Administration is a gift. I do not mean this in the sense that “Life is a gift… don’t waste it!” In such a sentence the meaning has to do with rhetorical effect: Life is precious! What I mean, rather, is that administration is a gift in a literal sense, in a literal Christian sense, i.e.: in a Holy Spirit sense. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 administration is listed as a gift coming directly by the Holy Spirit; it is a Spiritual gift. What is my point? An immediate application follows. In the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 no one should ever be proud about what God has given them, no one should be boastful over others. The whole problem within that church in Corinth was pride, arrogant people thinking they were better than others based (for example) on having better gifts. So, if administration is your gift, be thankful to God. AND do not be proud and impatient with others who might struggle!

The whole point here is actually very similar (believe it or not) to hard work. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me”. Get this! Paul was so disinclined to arrogate himself over others, that even when it came to working harder, harder than all the other Apostles, he claimed this was from God and not from him. Now this is clearly not a reason for laziness. Always in the Bible there is a dynamic between divine and human agency. So hard work is a gift, but it must also be fostered. But what this does point towards again is humility and graciousness. If you are gifted in special ways over against others, you should be humble and gentle with them, willing to be gracious and to help them; never rude. Even in the case of correcting overt sin, Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1 that it should happen “in a Spirit of gentleness”. How much more when something like disorganization is not even listed in the Bible as a sin?

Now as the title of this article suggests, I am most certainly not coming from a position of superiority. I am a fellow struggler. I am certainly not one naturally or even supernaturally gifted as an administrator. But perhaps for this reason, because I have had to work hard to give this topic a lot of thought, perhaps I am thereby positioned to give some helpful thoughts to fellow strugglers. One thing I would say, especially in light of what has just been said, is that if administration is a gift of the Spirit, then you and I should most certainly be praying! Isn’t God real and the God of real life? He is! So how about (if you are a Christian), beginning to act like one? Eagerly desire Spiritual gifts, Paul says, and especially those that build up the body (1 Corinthians 14:12). As we will now see, here is a gift that can help others.

Part of what I am going to do in this article is draw upon my motivators, which I personally have discovered (in part) from simple experience. In addition to this, however, I have found several tools helpful, particularly two related: Motivation Code (more a coaching tool) and TRUMOTIVATE (more aimed at students). Such tools are not essential, but they are very helpful in enabling you to tell stories of fulfilling experiences, which then allow you to see what motivates you. If you are interested, here are some links.[1]

Before we get to such matters of motivation, however, let me start by asking: why take administration seriously? Why should we seek to improve in this area? One key reason is that so often our actions affect others, and so to be poor at administration is to not really be loving towards others. This is not meant to lay a heavy burden of guilt on any reader, but it is a fact, a fact that Christians (at least) should take seriously. According to the Bible: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1). As I said to a group of people recently, if you achieve the most amazing things in life but don’t do it in love (out of a concern for others), in God’s eyes it means nothing. So, for us to seek to be more organized out of love for others is a good and right motive, something that should truly motivate us if we are Christians.

And I would add this: every spiritual gift can be associated with a corresponding spiritual responsibility that is a discipline, not a gift.  Some are gifted with singleness, but we all have the responsibility of chastity before marriage.  Some are gifted with generosity, but we all have the responsibility of giving.  Some are gifted evangelists, but we all have the responsibility to share the gospel when we have a chance.  And so it is with administration.  Some are particularly gifted at administration, but we all have a corresponding spiritual responsibility to love others well through a sufficient discipline at administration.

In the workplace you and I are pieces of a bigger jigsaw puzzle, cogs in a greater machine, and so for us to be disorganized has serious ramifications for the organization as a whole. It is not good enough to say: “I’m just not that person, I’m not the organized one”. Everyone has a responsibility in love and also be a good witness for Jesus in this regard. So everyone has a responsibility to be organized.

A note here to younger workers, those just starting out in the workforce. When you get started it is absolutely normal for your job to not be deeply stimulating and therefore life-giving. At times it can be downright soul-sapping. To stay on top of administration in this situation can be tough. But again, that is not a reason to let things slide.

Indeed, for everyone, all of us, the truth is that living in a fallen world where God also wants to stretch us and have us trust him, it is likely that you will never feel satisfaction in more than 70% of your job. Sometimes you just have to do things, and so responsibility and love are very valid motivator for doing what you should do.

