Not long ago I thought about being a motivational speaker...then lost the motivation :)
Actually, a more accurate description of the story goes something like this...
When I lived in Oklahoma City I was given the opportunity to do some public speaking. Schools, churches, and civic organizations were some of the groups I had the privilege of speaking to. Of course I talked about the weather, but I was also invited to talk to students about motivational topics like self-image, achievement, and leadership. I really enjoyed it. The more I got into it the more excited I got. I even met with a coach and started coming up with a marketing plan for more speaking engagements. As I worked on my messages though I sensed an uneasiness from the Lord. He slowly began to convict me about the content of my messages. The conclusion I came to is that the last thing people need to hear is another hollow pep-talk on "The 10 Steps to Personal Success". People need to hear the gospel - plain and simple. That's where real, lasting life change occurs.
Sure, we all appreciate a motivating and inspiring message that tugs on our heart. But what's the meat of the message? That's the question to ask. Is it pie-in-the-sky fluff? Or is there real substance to it? Without Jesus Christ I don't think there's much substance to any message that's intended to shape our actions and behavior.
My concern these days is that many churches are replacing the gospel message with a motivational one. This is devastating to the congregation. Here's why. A motivational message directs the focus to one's self. The gospel message directs the focus to God. Too often sermons are on success and achieving your dreams. These are fine and dandy aspirations to discuss at a business seminar, but they shouldn't be the focus at church - where you expect life-change to occur. It must go deeper! Further, motivational messages encourage a "you-can-do-it" mentality which morphs into a "just-try-harder" mentality. This is the complete opposite of the good news of Jesus Christ, which is about coming to a place of surrender.
So how can you tell whether you're hearing a motivational speech or the true gospel? Here are some key terms to listen for: sin, depravity, surrender. Doesn't sound much like a motivational speech does it? It's not. It's the gospel. We have all sinned (Romans 3:23). We can do nothing apart from Jesus Christ (John 15:5). Only when we are weak is He strong. Yup, that's the gospel. It's not about trying harder. It's about getting our stinkin' pride out of the way so Jesus can work through us.
The truth is that sin has seeped into every crevice of this fallen world (Genesis 3), including the human heart. If you're not at least occasionally reminded of this fact from the pulpit chances are you're being fed a motivational pep-talk instead.