Have you ever watched the show, The Apprentice? The Celebrity Apprentice is just gearing up to begin in a month or so. I got hooked on this show. It’s a kind of guilty hook. I watch it because it’s a lot about human dynamics and how people work together. Kind of like the church! But then it’s also kind of like watching a train wreck and sometimes I wonder if I’m not drawn to it because of all the gossip, slander, and backstabbing that happens to win the game. Ignoring for a moment all the negative, the teams on Celebrity Apprentice that raise the most money for charity are always the ones that work together the best, tapping into each person’s skills and talents, and have individuals who are willing to serve in whatever way it takes to raise money. When a team is clicking along with all its members firing at full strength, it’s really a beautiful sight to behold.
Another team that worked amazingly well together to accomplish a task was the team that rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem after returning from exile. Watch how every team member kicks in whether it’s their special talent or not.
Nehemiah 3 (Selections)
Then the high priest Eliashib set to work with his fellow priests and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set up its doors; they consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred and as far as the Tower of Hananel. And the men of Jericho built next to him. And next to them Zaccur son of Imri built.
The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars. Next to them Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz made repairs. Next to them Meshullam son of Berechiah son of Meshezabel made repairs. Next to them Zadok son of Baana made repairs. Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord…
Next to them Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall…Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters…
Above the Horse Gate the priests made repairs, each one opposite his own house. After them Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his own house.
This is God’s story for us today. Thank you, God!
Today we begin a new annual series called Serve Sunday. Each year we’ll take some time to reflect on how we can use our gifts to serve on the team that we call Sycamore Creek Church doing the task that we call “igniting authentic life in Christ.” This week we’ll begin that exploration and next week you’ll have the opportunity to make a commitment to serve in some way here at the church. Just like you make an annual financial pledge to the church, we’ll be inviting you to make an annual service pledge.
Today I’d like begin with what is sometimes called the 80/20 rule. I’d like to look at this story from Nehemiah and our own experience here at SCC and explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 80/20 rule. So what is the 80/20 rule? Good question. Generally speaking, the 80/20 rule says that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Let’s begin here, but I want to take it even deeper today.
20% of the People Do 80% of the Work
There are good, bad, and ugly aspects of the 80/20 rule.
The Good – If 20% of the people are doing most of the work here at SCC, that allows 80% of the people to focus on reaching out to the community. What if 20% of our church took care of internal needs and the other 80% were missionaries, reaching out to meet the spiritual and physical needs of our community? That would be awesome! I’d love to brag about SCC not by telling people how many attend worship, but by saying, “80% of church are missionaries to their work, neighborhoods, schools, family, and friends.” But is that what’s happening? Do 80% of you consider yourselves missionaries in our community? If you consider yourself a missionary, then do you take the next step and act like one?
The Bad – Some of those 20% are perfectly content with doing what they’re doing. They know they’re called to serve in the church in a particular area, they’ve got the skills and passion to make it happen excellently, they love what they’re doing, and could do it for the rest of their lives. But if 20% of the people are doing 80% of the work there can be a tendency to burn out some of that 20%. They can become tired, stuck, and cynical. They can feel like there’s no room to explore further callings in the church and outside of it. In some ways this is natural. Being human we like some variety. We don’t want to be stuck doing the same thing over and over again like an assembly line.
The Ugly – While the good of the 80/20 rule is that it frees up 80% of the church to be serving in our community, and the bad is that some of the 20% can get burnt out, the ugly of the 80/20 rule is that some of us are unwilling to spend any time doing anything, especially housecleaning stuff that has to be done whether anyone really likes doing it or not. In the passage we read above, there was one group that was unwilling to chip in. We read, “Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord” (Nehemiah 3:5 NLT). We’re not told why they were unwilling to work, but maybe they thought working on rebuilding a wall was below them. If they were sitting around Donald Trump’s board room table, who do you think would get fired?
There are a lot of housecleaning things to be done at SCC. A LOT! When you set up and tear down a worship space every week, we can’t survive very long if everyone isn’t willing to do some basic menial labor. EVERYONE! Well, maybe not guests. But everyone else. No Tekoite nobles allowed here at SCC.
Here’s the good news, we’ve been compiling a list of people who serve in some way at SCC. Our list includes 94 people. 94 people! Wow! That’s way over the 80/20 rule. But what percentage is it? In December we had 148 individuals who came at least once. So we’ve got a 94/148 rule. 63%. That’s really pretty incredible. But where are the other 54 people? Are you Tekoite nobles? What’s keeping you from chipping in some way and helping around here?
