Motivation and Christianity

2010 May 19

I came across a fascinating illustrated talk about what motivates humans. It is of a talk given by Dan Pink, oriented mostly toward business success. He has written a book titled Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Dan relates that conventional carrot-and-stick incentives for work bring benefit only when tasks are scripted and mechanical. In particular, monetary rewards dramatically fail to motivate us when the task requires cognitive effort. Modern work often requires thought and creativity. In this context he says, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are very effective motivators.

Autonomy includes lack of micro-management. It includes clear guidance for direction, but given at a high level. Mastery is our desire to improve, have progress, and do well. Purpose is a values-driven reason for being, for existence beyond only self. These are all intrinsic motivators.

In contrast, Christianity is seen by some as a religion with a demanding boss (God) that has his own agenda. Our behavior is to be controlled by inflexible external rules. We are always being observed. Our means of determining progress is unclear. And, final success comes as a presumed big payout in the distant future (heaven). This faulty view of Christianity is very de-motivating.

That view of Christianity does not align with what Jesus taught. Jesus was extremely values and relationship-oriented. He built bridges to people of all walks of life. When people tried to argue theology with him, instead he asked them about their values. He taught by words and deeds that God's value system was sacrificial love for the benefit of others, and then called people to adopt this value system.

The three motivators of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose align very well with Christianity as viewed from a values and relationship perspective:

Purpose: Being motivated by God's value system gives a reason for life because it connects to a larger others-oriented purpose that has enduring meaning.

All relationships are based on common value systems. note Since our native value systems are proprietary and selfish, they inherently break relationships. However, God's value system is better than ours and when we adopt it, we have a deep basis for relationship with others.

Mastery: God's value system also motivates us because it gives us direction and quantification. We have progress as Christians to the degree we have adopted and incorporated this value system into our lives. Sacrificial love for the benefit of others is the guide. Jesus' love for us on the cross is the standard. From this we can measure our progress without ambiguity.

Autonomy: A value system inherently supplies internal guidance for how to live life. Intrinsic motivation by God's value system brings better behaviors than any extrinsic system of rules or laws. And in this context we are free to choose how to live our lives.

Christianity from the perspective of God's value system is a complete and effective motivator for life.



The value system perspective used here is based on ideas from the work of Darren Twa.