But it seems to me that if we are aware of ourselves, of things that do and do not motivate us, we can turn things around at points. Turn things that might otherwise be drudgery to make them something that more approaches joy.

Here are a list of 27 possible motivators, listed in no particular order, as categorized by both the aforementioned Motivation Codeä and TRUMOTIVATE. They are reasonably self-explanatory:

1) Experience the Ideal; 2) Meet the Challenge; 3) Make it Work;

4) Collaborate; 5) Excel; 6) Gain Ownership; 7) Demonstrate New Learning;

8) Bring to Completion; 9) Advance; 10) Make an Impact; 11) Develop;

12) Overcome; 13) Establish; 14) Be Central; 15) Influence Behavior;

16) Master; 17) Serve; 18) Achieve Potential; 19) Organize;

20) Comprehend and Express; 21) Make the Grade; 22) Explore;

23) Make it Right; 24) Evoke Recognition; 25) Improve; 26) Be Unique;

27) Bring Control [2]

To pick on the first three, in order, let’s illustrate immediately how they might be leveraged. Some people are motivated by a push towards producing an ideal so they can live in it. Could you see a task as part of your ideal? Some people are motivated by challenges, problems, and meeting such challenges. Could the very act of doing a task be framed as a challenge, which would then motivate you? Other people are motivated in a large way by taken things that are broken—either actually or metaphorically—and making them work again. Could you leverage this by noting how things will be broken until you turn up to fix them?

What is important to note here is that sometimes you will actually assume that your motive is something when it is not. This is one of the great values of self-reflection.  For example, it might be assumed that everyone will love to get an undesirable task out of the way, so “Bring to Completion” (8) is bound to be a motivator for us all. But this may not be so. In fact, it may not be the case at all! What might happen here is that as a person comes close to finishing a certain task they may actually feel unmotivated to continue in order to finish it off. Under such circumstances a person may operate best, staying motivated, by setting aside 10 or 15 minute blocks to switch between different administrative task; seeking to get as much done on the task as you can during that time, but knowing that you will not have it all complete after that time. And that should actually be okay for such a person we have just discussed.  What it may mean is that they will work more efficiently, so that in the end the task will just finish itself.

Turning back to what might motivate you, imagine that you are high in “Make it Right”. Sometimes (with a given task) you might try to see that task in terms of something not broken, but also not running as smoothly as it could. This might make such a task more desirable for you. You could think about how in the workplace nothing will really hum smoothly between people until you finish this task. But actually this taps into another motivator: Serve.

Or, imagine “Collaborate” is a motivation for you, you might find that working on an administrative task with others is a massive motivator. This could be a game-changer. Have you tried this?  Or if “Be Unique” is a motivator for you, then perhaps just noting to yourself how few people get jobs done well (in advance) might motivate you immensely.  And I could go on.

I can speak from experience in saying how all this has been very helpful for me. I have “Explore” as my top motivator, and so while I am working on projects (plural; because I work best when working in short 15- or 30-minute blocks), I try to identify how a task allows me to “Explore” new ideas. This then becomes a motivator to work harder in that 15-minute block. Sometimes I hold off on a very obviously exploratory project, leaving it to the end, as a kind of reward to myself in getting through other tasks.

Let me add something here about what has become known as President Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Matrix, which he purportedly got from Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University. Miller said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”[3] Within this matrix tasks are categorized into four groups: 1) important and urgent; 2) important but not urgent; 3) unimportant but urgent; 4) unimportant and not urgent. In some ways the order given here should ordinarily be the order in which things are done. When something is important and urgent it should be done first. When something is important but not urgent it should be done next, because it is still important!

Next comes the tricky category of urgent but not important. This could be answering a certain email or a text or a phone call. It is actually not that important that you do it, though it demands your attention—and sometimes even when left alone it will take care of itself. But it seems to be demanding your attention, demanding your immediate response. This is a very dangerous category because it can very easily force its way up the list, encroaching on the first and the second categories.  The last category can also play this trick on us because it involves things that do not really matter at all—e.g., constantly checking the score in a baseball game while at work, a game you are planning to watch the replay of later that night.

Remember, as said earlier, there is something to be said for juggling tasks (depending on your “Bring to Completion” motivation), and here might be a place where you can juggle important-and-urgent with important-but-not-urgent. If all you are ever doing is working with the urgent (even if important), then there can be disempowered by a sense that you are always just scrambling, never getting ahead, never getting on top of things. By getting things that are important but not urgent done earlier you can feel more empowered. The other element to this is that slotting in a certain number of important-but-not-urgent items means that you may increase your tempo in order to still get the urgency done, making you work quicker. Of course, these things need to be experimented with.

