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Podcast: Workers, Watchers, Wanderers, & Women (LifeLift #22)

lifelift podcast Jul 07, 2020

In every church there are at least three groups of people. I mean, yes, you could potentially categorize people an indefinite number of ways, but there are three subsets I want to review. In every church you’ll find: 

  • Workers = people who get things done
  • Watchers = people who are present and observe others getting things done
  • Wanderers = people who are in and out, people who don’t do much more than simply meander their way around

We’ll begin our convo discussing the workers.

(In the next talk I’ll discuss another way to view this first group. There’s a beautiful tension that resides there. We don’t want workers to simply work for the sake of the work itself; we want them to serve as overflow of something greater, something deeper.)


The theory

I first heard about the “80/20” concept in college. A business professor introduced our class to the “Pareto Principle.” In the 19th Century, a man named Pareto created a math model which explained income distribution in Italy: 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people.

Several decades later, Joseph Juran (a German engineer in the 1930s) built on Pareto’s work. By the way, Pareto never named his theory on land distribution after himself. We’re confident that he originated the concept, though, because Juran references the theory in his Quality Control Handbook, crediting Pareto for the 80/20 observation.

Juran took Pareto’s observation farther. He said the same theory Pareto used to describe land ownership (and, subsequently, wealth distribution) could be applied to management salaries as well as most other issues in factories. He studied industrial processes, noting what he referred to as “the vital few and the trivial many.”  

In just about every area of life, there are a few things that generate the greatest results, and there are— equally— a few things that cause the most headaches. He said, quite simply, some things matter more than others. All efforts aren’t created equal.

The argument is that: 

  • 20% of your efforts generate 80% of your results
  • 80% of your efforts generate 20% of your results

Let me provide you example of the “trivial many and vital few" in action and show you how this works. A few years ago I read Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Workweek. Now, Tim works more than four hours— that’s not his point. His point is, however, that we can eliminate “the fluff stuff" (the extra tasks that create negative energy— or even benefit our lives only incrementally) so that we can focus on the things that matter the most. In other words, focus on that 20% that generates the majority of the results and forget about 80% which generates the minority. 

In the book he writes about his experience of feeling overworked in a printing business he owned. If you ran into him in a coffee shop in those days, he would have had the customary answer to the “How are you doing?” question… 

“Busy. I’m too busy…”

He took immediate action. He reviewed his portfolio and noticed he had 120 active clients at his business. He analyzed each of them, simply looking at the data for information and underlying patterns.

He noticed the following trends:

  • 5  customers were responsible for 95% of his revenue, but
  • 98% of his time was spent chasing the other 115 clients, and
  • 2 clients were clearly causing most of his anxiety and customer service issues

Something had to give. 


Workers— 20%

That summer I completed my internship during seminary I heard similar stats over and over— across several contexts. But I didn’t hear them in relationship to economic distribution, to manufacturing processes, or  even to client bases. I heard them in relationship to how invested church members were in their local congregation. 

“20% of the people do 80% of the work around here,” one pastor told me.

Then another added— “80% of the people don’t do anything.”

And, “The vast majority of the money that funds our budget is given by 20% of the people.”

“Maybe they're rich,” I replied. “Maybe that’s throwing the numbers off.”

“No. Only 20% of the people actually give anything at all.”

Now, I saw several thriving churches— incredible places where it looked like, obviously, more people were contributing in terms of both their time and their treasure. Turns out, I was wrong. Even in those places, the numbers were eerily the same. 20% of the people did 80% of the heavy lifting. 

All that said, we want more workers. But, we want workers who serve from the right place, workers who serve as on overflow of their identity rather than as an attempt to create one. That’s why we began  discussing the topic of “who we are” in part 1 of this book. Identity is foundational. 

Look here…

Paul had some serious worker credentials. He recounts them in 2 Corinthians 11:21-29 ESV). 

… whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

Are they Hebrews? 

So am I. 

Are they Israelites? 

So am I. 

Are they offspring of Abraham? 

So am I. 

Are they servants of Christ? 

I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 

And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

He provides us with additional qualifications in Philippians 3:4-7 (NKJV)

I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.

Notice, though. Paul doesn’t rest on these credentials. He places nothing on his ability to work.

Paul concludes that he counts all of these things as loss in order “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection” (3:10 NKJV).

This mirrors what Jesus said in the Upper Room, that eternal life isn’t just about existing beyond our physical death. It’s more relational than that. He specified, “This is eternal life… that they may know You” (John 17:3). That said, workers need to be encouraged to work as an overflow of knowing Jesus.


The women

Now, it’s easy to look at the “workers,” agree with Paul, and say something like, “Yeah, but we don’t just want people working…” It’s easy to focus on our performance rather than the Presence. 

In fact, you might even have the story of Mary and Martha at the forefront of your mind right now. 

Remember their tale? 

