Motivational Speakers & Cult Leaders: What’s The Recipe of Their Success?

I was recently listening to a world-famous motivational speaker. Indeed, listening to him was as entertaining as watching late night television. He mounted the platform with all the charisma and energy of a rock star. His speaking capabilities? Flawless. Eloquent. Tantalizing. As I sat there immersed in a sea of 10,000 people, I hung onto his every word. He was incredibly pleasing to listen to…

But as I listened to this man’s speech on the four universal desires of every human being, I began to think – to analyze. I thought to myself, “What makes this man so incredibly successful at motivational speaking? Why am I so intrigued by his words?” So, not as a jerk, but as a polite observer of culture, I began to take some personal notes…The results of my analysis somewhat shocked me…Indeed, to state it bluntly, these observations are what make for an incredible motivational speaker (in the world at large) and a great cult leader (in the church world)…I know, I know, that was an ouchy thing to say, but notice my observations below…

  1. He spoke as an authority unto himself. In his incredibly thought-through, four-point outline of the four universal desires of every human being (i.e., aliveness, connection, meaningful pursuits, and growth), he never once referenced a source, book, quote, or statistic. Not. One. Time. He simply, confidently, and enthusiastically stated each one of his main points, relying on no source material, except himself. To be sure, his own personal success and fame made him a functional authority to the 10,000 people in the stadium, but still, he referenced no source material. Yes, he spoke as an authority unto himself.
  2. He weaved “believe in yourself” throughout his speech. Now, this is not a new cultural message/mantra; I get that. But up until this speaker, I had never (not one time) heard someone in culture define exactly what “believe in yourself” means. This guy did; and it blew me away. He defined “believe in yourself” as encompassing two primary ingredients (i.e., worthiness + capability). He encouraged, with great gusto, 10,000 of us in the stadium to think and identify ourselves as both worthy (of everything we want and desire) and capable (of getting everything we want and desire). Wow…”Believe in yourself” = “Worthiness + Capability”. Do you know what he just defined/explained…WORSHIP! Biblically and theologically, we promote the worship of Jesus (who is God) because we attribute to Him (and Him only) ultimate worthiness and capability. So, when you hear that common phrase in wider culture – “Believe in yourself” – understand what some people are advocating for when they say that…”Worship yourself because you are worthy and capable of everything your heart desires.” Am I overreacting? Reading too much into this statement? Maybe. But just think about it…
  3. He unified cultural desires and religious thoughts. In other words, he would mix in religious (even biblical terms) throughout his talk. His speech was littered with words like “joy”, “relationships”, and “service”. He went on to make the statement that every religion promotes as “the highest form of enlightenment” the concept of “unity”. Possibly the only cringe moment for me in his entire speech. Why? Well, because Jesus actually promoted something far different than the concept of “unity” as “the highest form of enlightenment”. In fact, he promoted division…”Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)…”I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But this man’s thoughts resonate within wider culture…Our culture desperately wants “unity” to be “the highest form of enlightenment”…I wonder what the ramifications of this thought process for true Christians would be…Hmmm…
  4. He kept his speech simple and used alliteration. A fairly simple observation, but it plays a part in this man’s success as a motivational speaker. He had four simple points that were easily rememberable and he even used alliteration (i.e., doubt, division, and delay) to describe the greatest hindrances to the four universal desires of mankind (i.e., aliveness, connection, meaningful pursuits, and growth). Indeed, his overall presentation was engaging and easy to follow. Easy. Breezy. Beautiful. Now, unlike the three points above, I’m not saying that simplicity and alliteration are bad things, but coupled with the above three points, it makes for a tantalizing…but dangerous concoction.

So, there you have it. Just some personal observations on a popular motivational speaker that might give you some insight into the inner workings of our wider culture. Indeed, as much as I am a student of the Word, I try to be a student of culture, understanding that our ultimate enemy is not culture itself, but the Evil One behind culture…Be aware. Stay alert. Stay strong.

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