Motivation is contagious. I never try to motivate other people. I only worry about motivating myself. When I’m motivated, I know others will catch my enthusiasm. This is true in any area of ministry. Your duty as a church leader is not necessarily to motivate others. But if you stay motivated, those you lead will catch your enthusiasm.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:58b to: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (NIV) I have to admit there have been times in my life I have not given myself fully to the work of the Lord. But our goal is that every time we preach a sermon, every meeting we lead, every counseling session we are in, that we are giving ourselves fully to that task. We know that nothing we do for the Lord is ever in vain – no matter what it is.
Here are nine suggestions about how to stay motivated based on how I motivate myself. Next week I’ll share another nine. There isn’t anything deep in these – but they’ve helped me and I think they can help you.
1. Put your plans on paper. Write out what you want to accomplish. Dawson Trotman said, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and the fingertips.” If I can say it and I can write it down, then it’s clear. If I haven’t written it down, then it’s vague.
Many of us live with a vague fear – or anxiety – that we won’t get everything accomplished that we need to. Just putting what you have to do down on paper will often relieve your mind and allow you to focus on your task.
2. Break big tasks into small steps. When I know I have a task coming up, I always write down the specific steps I need to take before the project is done. When I’m preparing a sermon, I ask myself, “What all do I have to do to finish the sermon?” Then I write down all of the associated tasks, such as collecting the verses, studying the verses, looking for illustrations, thinking through quotes, and organizing the presentation. Sermons don’t just fall out of your brain automatically. We all go through specific steps as we’re doing it. Just learn to isolate those steps.
3. Decide where you want to start. After you’ve broken down the task into steps, ask yourself what needs to be done first. For example, if you’re preparing a sermon, what’s the very first thing you have to do? Discover your topic? Pray? You need to figure out where to start.
4. Establish check points to track your progress. Give yourself deadlines for each of the tasks needed to finish the project.
5. Start on the task whether you feel like it or not. Be honest with yourself. Usually when we say we can’t do something we simply mean we don’t want to do it. Sometimes you’ve got to get tough. Most of the people who succeed in this world are those who don’t feel like doing what they’re doing. Successful people have developed the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t feel like doing.
6. Remind yourself of the benefits of completing the task. A lot of times I do this when I’m preparing a message. I’ve had a real long week, and my mind just isn’t there. I ask myself, “What is this going to accomplish?” Jesus did this. The Bible says in Hebrews, that Jesus endured the cross because he looked to the joy beyond it.
Those of us in ministry don’t often see the thrill of what we’re doing. There’s a lot that seems mundane at times. But we do it because of the results. God is going to change lives through us. That gets us motivated!
7. Do a small part right now. Get started! Don’t stall. I play a game with myself all the time called The Five-Minute Game. When I have a big topic or task I need to do, I just say, “I don’t want to do this, but I’ll give it five minutes.” I sit down and after I get going in it, it’s not that big of a deal.
8. Be optimistic. Optimism creates energy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come into church and didn’t think I could make it through what I had to do. But I walk in saying, “This is a snap! In Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Optimism can make all the difference in the world.
9. Establish an action environment. Create a place in your office or house where you can get all of your tools together for your task. If you’re preparing a sermon, find a place to get your Bible and your study aids all within reach. You need an environment where you can focus on the task at hand. I clear everything off the desk when I’m going to study because I don’t want to focus on anything else.
Some of you use your desks as file cabinets. And you say you’re doing it so that you won’t forget what's there. That’s the problem! You don’t forget those things. You sit down to prepare a sermon and you see your phone list or a book you’ve wanted to read and all of a sudden you’ve drifted off task.
Success comes from focusing on one thing at a time. Clear off your desk. Make a to-do list so you won’t forget what you’ve taken off of your desk. Put a tickler file on your desk of stuff you need to look at every day. Then, whenever you pull it out and look through it, always put it back. But whatever you do, don’t use your desk as a filing cabinet. It diffuses your concentration, and makes it tough to focus on the task on hand.
Next week, I’ll give you nine more tips to help you stay motivated for ministry.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.