General Ministry
Josh Griffin

Tonight a dear friend of mine said that he will be pay me $1,000 if I lose 20 pounds in one year. I need carrots. This is a nice carrot.

I am fascinated by the effective use of incentives (carrots) that parents use to motivate their teenagers. I’ve heard of cash for grades, clothes for good behavior and even a new car for remaining a virgin throughout high school. I asked several of my high school friends about carrots and many of them receive all kinds of perks if they follow through on the activities that their parents value the most. So I asked, “should parents give carrots to teenagers for attending church, reading the bible or serving the less fortunate?” I could tell by looking at their faces that they were uneasy with this one.

I’m willing to bet you that if you took a look around the children’s ministry at your church you will find carrots galore! If you show up on Sunday you get a star on the chart or if you memorize the verse of the week you may get a tootsie roll. These are not trivial tokens! Imagine giving some smarties to a 2nd grade boy but not his four buddies seated near him or the over achieving girl who didn’t get an attendance star because she was out-of-town visiting her grandma. DRAMA!

Starting in middle school and especially in high school ministry you see a transfer from carrot encouragement to the focus on consequences. Where a kid once got candy for coming to church, now he can’t play in the praise band if he doesn’t have adequate attendance. It is this very mindset that propels we youth ministers to focus more on what Dallas Willard calls “sin management” instead of authentic discipleship. I am fully aware that God has consequences for his children, but I don’t see that He uses consequences as His primary motivation. Having said that, I’m not convinced that I see the use of “carrots” as a means for spiritual growth, except for………

The Kingdom Carrot-
Is the promise of a new heaven and new earth or eternal life enough for a 16-year-old? Should we focus more on passages like John 10:10 describing the abundant life as a means to spiritually motivate young people? I may have more questions than I do answers about this post, but doesn’t the Promised Land seem to be a decent carrot to encourage tired, thirsty people to follow God? There is also a good question that some folks on my team brought up about the difference between a salvific carrot and a Christian leadership carrot, but I digress.

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Matthew 6:19-24 is a classic Jesus response about the ultimate carrot and how distracting earthly possessions can be. It is no coincidence that Jesus ends by saying we can’t serve two masters in reference to money, which might give us some insight on the dangers of certain types of spiritual carrots. While I confess to you that I needed the $1,000 to lose weight, I pray that for you and I, the Kingdom carrot will be enough.

Nate Stratman is the Director of Student Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, CO.
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  • Chad says:

    This post is great addressing the difference between consequences and motivation but it seems to address it from two different standpoints (children vs. teenagers). Yes, in an ideal situation, the Kingdom carrot should be sufficient. But that is not the world our teenagers live in today. I’m not convinced the candy bar or gift card for attendance or bringing your Bible to youth group should be the motivation either, but there’s something to be said for finding ways to reward teenagers to move them into a position where the Kingdom carrot actually does begin to look good?

  • Kyle says:

    Thanks for the post. I have recently started reading your blogs online and following simply youth ministry vidcast.

    Right now I am challenged as I have been involved with a church for the past three years and have come on as the Youth Pastor about 2 months ago. I have been really involved with the kids and know them.

    Some have such a desire for God while others know every answer and what they should know minus the most valuable. A relationship with Christ. I have been toying with ideas to start more Authentic relationships with Christ but am finding ways to excite and motivate these kids. We are a wealthy church overall and these kids don’t feel like they have to make any sacrifices or life will ever have suffering…

    This post gave me great points to ponder and if you have any ideas please feel free to fire some off for me.

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