Thursday, June 23, 2016

Resisting and Rejecting the 80:20 Rule

Have you heard of the so-called “80:20 Rule”? It’s the notion that in nearly every organization, about 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Meaning, of course, the other 80 percent of the folks perform only 20 percent of the work. I suppose some consider it their labor-saving strategy.

Apparently this has been documented by statistical methodology, but it’s also evident by casual observation. It’s commonly practiced in churches, volunteer organizations like PTAs, sports teams and community clubs, and various charitable groups and ministries. It happens in lots of businesses as well.

This guideline serves as the basis for the saying, “If you want to get something done, find a busy person to do it.”

Like it or not, that’s often the case. When a project needs to be undertaken, whether organizing a picnic, participating in a strategy group, or offering help to people in need, we’re likely to see the same folks stepping up to do the work every time. There can be any number of reasons to explain why this is so, but should this be the rule?

Consider the human body as an example. It’s designed in such a way that each part plays a valuable and indispensable role. My heart can’t do what the pancreas does, and my brain, as important as it is for directing the entire body, isn’t intended to do what my feet do. There’s no 80:20 rule in the human body – each organ performs its role. If they all do so properly and in harmony, we have what’s called a healthy body.

Years ago I met an unforgettable man, Ivan Brown, who became a highly respected law enforcement leader in Jamaica. The unusual thing about Ivan was that for much of his life, he had no hands. Early in his career as a police officer, he’d been pursuing a fugitive criminal through the Jamaican jungle. The machete-wielding felon attacked Ivan, cutting off both of his hands when Ivan raised his arms in self-defense.

Miraculously, Ivan survived the attack and after healing from his wounds, received prosthetic hands and forearms he learned to use with limited effectiveness. But they were never a suitable substitute for his real hands.

Throughout the remainder of his life, Ivan relied on others – especially his wife, Monica, and an assistant assigned to him – to serve as his hands. Even limited as he was, with their aid, his strong determination and even stronger faith, Ivan ascended the ranks of law enforcement, eventually rising to the rank of constable.

Always positive, and rarely without a smile, he never complained about the disability or circumstances that brought it about. But until his last day on earth, Ivan was a living testament to how important each part of the body is for fulfilling its intended function.

So this 80:20 “tradition,” with a minority within each group doing the majority of the work, seems sad – and unfortunate. Collectively we possess such talent, so many abilities, skills and such breadth of experience and interests. Why should a handful of people do all the work – and in truth, have all the fun – while the rest of us look on passively like spectators at a ballgame?

The Bible presents this view: “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body…. If they all were one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-20).

What this means for us as followers of Jesus becomes clear when the apostle Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). As he noted earlier in the passage, “God has combined the members of the body, and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).

That doesn’t mean everyone should sing in the choir, or teach a Sunday school class, or serve on a board of elders or deacons, or work in the nursery. We are all different. But rather than standing by watching a handful of people juggle their schedules and try to manage multiple responsibilities, we should each evaluate our strengths, as well as those specific areas where we sense God is directing us to serve – even outside the walls of the traditional church building.

If we hope to one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), from our Lord, it might be wise first to determine exactly where He desires for each of us to serve as His “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

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