Conviction Or Motivation

I recently heard a preacher compare motivating people to lead small groups in the church to winding those old-school spring toys. Every year you wind your small group leaders up with enough motivational energy, and then “cut them loose” to do ministry. Away they go, serving and leading others in the power of the motivational energy you wound in them. Of course, as it happens with wind-up toys, the energy begins to weaken, they start to slow down, and, if nothing is done, they eventually stop. As a leader, you hope their energy wears off around the next “vision meeting.” Then you can motivate them, wind their spring up one more time, and send them on their way for another year of ministry.

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Is There a Better Way than Just Motivation?

The point of the message was someone with conviction is more likely to persevere when just motivation wears off.  One of the dictionary definitions of conviction is:

Strong persuasion of belief. The state of being convinced. (Merriam-Webster)

Motivation, on the other hand, is defined as “stimulus, or influence.”  As I examine these definitions, in light of my friend’s preaching, I identified three reasons why I believe conviction is a much better leadership tool than motivation.

  1. Conviction comes from deeply held beliefs. Our teaching (ILI) is focused on biblical core values rather than teaching skills. Skills are important to get the job done, but our values inspire beliefs (convictions), which in turn determine our actions (skills).  Motivation comes from the emotional incentive. It is important to be motivated, but you and I know all too well that emotions can change with different stimuli.

  2. Conviction has an internal locus of control. The decision of how to respond is ours. Deeply held convictions inspire proactivity. Inspired by conviction one takes responsibility for their own destiny. Motivation has an external locus of control. Circumstances, opportunities, and other people are strong motivators. The problem is that, when the outside stimulus goes away, so does motivation.

  3. Conviction is less likely to be manipulated. Because it comes from our beliefs, it is less influenced by outside forces. On the other hand, motivation is more susceptible to manipulation – and there are plenty of unscrupulous individuals out there who will not hesitate to manipulate people for their selfish benefit.

Persuading is Better than Motivating

One of the greatest challenges of leadership is to mobilize people to join you in accomplishing the vision God gave your organization (it could be a church, non-profit, or even a business). Deep convictions are borne out of persuasion. And when people have deep convictions about our common God-given vision and their participation in it, they will not only be motivated to engage with the vision, but they will have a deep conviction that this is God’s purpose and plan. That conviction will inspire them to give their best and persevere, no matter the circumstances.