Here are a couple follow up questions about motivating obedience. (You can also listen to the answer if you’d like.)
Is there a valid way to use guilt and threats to motivate good behavior?
Yes, I think there’s a way. I think it’s very biblical to hold out the things that God says to his people.
I think a great place to instruct children in God’s warning economy is in the early chapters of Deuteronomy as Israel is going into the Promised Land. And there’s all kinds of warnings there against their disobedience, their idolatry.
But they are warnings that are not just perfunctory behavior warnings.
And I think there are proper rewards, rewards that are character rewards, not materialistic rewards.
For example, I could say to my fifteen-year-old son, “Look, Mom and Dad have made you come in at 9 o’clock over the last year, but we’ve just seen real responsibility, real wisdom in your life. So we’re going to extend that a couple hours, because we really do believe we can trust you.” That’s a reward, but it’s a character reward.
It’s different than saying, “You want that mountain bike? That mountain bike can be yours. All you have to do is…” Because that takes that heart in a different place. He may submit to doing X just because there’s a physical thing at the other end of it, yet no desire to obey at all.
Is it ever OK to use “materialistic rewards” for immediate, temporary needs, such as keeping your child quiet for the next 10 minutes in church?
Sure, I think that the Bible, if I could use this term, is agnostic in terms of the order. Sometimes you’re in a situation and you have to get at behavior before you can get at the heart, and you have to get at behavior quickly.
Say you’ve got a man who is hitting his wife. I’m not going to say, “I’m going to give six months to seeing this man’s heart change while he’s beating on her.” We’ve got to stop that behavior.
The problem, very often, is that we’re satisfied when the behavior stops.
Now if I do that with my children, I know—I’ve got a mark in my brain—that this is not the end of this discussion. We’ve got to go back after this, because I want to get at the heart that was behind that.
But I know, because we’re in a service of worship, that I’ve got to take this child out so that we can deal with it and bring him back in. So I say, “You need to be quiet. If you’re not quiet, that’s a direct disobedience to Daddy, and we’ll go out, I’ll paddle your little bottom, and we’ll come back in again. And hear me: Daddy is willing to do this forty times, because Daddy won’t lose, because Daddy can’t lose, because Daddy represents Jesus. And you will not be the Daddy of Daddy.”
But I know we’re not done. And so, maybe Sunday afternoon, I’m going to get with that little one and say, “Let’s talk about what was going on in that service.” And I’m going to get after the heart.