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Driving Force

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, December 1, 2011

Driving Force

“What gets you up in the morning, and powers you through the day?”

It’s an interesting question someone recently asked me, and for some reason, it made me reflect.  It’s not that I hadn’t heard the question before, or answered it…it had just been a while.  Or maybe it was the way it was phrased.

What really does get me up in the morning?

What really does power me through a busy day of work, responsibility and challenges?

What drives anyone?

As I reflected on my own life, and the lives of other leaders I’ve encountered, it struck me that most of us are motivated by one of four things:

1.         Adrenaline

There are people who, if they weren’t building a church, closing a deal or beating a deadline would be racing cars and  jumping out of planes.  They are adrenaline junkies, and live for the rush and the thrill of adventure.

There is certainly a need for a bias for action, but neither a church nor a business should be merely a facilitator for a personal rush.  Further, adrenaline alone will often cause a leader to drive an organization into the ground, not to mention themselves. 

2.         Ego

I know an older, seasoned leader who had a new church planter in his city tell him that he wanted to pastor a big church.  That was what he was in the game for – a big church.  It was rather shocking to hear it put so baldly.  But there are many who, whether conveyed in subtle tones or not, seem driven to gain a platform for their life.  They want to be a Christian celebrity, to write and speak, and to be famous.

We all have pride and enormous egos. 

All of us. 

Many times our ego is what allows us to have confidence (such as an athlete who, in the fourth quarter, says “Give me the ball.”).  But unchecked, ego is among the most deadly and destructive of pitfalls.  And when our egos run amuck - leading us to create cults of personality, minimal accountability, and the church or organization all about you and your name/fame - then it ceases to be a God-thing.  You’ve moved from Spirit to flesh, regardless of the “success” you might be achieving in the eyes of the world.

3.         Personal Fulfillment

In recent years I’ve sensed a new motivating force, particularly among church planters.  They don’t feel called to plant a church as much as they have in mind a particular life and ministry, and planting seems the quickest and most direct way to achieve it.  They know where they would most like to live, the position they want to fill, and the kind of church they want to lead…so they start it.

So they pick their chosen city, place themselves in their desired position, and design the structure and style according to their sensibilities; often with very little sense of calling, much less of willing sacrifice.

If you’re going to be a church planter, some of this is unavoidable.  But if your motivation for starting a church is simply to create a dream life, dream job, in a dream location, in a dream context, then it’s simply a means to an end. 

And the end is all about you.

4.         Cause

Then there is being motivated by the cause.  Meaning, the cause of Christ.  And yes, this is what I believe all of us should aspire to.

Many of you will be familiar with the writings of Jim Collins, and specifically his description of a “Level 5 Leader.”  This is someone who “blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”  They are often very strong leaders – Collins highlights Abraham Lincoln as a classic Level 5 leader – but “their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves…for the company and concern for its success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.”

This is why I hold the pastor of a church that has been built family-by-family, in rented facilities and then land and then construction, sticking with it over a long period of time, in the highest regard. 

They have been tested and found faithful.   

If it had all been about adrenaline, those early months and years of modest growth would have led them to pursue something that would give a more immediate rush.

If it had all been about ego, the lack of fame and renown while they labored – often for years – in obscurity would have led them away to whatever would promise them their fifteen minutes of fame.

If it had been about their own personal fulfillment, the enormous price necessary to build a church over time would have led them to laziness, short-cuts, or simple abandonment after a season or two.

Their life and ministry tells me they are driven by something deeper.

The cause of Christ.

And that’s the kind of power that will get you through any day.

James Emery White


Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Other’s Don’t.

Editor’s Note

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Driving Force