Start with a Blank Canvas

Start with a Blank Canvas

Let's Make Spaces that Motivate.

Most people claim they are spiritual, yet remain uncomfortable with religion and its agenda, especially if not met where they are. But let's be fair - their agenda is pretty much the point. I think the root cause lies deeper still. Like understanding what motivates people today, and how to do that within an existing paradigm.

While listening to a talk at a TED conference, I imagined an experience that might be a spiritual door for people to revisit church without old baggage or language that no longer made sense. The TED talk by Daniel Pink had nothing to do with church, yet confirmed my suspicions and inspired me to keep going. It focused on what motivates people today.

I've been letting it marinate, while building confidence to create a space for church-less and frustrated churchgoers. It's only agenda is to connect us and explore spiritual life. I no longer fear criticism I'm certain to face - as an unlikely pastor's wife who lives and works in a legacy church setting. (Who knows? Love can build a bridge too.)

The conflicts continuing to burn inside religion are not new, and the discourse between various Christian factions, far from unusual. But the recent divide is new to us. The progressive, emergent church movement is relatively new to the conversation, while its older counterparts have, for the most part, learned to co-exist. I don't think a few growing pains and a new label that spells change is cause for hate. After all, it's the same change that's been happening since the birth of Christ. Actually, Jesus started it.

I blame it on him. It's all Jesus' fault.

About Threshold Space

The Threshold Space is the product of thinking about what motivates us, explored below. It turns a church experience inside out, including paradigms embedded in some of its structure. I've been creating programs for empowerment and transformation for as long as I can remember. My professional career has been centered around helping communities, organizations, corporations, and individuals move through major change, severe conflict, and transformation; in addition to years of running and owning addiction treatment centers throughout the United States. Getting stuck at something as basic as motivation was too easy, but did it walk like a duck? We had to start somewhere so we recently began the Threshold Space and are paying attention to new knowledge about motivation, and what we've seen work for the last thirty years outside of church.

The difficulty comes when trying to explain that God and Christ are in it; but they're not the main attraction. Our common humanity, personal discovery, and spiritual unfolding are the headliners.

This doesn't sit well for some. But there's a reason for it. First, if you have faith, God and you are already sitting together - in each other actually. There's no need to alert the media. If you don't, it's putting the cart before the horse - but the cart is in the room, fully participating through ritual and discussion. Second, it's not about belief - or worship. Some practices are consistent with church tradition, including breaking of bread. It's intended to be inspiring, vibrant, and reflective - centered on shared experience, personal truth, creative expression, and working through what matters to us on a particular day. We express what's unfolding through conversation, music, art, poetry, and song. We explore science and the mysteries of the universe too. We want our brains to explode. Complexity further affirms the mystery, as opposed to debunking it. Ultimately, it's about celebrating each other, this world we share - and our differences, along with admission we know little with any certainty. And contrary to what some think, it's about faith too.

Faith that starts with the idea that if God exists, God surely understands that we don't understand it all. And God as we understand God is as good a place as any to start.

We also have faith in a mystery that's bigger than us alone. We explore stories of those who came before us. We dive into understanding people different from us by entering real dialogue with them. We think it's one way to peace.

People Need Space to Unfold In

People need a big space to discover personal truths without being told what to think. A space to dig down deep and plant roots in. It assimilates knowledge and experiences in ways natural to how we learn. Expressing confusion, frustration, and struggles as they surface is expected, and help to solve or fix problems is only offered when it's asked for. Participants come to their understanding on their own, in their own way and time. Ultimately, you own your story. Externally imposed shame or disapproval is not permitted. This is a core principle.

All they're asked to believe is they are valued and their presence matters to us, whatever their life role or beliefs. We use practice and ritual to connect us to God as we understand God - and to each other, which includes the community around us.


Freedom to express ourselves honestly, with civility, is at the heart of it. It's practiced, emphasized and encouraged - leaving little room to suspect lip service or underlying agendas. Some are here to revisit a Christian experience, while others are only exploring. Bottom line, we're listening to how people are motivated and inspired.

What No Longer Motivates Us

Ever since technology and computers replaced a mechanized workforce, people work differently. Not long ago, the workforce was motivated with reward and punishment. This no longer drives us. Personal autonomy, the opportunity for mastery, and having a sense of intrinsic purpose are our new inner drivers. Today's economy requires more complex thought and execution, which begs for creativity, giving it the front seat to the simple, more routine tasks performed by people of former generations.

This collective shift in behavior spreads to how we respond to religion too. Particularly in community.

Religions, including Christianity, have traditionally been framed inside punishment and reward paradigms. Be good, be saved. Be bad, burn in hell. These are dire punishments and rewards that are no longer effective or motivating. They often oppress, and cause many to repel or rebel.

