Carrot and Stick Discipleship

One of my all time favourite writers and speakers is a man called Simon Sinek. I’ve read his three books: Start with Why, Leaders Eat Last and The Infinite Game , several times now. What I like about him and his messages so much is a story for another blog!

What I want to talk about today is that I’ve recently decided to run through the trilogy of books again, but this time with an ear to hear how his ideas may be implemented in the context of the Church, in the context of Discipleship and the context of our personal pursuit of God’s heart.

This post comes from chapter 2 of his first book Start with Why: Carrot and Sticks. In the chapter Simon points out the various methods that businesses use in order to persuade their customers to buy into their product or services. These are:

  • Price – by lowering prices
  • Fear – by appealing to our sense of worry, self doubt, uncertainty. I think this may be a big issue when it comes to insurance companies.
  • Promotions – by offering a cash back guarantee or a coupon for another product.
  • Freebies – just like the mcdonalds happy meals for kids (a toy in the bucket), companies will often incentivise us to buy their product with a free case, free pen, book etc.
  • Aspirations – these are most effective for people who lack self-discipline. They often come in the forms of ‘shredded in six days’, or ‘millionaire in a month’ or ‘step by step guide to good leadership skills’. Offering what we want to achieve/aspire to be, and obtaining our custom.
  • Peer pressure – we know this from the school playground, but it works similarly in consumerism.
  • Celebrity Endorsement – as my history teacher used to tell us, the only reason he bought Gillette razors was because David Beckham used them.
  • Novelty – my wife and I recently bought a back massager “toy”. It’s incredibly fun, but honestly the novelty has quickly worn off.

There are loads of ways that businesses try to “carrot and stick” us into buying their products. But, what Simon explains is that, these methods are very short term focused. They don’t produce lasting loyalty. They function like an addiction, we always need a higher hit. (Customers who are bought over by a low price, will jump ship the moment there is a lower price somewhere else). This approach creates stress, both for the buyer and, for the seller.

It works fine, if we are trying to reach a one off purchase. Manipulations produce transactions but not loyalty.

So WHERE does Discipleship fit into this!?

As I was listening to the audiobook, my mind was racing with the number of “manipulations”/carrot and stick approaches I have witnessed and experienced (and offered) within the context of evangelism, discipleship and church involvement.

How often do our churches attempt to lure people in with free donuts or resources? How heavily do we rely on celebrity endorsements of Christianity (I’m thinking Bear Grylls for example!)? How often do we promise freedom from addiction if we sign up for a certain software, programme, conference or spiritual discipline? How often do we try and rally Christians to read their Bibles with a novelty Bible-in-a-year programme? Yes, the Church is guilty of these practices.

BUT… I’m not saying these are bad, if it gets the foot in the door, if it gets someone interested enough that they come to hear the gospel. These are wonderful! I love that Bear Grylls has partnered with Alpha. I love my Bible in a year novelty reading programmes. I am encouraged by conferences, seminars, books and courses! I also am VERY satisfied with free donuts! KEEP THEM COMING! (I think of Jesus producing wine, and multiplying food for the crowds!)

However, we must understand that these methods, these “manipulations”, these carrot and stick attempts to disciple people ARE NOT SUFFICIENT. They do not produce lasting loyalty and they don’t bring people to salvation. True discipleship is more than getting people to make a one-time confession of faith, it is about a lifetime of continual, habitual, submission to Jesus their Lord.

My prayer is that we might take our attention off the carrots and sticks for a moment. That we might consider whether we have made room for the Person of Jesus to invade our spaces. May we turn in prayer to a God who longs to build up His Church, and may we rely on Him, rather than our programmes, to capture hearts and change society.

Carrots and Sticks are great, but they are limited.

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