80% of What You Do Is Hidden and 20% Is Seen
The Good – Worship is all about hidden excellence. If you go to a gothic cathedral you will most likely be told about the artisans who crafted the cathedral. Often times, they took such pride in their work and saw it so much as an act of worship, that they carved stones on pillars that were hidden back against a wall. No one would ever see their work. No one except God. A lot of what happens around here will never be seen by anyone except you and God. We read in Nehemiah that “above the Horse Gate the priests made repairs, each one opposite his own house” (3:28 NLT). “Opposite his own house” means that it wasn’t in the public square. The work they were doing wasn’t out where everyone would see it. It was likely that the people who would see it the most would be themselves. It takes a kind of internal motivation to desire to be faithful to God to take this kind of hidden action.
Now I do get to see a lot more hidden excellence than the average person around here because I’m here a lot. I’m sure there are things that people do that I don’t see, but I see a lot. I see people making sure that a curtain is set up just right. I see people picking up some trash on the floor. I see people counting the offering in a hidden room in the back. I see people practicing their music so that they get better. I see people staying after everyone else is gone sweeping up the floor. I see people running all over town to find some prop so that we can be creative in our worship set. I see people reading their Bibles and praying daily so that they are walking the talk. I see people calling one another to offer support and encouragement in a time of crisis. So much of what happens around here will never be seen by anyone else.
The Bad – While much of what we do will always be hidden, it is also easy to become discouraged because we feel like our contribution isn’t appreciated. I’m afraid that I’m sometimes slow on showing appreciation. We all are a little dense sometimes like that. And it’s normal to need to feel appreciated. Yes, we are appreciated by God who sees all our hidden excellence, but we’re also humans and need the human touch. When we show one another appreciation, we are acting as the voice of God in that moment. We are making vocal what is only experienced spiritually.
The Ugly – 80% of what we do will be hidden from most others. This has an ugly side to it. Like I said, we’re human, and sometimes we make assumptions based only on the 20% that is seen. We get upset at the church because we think something isn’t happening, when in reality it is happening, it is just happening behind the scenes. Or we get frustrated because we think people aren’t chipping in and pulling their weight, when in reality, they are doing so, they’re just doing it when no one is looking. When it comes to me, you all know that I only work one day of the week, Sunday morning. Right? Well, Sunday morning is about 20% of my time, but is 80% of the time I spend with 80% of the people in our church. Let’s not rush to assumptions based on only what we see. Go talk to someone. Ask some questions. Seek out some answers. Look for the moments of hidden excellence.
80% of Your Work Will Be Planting and 20% Will Be Fruit
If you jump back a chapter in Nehemiah you will find the story of how Nehemiah got to this point of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. We read:
I also said to the king, “If it please Your Majesty, give me letters to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah. And please send a letter to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber. I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.” And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.
Nehemiah 2:7-8 NLT
Notice how much work Nehemiah has to do to get to the point of what he really wants to do. Nehemiah had to acquire all the right letters and approvals. Then he had to move from Babylon to Jerusalem. If you keep reading you’ll see that he also had to overcome opposition. Not everyone liked his plan. There’s a ton of planning that has to be done for any kind of work or ministry. 80% of your work will be planting and only 20% will be harvesting fruit.
The Good – Sometimes we can become impatient, but the 80/20 rule reminds us that it’s OK to wait. You don’t have to have fruit right now. In fact, don’t expect continual fruit. Don’t expect to never fail. It’s OK to experiment. In fact, experimentation and failure are key parts of growing and improving toward excellence. There is something that social scientists call the “OK plateau.” It is a point that you come to where you’re good enough at whatever you’re doing that you don’t really need to get any better to do your daily work. You’re OK, and you’re OK with being OK. But if you want to excel and get off the OK plateau, then there’s something you have to be willing to do: fail. Experimentation and planned failure are the key to getting off the OK plateau. In other words, you won’t always excel. You won’t always improve. You won’t always bear fruit. 80% of what you do will be building you up to that point where you do excel. But only 20% of the time will be seeing fruit. Don’t get discouraged.
The Bad – The problem is that we do often get discouraged. We give up too quickly. The 80/20 rule shows that excellence requires patience and perseverance, something that few of us really have. But how do you improve your patience and perseverance? Practice. Fail. Practice. Fail. Practice. Fail. Practice. Patience…
The Ugly – Here’s the ugly truth, some of us don’t show any fruit but keep doing the same things. We’ve been living life the same way, doing the same thing over and over and over again. No change. No fruit. No change. No fruit. SCC seeks to be the kind of church that doesn’t just keep doing the same thing even if it isn’t working. We’re willing to stop doing some things and try doing other things. Are you willing to do the same thing?