This shift effects us in other ways too. For one, the collaborative and creative environment that now defines most workplaces puts people on a level playing field. This can also be applied to religion and spiritual seeking. Hierarchical management, now thought of as parochial, is not too different from a religious flow chart. We were taught to understand the relationship between humanity and God - or religion - as a top-down hierarchy to which we responded and reacted. We placed it in a category most people today would define as fear-based. At the very least, it's how religion was taught to us as children. Not to mention, how many internal religious institutions are still structured - at the local and conference level.

When we changed and church didn't, we watched Oprah. We became disinterested.

We work collaboratively today. This is more akin to partnership, than hierarchy. When we think of God, we're more likely to internalize the experience by feeling connected to a higher power, than adopting the idea that God is a ruler outside of us, even if God is love. This is not news, but how we are motivated and how this lines up with how we experience religion is revealing.

What Motivates Us

At one time, routine tasks made the world go round. To get these tasks done, punishment and reward were our motivators - once basic human needs like hunger, thirst, and sex were met. When machines and computers replaced humans for routine tasks, a new economy demanding more complex thinking emerged. Innovation and human creativity infiltrated society and the workplace; once reserved only for entrepreneurs, inventors, and scholars. This new society engaged in creative process is fundamentally different than one executing simple tasks. It is driven by an inner voice, not an upper one. It rises from the inside out.

Dan Pink explains more about the primary human motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in this popular TED Talk below. He also notes that traditional management is quickly becoming obsolete. Pink says,

“Its (management's) central ethic is control; its chief tools remain extrinsic motivators. That leaves it largely out of sync with the non-routine, right-brain abilities on which many of the world’s economies now depend.”

Studies show when work is an autonomous experience, it has a positive effect on health and well-being. Conceptual understanding, productivity, and well-being are only a few of the positive, proven outcomes of autonomous experience.


Being managed can discourage critical thinking, and steal the potential joy of participating in creating what gives us value and personal validation.

This new way of working leads to a more productive and successful workforce. Pink found people need freedom to make decisions about their time, team, tasks, and technique to excel today. This hints why entrepreneurial firms often outperform larger, established and traditionally managed corporations, with significantly more resources available than smaller start-ups.
These motivational factors are not as new as we may think, however. Human beings have historically preferred a sense of control and direction about the work they do. Without it, we feel like pawns in another person's game. A dictatorial approach in management is unique to the industrial age. Prior to corporate conglomerates and bureaucracies, people were motivated by these same drivers, centered around local economies and community based entrepreneurship.

This research is aligned and consistent with the shift in how most people view religion too.

Growing through Co-Creating
It's no wonder we resist being told how we should behave or believe, not to mention, think. People want to direct their path, and insist on arriving at decisions autonomously and creatively. This is paramount. How they experience it matters too. A spiritual journey must engage and captivate people, while providing opportunities for continued learning and growth. This gives them something to set their sites on, ultimately, offering hope and a vision for what's ahead. An ongoing hope of mastery keeps them coming back for more.
The Secret to Mastery

Engagement is the secret to mastery. Simply doing routine tasks for money doesn't motivate us - once we have what we need to survive. But when we're genuinely engaged, we need little external encouragement to continue working towards our goal. The road to mastery catapults when people enter what, Mihali Csikszentmihalyi refers to as flow. Flow is that state when we lose all sense of time immersed in something we find fully engaging that leads us to our goals. He says people find it's the most satisfying time of their lives.This has certainly been true in my life, and is likely true for you too.
This begs the question - how do you know what will engage you? What does being engaged look like? When we're stretching beyond ourselves towards a goal we feel is within reach, we become engaged. Without stretching, we're bored; and being too far outside our comfort zone makes us anxious and uncomfortable. Staying inside these parameters inspires and engages us to keep learning and improving at it. Pink says mastery has three laws:

It’s a mindset

it’s painful, and

it’s an asymptote.

In my words:

believe we can do it (mindset)

go beyond ourselves - stretch and push past comfort-zone boundaries (painful)

steadily work towards mastering a goal far ahead, yet feels possible. (asymptote)

Does a worship service put new people too far outside their comfort zone right out of the gate? Whose paradigm is this and who does it serve?
I'm not suggesting worship isn't useful. I am suggesting church might want to revisit it's primary product and consider diversifying. Bucky Fuller reminds us it isn't always about changing the old. Sometimes it's about building something new.

The Power of Purpose

Lastly, we want a sense of purpose. We want our efforts to be meaningful and serve the greater good. Intrinsic value must override extrinsic ones. Many companies today cite purpose as their primary mission, and money serves as the catalyst to get there. Purpose is the end and not the means. Money is the means and not the end. Many corporations still hold money as the primary objective, unaware it compromises recruitment efforts for the leaders in their field; and increases impotence towards influencing their markets. Money as the mission is so deeply embedded in corporate culture, it can be antithetical to change. Stepping out of the forest to see the trees might be helpful. This is an area churches know something about - and can teach corporations how it's done. Church has its own blind spot, however.

