Why Do People Do What They Do…

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In my years of teaching speech communication, one of the most fascinating subjects I taught was persuasion. I would define it as the act of putting ideas into words which, when spoken to a listener, will cause that listener to alter his or her beliefs. The listener may even take action based on the expression of the ideas.

Pastor Bill Hybels bases his whole book Holy Discontent on the thesis that he wants to know what motivates people “to work where they work, volunteer their time to the groups they serve, and donate money to the causes they support” [Hybels, 13].

In other words, he wants to know the root cause of what makes us change or act.

He knows that without motivation, people stagnate; he knows that Christians stagnate.

General theories of motivation state that humans are motivated to acquire basic needs [food, water, air, shelter and sleep].   We are motivated to have relationships with others, especially a member of the opposite sex. We seek status which can be achieved with certain material items.   This means we are motivated to have the items that “build” our self-esteem.   Since most humans are social animals, we want to belong to a group or groups.   We do what we have to do to congregate with others we like.  We want to live in a safe neighborhood, have access to healthcare, steady employment, and protection from environmental forces.   Safety is a prime motivator.  Finally, some will work hard to accomplish what they can in life by reaching their greatest potential, as long as they feel they have the capacity to do it. For example, some individuals may have the desire to be a wealthy businessman, while others may want be a successful musician or an athlete. This motivational factor is called self-actualization.

What is Hybels getting at when he asks the question that started it all: “ Why do people do what they do?”

Why is that so important to him?

He really wants to know what makes a Christian believe.

He really wants to know what makes a Christian take action.

Before I was born again, I thought persuasion and the underlying core idea of motivation was just a way to manipulate people and indeed that could be all it is for some people, but I don’t think Hybels is thinking like that.   He likes seeing people grow and he knows that the best way for them to grow is to feel something deep inside that makes them want to do something different.

Belief in God is a given for the Christian, or so we assume.

It is the taking action part that is hurting today’s church. This lack of action has turned a generation away from active church membership [the “millennials”–ages 18 to 30 year old].   Christian research experts pin down five things that are diminishing millennial participation in church. First, this generation does not just want preaching.   They want to see actions backing up words.   The trappings of a sanctuary are not important; they want to get out and make disciples in the world rather than just sit in a pew and talk about making disciples. To them this is hypocrisy and this generation hates hypocrisy. Secondly, the message of the church should be very plain. Instead of wandering around trying to understand what is going on in church, it should be clear to everyone who comes in the door.   The first-time visitor should know what to do, where to go and how they can “plug into” the church. For the millennial, the church should not be a place for rest, it should be a place for growth.   Church activities should be designed to connect people with God and other church members. Some Millennials want to see church as an opportunity to explore spiritual life on their own terms, free to decide for themselves when to stay on the edges of a church experience and when to fully enter in.  If there is not an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus and put love into action, they lose interest fast. Millennials want to be taken seriously today. They’re not interested in earning their place at the table at some future date; they want a seat there now. Their desire is to be taken seriously and to be given real responsibility. Lack of opportunities for action have made millennials feel no sense of obligation to attend church. Previous generations went to church regardless. At the same time, being an active part of a faith community can provide young adults with exactly the mentorship and guidance they crave from older adults. Millennials know they need mentors and that is where older generation Christians can help grow the church.*

Pastor Hybels is not just focused on “millennials;” he wants all Christians to believe.   He wants all Christians to take action.

He recognizes that the church is not the pastor.

The church is really not just the people.

The core of the church is the burning desire each church member has to believe in God and act on that belief.

This is the core idea of holy discontent.


*From the “Exponential Website”, 2017.


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