80% of Your Time Should Be Spent on Your Passion/Purpose/Calling and 20% on “Housecleaning”
The Good – Everyone has to do some housecleaning. It keeps you humble. We’ve got a schedule for cleaning the bathroom in the office. Every one of the staff is on the schedule. I don’t get a bye just because I’m the pastor, although I’ve tried. Nope. Maybe some day when you’re super rich, you can hire out all the housecleaning, but even then I’d suggest that you’d be doing yourself a disservice. It is good for the soul for each of us to get our hands dirty cleaning the toilets from time to time.
Did you notice all the different kinds of people who helped rebuild the wall of Jerusalem? We read, “Next to them Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs” (Nehemiah 3:8 NLT). I love that verse. The perfumers were helping rebuild the wall! I imagine perfumers as hoighty toighty kind of people. You know, the kind of people who really don’t want to get their hands dirty. But here they are helping out rebuilding the wall just like everyone else.
The Bad – Sometimes though we can end up in a corner where we’re spending 80% of our time on housecleaning and 20% on our calling. This is a recipe for disaster. God has given each of us talents to use, and when we end up only using the talents 20% of the time, it’s like we’re burying them. Don’t fall into this trap.
The Ugly – There is an ugly side to this aspect of the 80/20 rule. 20% of us spend our time in our passion, purpose, and calling while 80% stumble along blindly like robots stuck in a rut. We are stuck in a rut just doing the same old thing that we’ve become used to doing. We’re not willing to take risks to try new things. We found it difficult to seek God’s calling so we gave up a long time ago. Are you stuck not having any clue what you’re called to do? Then seek out the counsel of others around you. Read books. Go to conferences. Pray. Read your Bible. Don’t waste the time and talents that God has entrusted you with.
The 80/20 rule has a lot of good, bad, and ugly about it. So let me review briefly:
20% of the people do 80% of the work. That’s OK if the other 80% are living as missionaries in the community.
80% of what you do will be hidden while only 20% will be seen.
80% of your work will be planting and only 20% will be harvesting fruit.
80% of your time should be spent on calling/passion/purpose, but 20% will always have to be house cleaning.
1 Key Leader – Nehemiah
There is one thing that the 80/20 rule leaves out, the importance of leadership. This might be called the 99/1 rule. For anything worthwhile to get done, it always requires a leader. Rarely if ever do we see God working through a committee in the Bible. God seems to call a leader and equip them with a vision to lead to a particular place. Abraham led his family from Ur to Palestine. Joseph led the entire nation of Egypt to prepare for a famine. Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Joshua led the people into the promised land. Deborah led the people by acting as a judge. Esther saved the Hebrews by talking to the king. Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem so that the city could thrive again.
Then I said to them [the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest], “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” I told them that the hand of my God had been gracious upon me, and also the words that the king had spoken to me.
Nehemiah 2:17-18a NRSV
God calls individuals to lead his people to where God wants them to go. Are some of you this morning called to be leaders? Not just someone who shows up and does their own thing, but someone who is willing to work through the messiness of working with people. Remember, the people always wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt! Are some of you called to consider being a leader of leaders? To be a pastor/leader? For Sycamore Creek Church to move deeper into God’s purposes, it will take leaders.
100% (almost) Helped
But it won’t just take leaders. It will take everyone too. When I read the story of the rebuilding of the wall, I’m struck by how many people really did join in. Almost 100% helped. (There were those stubborn Tekoite nobles!) Could Nehemiah have rebuilt the wall by himself? No way. Nehemiah couldn’t do it alone. Call this the 100 rule.
Next week when we gather you’ll have the opportunity to make a commitment to serve here at SCC. We’ll be passing out a sheet that has all the ministries listed on it. We’ll give you some time to prayerfully reflect upon this list. Then you’ll circle the ones that you’re interested in. This doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically be serving or that you’re making a final commitment to that area of service. What it will mean is that you’re committing to entering into a conversation about that area of ministry and how you might serve there.
To help you prepare for that, we’re encouraging everyone to take an online spiritual gifts inventory. There are actually four inventories on this website: a personality inventory, a leadership style inventory, a spiritual gifts inventory, and a skills inventory. You can find that inventory at http://www.assessme.org/2364.aspx. The best way to engage this online inventory is to take it and then discuss it with someone else. Our small groups have been discussing them, and if you’re not in a small group then join one! But short of that, talk it over with someone who knows you well.
Next week let’s shoot for a new 80/20 rule: 80% of SCC will be committed to serving in some way.
God, give each of us a deep commitment to serve in some way using our time and talents. Help us to know where to serve in a way that you can use us most to touch the lives of others. In Jesus’ name, amen.Share on Facebook