Unlocking Motivation in Those You Disciple

“If a pretty poster and cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing very soon.”


I was nineteen when I first saw this demotivational saying. I’d never seen anything like it, and I loved it! For several years I bought a demotivational calendar until I was demotivated to do it anymore. Not only were they incredibly witty, they also poked fun at conventional wisdom. Motivational speakers, posters, and books help some people, but I either had a clear and compelling reason to do something or I didn’t. If I did, I’d follow through; if I didn’t then I wouldn’t. Simple as that.

I’ve since learned that motivation works differently for different people.

Much of being a disciple and making disciples comes down to motivation. A. W. Tozer expressed this simply by saying, “We may want God, but we want something else more and we will get what we want the most.” Every day we must choose to either engage with God in relationship through the Scriptures and prayer or not. We must choose whether we’ll move out in mission towards others or not. Too often you choose not to engage, and so do I.  

If we had a greater motivation, greater drive for God and His mission then we’d engage more fully, but what exactly is motivation?


Let’s define motivation as your compelling reason or reasons to do something. Insufficient motivation occurs when reasons aren’t compelling enough. What makes a reason compelling is a combination of personal beliefs, values, and design. Compelling reasons can be rooted internally or externally. For most things, it’s not one reason but the combined weight of both internal and external reasons that give birth to strong and resilient motivation to act.

Effective disciple makers know how to help those they’re discipling unlock greater motivation.

To that end, one helpful framework has been developed by author and social scientist Gretchen Rubin.  Her most recent book, “The Four Tendencies”, isn’t intended for disciple makers, but its application is easy to see. Rubin suggests that all of us are primarily one of these types…

Upholders – Fulfills outer and inner expectations.

Obligers – Fulfills outer expectations, struggles to meet inner expectations.

Questioners – Questions all expectations, will turn some outer expectations into inner expectations. In this way, they will only meet inner expectations only.

Rebels – Resists both outer and inner expectations.                                      

Which one are you? If you regularly read this blog, can you guess which one I am? Disciple makers who understand these four types carry a key to help unlock greater motivation in themselves and others.

Let’s examine the key to unlocking motivation for each type:

Upholders want to know what should be done. They enjoy meeting both internal and external expectations. Once they know what’s expected, they thrive on follow-through. Since they’re generally “doers” motivation isn’t a common need, upholders need help prioritizing. Their drive to meet all expectations can result in being overwhelmed as they try to meet all the expectations. Often they do the wrong things. Disciple makers can help most by letting them know what’s expected and then helping them discern and prioritize which demands should get their priority (whether from themselves, others, or God).

Obligers want to know what they’re accountable to do. They are committed, reliable, and the strength of teams. They readily meet the expectations of others but have trouble following through on their own goals. Since they want to please others they are exploitable and may have trouble setting limits on what others ask of them. Disciple makers can help them most by providing accountability to meet their inner expectations and coaching to uncover external benefits of meeting those inner expectations.

Questioners want to know why. Careful thought leads them to develop strong convictions which anchor their motivation despite resistance or conflict. Since questioners are naturally skeptical of tradition and strong-willed they can be off-putting. On the other hand, their honest questions help people consider things from a new perspective. Disciple makers can help them most by patiently providing justifications, using questions to help them find their own why and awareness of how their questions may cause stress to others.


Rebels want the freedom to do it their own way and in their own time. Independent, in touch with themselves, and outside the box, rebels want to chart their own course. Since they dislike advice, routines, and schedules conventional “by the book” disciple making can be tough for them to endure. However to reproduce rebels must learn to accept at least some of the practices that help most people. Disciple makers can help most through negative challenge (I bet you can’t…) and asking them to develop something new (a new illustration, a new framework to explain something, etc.). 

It’s important to remember that Rubin’s framework doesn’t take into account the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So, in a discipling relationship we’re never working with just an upholder, obliger, questioner, or rebel, we’re working with an upholder, obliger, questioner or rebel who’s been sanctified. The Holy Spirit is actively at work in each believer helping to motivate them to do what God has asked (Ezekiel 36:26-27, Phil. 2:!3).

This framework can apply to more than just your discipling relationship. Understanding your type and others can help you relate more effectively with your spouse, children, co-workers, neighbors, etc. Want more on these four types? Visit Gretchen’s website for a quiz and many more resources.