The sisters were two of Jesus’ closest friends. One day, He visited their home. Here’s how Luke records it (10:38-42 ESV):

Now as they went on their way, Jesusd entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 

And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 

But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

I’ve heard this story preached dozens of times. The inference is always that Mary did a great job and Martha completely missed it. 

But let me show you a few things. They’re completely related to where we’ve been in this chapter, as well as where we want to go in the next.

First, it’s Martha’s house (10:38). Don’t miss the significance of that. Sure, she could have paid more attention to Jesus. But cut her some slack. The reality is that someone must fund the ministry we do. Someone has to organize it. Someone has to provide a place for the  magic to happen. The Lord honors— and calls— people to do just that. 

Second, Martha has “a moment” in this episode for sure, but she exhibits an astronomical high faith-quotient. She clearly asks Jesus to correct Mary (10:40). Later in their story, though, when their brother Lazarus dies, Martha is the one who first confesses that Jesus could have stopped Lazarus from dying and that He can still resurrect him in that moment (John 11:21f.). It makes you wonder if Martha’s faith was responsible for that miracle in the same way that the centurion’s “great faith” was responsible for his servant’s healing (Matthew 8:5-13) and the friends’ faith was responsible for the paralytic’s who was lowered through the roof (Mark 2:5).

That said, there is something powerful we learn from Mary, too. Quite simply, she sat at Jesus’ feet (see Luke 10:39). 

Now, don’t interpret this to mean that “Martha ran around but Mary sat down and paid attention.” No, Luke shows us something far more powerful in this passage. 

“To sit” at a rabbi’s feet meant that you were accepted by them as a student. Paul was “educated at the feet of Gamiliel,” for instance (Acts 22:3). Gamiliel was the famous rabbi who exhorted the Jewish tribunal not to sentence the apostles to death (Acts 5:34). In other words, Luke communicates to us that Mary was accepted by Jesus as a student in whom He would invest His time and focused teaching. And, back then, recall, students didn’t choose their rabbi— their rabbi chose them. 

Martha is the one who rushed to greet Jesus when came to visit after Lazarus’ death. Mary remained in the house. When Martha stepped inside to let Mary know Jesus had arrived, she said, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you” (John 11:28). Whereas most peopled called Him Master or Lord, these two had a unique rabbi-student relationship. 

It seems that both of these women were spiritual powerhouses with different created designs. (Think back to the birthday cake example in chapter 14— and consider how each of these ladies would have responded!)

In accepting these two women as students, Jesus flipped the cultural script upside down. In fact, John also goes out of his way to let us know— in the shortest verse in the entire Bible— that “Jesus wept” (11:35). In that culture, weeping was “women’s work” and learning would have, typically, been a man’s. 

Paul topsey-turvied the cultural script, too. He embraced women as co-laborers with him (Romans 16:3-4), and he acknowledged some as apostles and deacons (see Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2).

As well, Paul mentions Priscilla’s name before her husband Aquila’s in four of the six times they are mentioned, denoting her importance. In the ancient world, the order in which you referenced names often marked who contributed the most or held the lead position in a project (see Acts 18:36). Even if Paul isn’t making that argument in this passage where he relays that this couple taught Apollos, the indisputable reality is this: a woman taught a man. 

Now, some refer to Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 2:11 that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission” as proof that women should be silenced. That’s a stretch.

First, everyone— even men— were encouraged to learn “in quietness and submission.” Students deferred to their rabbi. Period. In fact, we learned that it’s God’s will that we all submit in chapter 12 of this book.

Second, Paul— and everyone who read that letter— would have realized the he had a different emphasis than “quietness and submission.” Paul declared that women should learn.


Because they, too, were called to be disciples of Jesus and were empowered to serve in leadership and in every other area of the church. Throughout 1 Corinthians 12-14, his longest exposition on the spiritual gifts, Paul assumes repeatedly that women will prophesy and participate in the full expression of the body of Christ.

In fact, women actually funded Jesus ministry (Luke 8:1-3). They stood with Him at the Cross, as the men fled for their lives (John 19:25). And, of course, they discovered the empty tomb (Mark 16:1).

Here’s my point. A lot of times when we discuss workers we automatically look at the men. We think we need more of them. And we do.

But we need more women, too. For years the church has squashed the gifts and calling of women in ways the Scripture doesn’t. 

Are men and women different? 


Do we have different roles? 


Are those roles as tidy and rigid as we’ve made them? 

Probably not.

I fly a lot. Several times a year, I walk the the jetway that carries me over the tarmac and I board an airplane. 

The planes are all different. Some have newer seats, some have small television monitors for each seat, some have USB ports to charge your phones. I’ve been on a few that have full-blown electrical outlets for laptops, as well as full service WiFi. I’ve flown first class, business class, and coach. I’m always happy when I see more amenities, but I never jump off the plane if I don’t see them.  

I’ll tell you one that which would cause to me to remove myself from the plane, though. Here it is: if I board a jet and discover it only has one wing, I’m off. No questions asked. 

I know, that seems obvious doesn’t it? 