Religion's Blind Spot

Blind spots that keep some corporate cultures stuck, also apply to religious culture - for different reasons. First, people want their good will to feel authentic and without agenda. They want to experience being their higher self, with no sales tactic. Second, people want to be connected and experience God in each other. They also need to feel and sense their connection to a higher power, without being reminded they are separate and unworthy. These days, this leap is not congruent to how they want to meet God, nor is it helpful for the church-wounded. The idea of taking God off the iconic throne and making Him one of us, giving humanity permission to be co-creators in a world originated by the Divine is antithetical to some religious culture. People need the freedom to allow their imagery to surface about God, and to engage in their own creative process allowing personal understanding to surface to connect the dots. This includes how they show up in the world as co-creators with God and how they manifest their humanity authentically in the world. Forgive me for sounding dumb, but...

isn't this what Jesus did?

Some see it as heresy, while those seeking deeper understanding, and desire to be more spiritually connected are re-framing how they understand God. They're going deeper - and wider - challenging themselves to grow beyond their current and childhood imagery or ideas. There's a disconnect between their current knowledge and childhood imagery, and it doesn't make sense now. Language, symbolism, imagery, and religious practices can subvert receptivity in genuinely open or sincere people - they need to explore and learn new ways that allow them to process what they're experiencing or hearing. Ironically, this exploration can often lead us full circle, but that's an individual process that unfolds.

Humans have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capabilities, to explore, and to learn.” - Edward Deci

We will go to any lengths to absorb new information and passionately engage if our heart is in it.

We will voluntarily sacrifice money for purpose that inspires us. We will produce when given the freedom and room to create. We will sustain and commit if we have some wins and are given the opportunity to improve. The rewards are found in experiencing our potential and recognizing the possibility of real accomplishment. They're found in the growth and joy born from learning, from feeling we are doing good and of value, and from a creative process that lets us contribute to the world and our experience of ourselves from the inside out.

These are the primary motivators that drive us. Is this true for you too?

Twelve-Step Programs Know the Secret

It was not surprising to recognize these principles at the heart of the twelve step movement. The program and its meetings act as a container, creating the space for the inner work to be done autonomously. People have the freedom to explore and grow on a deeper level, fully responsible for their actions and outcomes. 12-step programs also have this element of asymptote that Pink mentions. There is a goal (staying sober, even if one day at a time), and when a day ends, another is right behind it. (it remains out of reach)

You could say it asks members to find the right team (meeting and sponsor), choose the technique (don't drink even if your ass falls off, call your sponsor, go to work a new way, etc.), execute tasks (the steps, prayer and meditation), and time (one day at a time) to accomplish it in.

It does not tell you how to do it, but rather, makes suggestions based on the success of others that came before them. There is support, guidance, and - as they like to say - shared experience, strength, and hope threaded throughout every step of this process that has successfully facilitated transforming millions of lives.


I let go of what I thought I knew about my wildly diverse spiritual life journey, including lifelong Christianity, a few years ago and discovered one day at a time, that I'd stepped into an authentic Christian identity - but it was an identity transformed. It looks little like it once did, but what was there could no longer claim a transformed inner life. It was closer to a label with a story, a pile of resentments, and the occasional practice.

The only way through was to deconstruct and release everything I knew, believed, or thought I was supposed to think - willing to risk ending up nowhere. A Christian identity was not my goal, but more understanding was. Learning too. Even re-visiting the mystical experiences of my past drew me in to understand more. But my beliefs and the right words became increasingly less important. In fact, this still takes a back seat to my inner life being at peace with God (as I understand God) in ways it never was before - including not fully understanding God. And I no longer know what I believe to be true, and feel like more of a Christian than I ever did.

Whenever I'm uncertain, which is often, I'm most inspired. When I don't think I'm right, I'm most humble. When I stop the chatter, I'm most connected. When I'm most broken, I'm most honest.

My resentments about being treated like a second class and invisible citizen in church has been painful over the years, especially lately. But this same anger and hurt caused me to reject the church as I understood and experienced it. Pushing these old paradigms out of the way allowed me to see it with new eyes - and build something new. Even if only in my personal experience. Our personal experience is the heart of it, right?

In time, the faith that was morphing and being created anew over years of spiritual seeking had formed into something much deeper, much more powerful than Sunday School me who never felt good enough - because I believed those who said a little girl who let her light shine wholeheartedly should hide it under a bushel when all grown up.

Quite a surprise, really. Not at all what I expected.

Everyone needs this kind of creative freedom to achieve our dreams - whether spiritual or not. It's in these spaces we make, with plenty of room to move about in, that magic happens. It's a little like Advent. Before you know for sure what the journey entails, determine your willingness to say yes, and how you'll take your first steps into unknowing. That's where who you already are can bubble up to the top and reveal itself to you.

Create spaces that allow people to step onto a blank canvas - and watch the beauty that unfolds as they create. This is what's needed of us. It wouldn't hurt to gather people together to hold the safety net when they jump in either.


Peace to your house,

Linda Irene

Linda Irene

06. November 2019