Let me add something too about working with others. It is important in the workplace that you let the needs of your superiors determine what is urgent. When I have a report to write it automatically becomes urgent. It must be done as quickly as possible and as well as possible because it is something that my immediate boss will see. You can be doing all kinds of great things in the workplace which simply get lost in the machinery. But there will be moments when things get seen, and these are things that you want done well since they will demonstrate the hard work you are doing in all areas. How tragic would it be if you were doing great work in all areas, but the areas where it was most on display were those done worst? This is why you should be careful to prioritize certain things with wisdom according to how important they might be to your superiors.

I want to end this article by commenting on Deuteronomy 6, because it seems related to motivations in very helpful and wholesome ways. In Deuteronomy 6 we read:

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart… 20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. (Deuteronomy 6:1-6 and 20-24).

In this text, there appear to be three major motivators listed. The first is fear, which indeed is a valid motivator. If you are going to get fired because you don’t get something finished or you don’t do it well, then this is a good motivator! It is not the best motivator, because in the end a person driven solely by fear may struggle with resentment, but still, fear is a valid biblical motivator.

The second motivator mentioned in this passage is reward. In verse 3 we read: “that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey”. Here is the motivation of reward. Do this and things will go well for you. This also valid. When we see there is a bonus involved, when we see there is a promotion (possibly) at the end, this can be a motivator.

But ultimately, what this text seems to be point out is the third motivation: love as the highest most mature form of motivation.

In an important article on Deuteronomy 6, Gerald Janzen claimed that one important aspect to the oneness of God in verse 6, whatever else it means, is the idea of God’s singularity. God is not duplicitous; he is unwavering in his character in keeping his covenant promises; and thus this statement relates to him being faithful to his people.[4] This then makes sense of what his people are commanded to do in response in verse 5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”. God has been singular to us in loving us, so we should be singular (in our whole being) in loving him.

This all then comes to a head in verses 20-21, where God’s people are told what to do when a child asks about God’s commandments. Children need things spelt out clearly, and so (not unexpectedly) the answer finishes by affirming motivations of fear and reward. But before any of this is said, in what takes up the majority of the answer, we are told to point children first towards God’s love, his faithfulness towards the people he loves.

How does this apply to us as we are thinking about the workplace and serving well, or even about our families, or towards our church family?

First, just to reiterate matters one more time, fear is a valid motivator. It is valid (and actually biblical) that if you cannot be motivated by anything else, at least in the first place be motivated by fear. If I am unfaithful to my spouse, I will get found out and my family will be ruined. If I fail to attend church, I will grow cold in my faith and be unproductive for the Lord. If I cut corners at work, if I am rude to my colleagues and my boss I will get fired. Fear is a valid motivator, and this is completely right to have in our back pockets if nothing else works.

Second comes the motivation of reward; valid, too. If I am married and if I love my spouse well, we will have a great relationship and there will be joy at home. If I love my children and train them well in the Lord, spending time with them and living out Christ’s love, then things will go well. If I work hard at work and work well with others, if I am willing to do unpleasant tasks and still do them well, then more than likely I will see rewards. Reward is also a good and biblical motivator.

But ultimately, as we started out by saying, love is the fullest and most ideal motivator. Note how Jesus was asked by a certain person what the greatest commandment was. His answer was twofold, but revolved completely around love:

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34)

This captures Deuteronomy 6, but also goes beyond it, beyond loving God, to loving others too, as yourself.

Why should we be organized? Why should I seek to do better in administration? Ultimately it is out of love for God and then love for others. And this is God’s high call!




[4] J. G. Janzen, “On the Most Important Word in the Shema (Deuteronomy VI 4-5),”  Vetus Testamenum 3 (1987), 280-300.

Bruce spent the first portion of his vocational career studying and then working as an Environmental Chemist, having earned a doctorate in Inorganic Analytical Chemistry. Afterwards he was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister and following studies in Ancient History/New Testament he has worked the past 15 years at Reformed Theological Seminary - Atlanta, teaching New Testament, serving now as Dean of Students. Bruce enjoys long walks with his amazing wife of 30 years Rachel, discussing scripture and its implications. They are both convinced that God is the God life, offering us more instruction about this world than we give him credit for. Together they have five children, the oldest three of whom have special needs.

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