As I was doing interviews with pastors this summer one of the questions that I asked was one that I picked up from Dean Schmitt, who was a longtime Wesleyan pastor in Topeka several years ago. This is the question: How/where do you get your motivation? And an easy answer to this might be: “Jesus Christ is my motivation.” I’m sure that’s true, but how *specifically* do you get motivated for your ministry?
Here are the answers I heard...
Pastor #1 (42 years experience) --
It’s not as easily obtained now as it used to be for me <<laughing>>. Motivation comes from calling, and that comes from Christ, but I think there’s something in many pastors that keeps us wanting to keep our hand in it. There are times when I don’t want to keep doing that at my age, but I still feel that need to allow my gifts to be used. So it’s really a calling. I don’t have it enough to pastor a church right now. It always amazes me with pastors that go back, almost to full-time, after retiring. Not me.
Back when I was younger – then it was not only a calling but a full-time vocation. There was a point in a previous church when I turned 65 and I could’ve kept on going there, but I didn’t feel like I had the energy or passion to take the church to the next level that it needed to go to. When you reach that point, it tells you something. Some people reach it much later. I could’ve kept on keeping on another 5 years. No one was asking me to leave. But it was a sense that I wasn’t going to be as effective in my own mind as I have back then.
Pastor #2 (16 years experience) --
Through Jesus Christ, and through God’s people: through the hearts and lives of God’s people that He puts before me in ministry -- loving them, and letting them love you. I’m a hugger. For some people that’s the only hug they’re going to get all week. And by encouraging them -- being somebody that seeks to lift their spirits.
Pastor #3 (37 years experience) --
I have never doubted my calling. This is God’s plan for me. My minister and my youth director cornered me back when I was young and said, “Do you think God’s calling you into ministry?” They were convinced I had a call. They asked me, “What do you want to do with your life?” I told them, “I don’t care, just as long as it pleases Jesus.” That was my answer at age 19. It’s still my motivation today.
It was back in the Vietnam era. I was in the National Guard for a year. It was my freshman year of college. I had opportunities to do other things. I had opportunities to commit myself to other careers. I was agonizing over what to do. There was family pressure to go into pre-training with the FBI, along with other options. Even the FBI was being aggressive about it. I just didn’t know. We were talking about it; and I said that all I want to do is please God. When I said that, the youth director said with a knowing smile, “Do you think God might be calling you to be a minister?” My response was, “Are you crazy? Normal people don’t become ministers.” I had no awareness of other people besides my pastor being a minister. I walked away from that evening with an awareness of what I was supposed to do.
Pastor #4 (22 years experience) --
For me I have this inner drive. I have this inner presence. I believe it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s always before me, driving me, revealing things to me. It’s a constant abiding presence that I felt from the very first day I was called. It’s never left me. Without the Holy Spirit I’m not going to have that inspiration.
Pastor #5 (51 years experience) --
I really feel that a lot of my motivation comes from my childhood experiences in the church, and seeing my father (who was a pastor) serve people and being a compassionate person. It comes from seeing him be compassionate and that flowing into my life. I just continue to borrow from that motivation.
Pastor #6 (54 years experience) --
I think that you really have to walk in the spirit as best as you can. I’m a very complex psychological person. I live with my past, and it’s not bad – it’s just wrestling through some things. I came from a working class family. I had a good father, but he didn’t understand the idea of me becoming a minister. I can relate to the story I heard from a President of an engineering school. This man was President of the University. At a luncheon I heard him tell the story about the day that his father laughed and his mother cried when he announced he’d become a student at that college. They thought he was fooling himself, that he wouldn’t make it. He didn’t have the high school classes in topics that were required. He went to admissions and they rejected him four or five times but he just wore them down. He had a part-time job at UPS that paid $25/month to cover his tuition. It's a college that had been rated #1 in a number of competitions and is a very challenging place. People who grow up in that town aspire to go there. This relates to my motivation because I remembered that my parents could’ve had same reaction when I told them I had the calling to be minister. We were blue collar. Mom would’ve loved it, but she thought, “He’s just going to get hurt.” Plus, I’m very dyslexic. I have a deep learning problem. Academics aren’t my strong suit. Also, my father died suddenly. I was the oldest child and became a bread-winner in the family.
I think that God at that point and in all my life has been framing me in the Holy Spirit and calling me and empowering me to do ministry, so I have to stay in touch with that. I need a contemplative prayer life every day. Everything I do is not of my own ability.
Pastor #7 (34 years experience) --
I had some very shocking experiences of call – including being hospitalized with meningitis at the age of 13, back in the days before your parents stayed with you in the hospital. I remembered waking up and seeing an angel at the foot of my bed. And I said, “If you let me live I will serve you.” These kinds of things have never left me. They made me feel seized-upon. I can’t not do what I’m doing.
In the years since I've developed a passion for the people too. It’s a privilege to get paid to do this. I find a lot of joy in this life – in the work of Jesus.