Motivating Missional Performance...

By Taylor Burton-Edwards


Just watched this video-- recommended by @pastopher on Twitter. Watch this first, then let's talk.

Okay... now let's think of the key principles here in terms of discipleship to Jesus and actually engaging in God's mission that is transforming the world.

First things first... what within discipleship and mission turns out to be menial, non-cognitive tasks that require escalating monetary rewards to generate escalating performance? What about things like providing physical care for children or the sick or anyone needing direct physical attention? What about things like house-keeping, cooking, cleaning and yard work?

Question: how much do we pay people to do these things in our congregations? How much does our society pay people for these things? What kinds of results should we expect when we pay nothing or very little for such tasks?

Remember that for the next three, money is off the table. The assumption here is that people are being paid enough by some means that they're not having to worry about how they'll pay their bills.

So next-- autonomy. Autonomy here doesn't mean a lack of accountability, if you notice the examples given. You are accountable for what you produce, but you can produce whatever you want to that meets the basic purposes of the organization. And in this example, too, you're doing that WITH other people in the organization. You're not off just doing your own thing. Instead, you're working in a "liquid network" with anyone else who's interested in working with you to accomplish something that YOU and they want to see accomplished-- not something that your upper level management is requiring of you.

Where does that happen in whatever ways you are inviting people to discipleship to Jesus and helping them get engaged in his mission and ministry in the world?

And next-- mastery. Practice, practice, practice. What are those things about discipleship and being engaged in God's mission that you have to really get down, get into your bones and muscles, your breath and your blood? How do you make room and open the way for more people to get great practice in these things on a regular basis?

A starting place those of us in the Wesleyan tradition can talk about-- practicing the means of grace: prayer, searching the scriptures, attending upon the public reading and teaching of scripture, participating in the sacraments, fasting or abstinence, and holy conferencing. Those are some-- but not all the possible practices we might name here-- things that require us to devote daily or, in the case of Holy Communion, at least weekly attention.

And then-- purpose. The United Methodist Church has been critiqued by some of its own at times (including me!) for adding the words "for the transformation of the world" to its mission statement in 2008. My critique has been that it seems to make discipleship to Jesus a means to some other end, so that ultimately the Lordship of Christ is subordinated to some account of whether the world is better or not. In other words, at least as I've heard and seen this phrase used a few too many times, "for the transformation of the world" seems really to mean "some big change we can measure and maybe even take credit for," as if, at the end of the day, it wasn't our discipleship to Jesus that mattered, but our effectiveness at making the world turn out right. I still hold that out as a caveat.

At the same time, what was the purpose of Jesus? If we take the sort of "sermon title" or "sermon summary" in Matthew and Mark as a pretty good indicator of that, it might be to announce and embody the good news that God's reign has drawn near and call people to align their lives to this new, present reality. ("The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent, and believe this good news!"). Discipleship to Jesus ends up being about learning to see and live into this new reality of God's reign in every way we can, and then doing all we can to call and invite others to do the same.

Why? Because history has snapped, and it's still snapping, as God's reign continues to break in. Reality isn't what the nations or the marketers or the world's most powerful institutions say it is. It is what God makes it. And the way God is making reality looks very different from the reality the powerful claim they've made.

The purpose isn't about getting other people to agree with our theories of atonement, or improve their lives, or be nicer or more moral, or join our worshiping communities. The purpose is being part of the ferment-- getting people to see and celebrate and take their place in God's kingdom which is, as we speak, still transforming the world-- and sometimes we get to help!

That's a purpose that can get me up in the morning even more than Steve Jobs' purpose to "put a ding in the universe." (To me, that sounds a bit arrogant-- though I have to say his company makes beautiful products that work really well!).

With all the talk of motivating pastoral and congregational performance by dashboard metrics and paying and appointing (or getting rid of!) pastors accordingly these days in some circles, any maybe in circles moving into an ever-widening gyre... well, maybe what we're learning from the science here is there's a better way.

Though I might add-- it's what Jesus was teaching all along!

Be great at the "small stuff" where you are, and reward your janitors and cooks and care providers with great salaries for great work. The least of these get the lion's share!

And for the rest of your folks whose work requires more cognitive engagement-- those on the congregation's payroll and those who are not-- make sure they don't have to worry about money, but don't use money as a motivator. It won't generate better results-- probably worse ones! Instead, fanatically encourage autonomy and mastery and keep folks connected with the purpose in all of this-- the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand-- how much more Advent can you get!-- and see what happens when you do.