You’d jump off, too. You see, you and I both know that regardless of how incredible the plane looks, and regardless of how skilled our pilot may be, if the plane only has one wing… well… it’s not going anywhere. 

(I mean, it’s nonsensical to think an airline company might toss a plane with only one wing onto the tarmac and start selling tickets.)

Now, make a small leap with me. 

In each church we have men and women. That is, we have a “man wing” and a "woman wing.” The wings are different. In fact, a lot of ink has been spilled about just how different those wings are— or aren’t— depending on where you land theologically. My purpose in this book isn’t to answer all of those questions as to the precise role women should play in your church. That’s up to you to decide, using the Scripture and the Holy Spirit and the others in the body as your guide. 

My purpose is to say, “Hey, you need to really figure out how to make the most of both wings. There are a lot of gifted and highly skilled daughters of the King who could really help out here. They should be encouraged, equipped, and empowered to do so.”

You’ll grow that 20% by inviting the 50% of the women who are in your church to join those ranks— and by encouraging them to do so in the full boldness and beauty of who they’re designed to be.

That said, as a church or ministry leader, it’s tempting to focus on that 20%. We can’t do that, though. Let’s look at the next group and talk about why.


Watchers— 30%

That summer I traveled throughout the state I asked a few pastors, “How many people show up and don’t do anything?”

“Well, half of the people on the church roll hardly show at all,” some said.

I did the quick math aloud. “If 20% work, and 50% never come, that leaves 30%. So you’re telling me that 30% of your people just watch everything play out…?”

“That sounds about right.”

I know. My numbers are non-scientific. I didn’t do the work that Pareto and Juran did. I simply visited about 100 churches, asked a few questions, and wrote down what I heard.

One pastor quipped, “The FBI couldn’t find the other 50%.”

Anyway, what I heard and then wrote down seems remarkably similar everywhere I go. 20% percent of the people work; 30% precent watch.

I think some people watch because they don’t know they’re gifted. Or  they think their contribution doesn’t matter. In the same way Peter needed someone to call forth his destiny, many watchers need to be reminded that the gifts and calling of the Spirit are for everyone.

They need to be reminded of truths like— 

  • 1 Corinthians 12:7,11 tells us, “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills.”
  • Romans 12:5-6 reminds us, “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ…let us use them.”
  • Ephesians 4:7 declares, “Grace was given to each one of us.”
  • 1 Peter 4:10 confirms, “Each one has received a gift.”

As well, many watchers need to be shown that spiritual gifts are not always sensational or centerstage. They’re supernatural, but they’re not always flashy. In the same way that some parts of our human bodies are rarely shown to others— or are only revealed in the most  sacred places— the most honored and revered gifts may never be seen (1 Corinthians 12:23-24). 

Let me show you what I mean…

Jesus’ first miracle occurred at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. While He was there, the new couple ran out of wine. This would have been easy to do, as weddings in that culture were multiple day affairs. 

But it was a problem. The party needed to continue. Especially since marriage is the metaphor Christ chose— or perhaps even created— to denote His relationship to the church (see Ephesians 5:25f., Revelation 21:2f.).

Mary sought Jesus’ help (John 2:2f.). He informed her that it wasn’t yet time to reveal Himself, but she persisted. She told the servants to do whatever He asked of them, effectively ignoring His suggestion that He wait to reveal Himself later. 

When the servants looked to Jesus for direction, He asked them to fill six large pots with water (20-30 gallons each), and then take a sample to the master of the feast (i.e., the caterer). They did, and were told this was the best wine of the entire celebration (2:10).

Customarily, most people served the best wine first, bringing the lesser quality drinks out when people were too tipsy to tell the difference. The caterer assumed the groom intentionally broke convention and held the good wine until the end. This shows us that not even he the man organizing the flow of food knew where the wine really originated. 

In fact, only a few people knew.

  • Mary knew, as she set the entire miracle into motion with her bold request—by graciously pushing her Son into a corner (2:3)
  • A handful of servants knew, as they drew the water and then took the wine to the caterer (2:9)
  • The disciples knew, as this provided them with a unique glimpse at Jesus’ power and humility (2:11)

But no one else had any idea. The gift blessed everyone, even if they were clueless that it even occurred. 

Grasp that. The majority of the people were oblivious to the miracle they enjoyed!

That’s how many of the gifts operate. People see the effects of them, that is, they see the fruit, but they might not see the work which generates it. 

Or, the gift is used and enhances someone else’s gift. Rather than drawing attention to the gifted person, it exponentially increases the capacity of another.

When I was in college, I wrote and performed a play with two other guys my age. We never even thought about using lights, background music, or even sound effects. I wrote the script to allow for a simple stage.

Two men in our church, Roger and Art, felt I should give it a second thought. Roger was a tech-genius who could run any kind of light system or manage any type of soundboard; Art was a studio-caliber musician. The two of them sat in on our final dress rehearsal, asked if they could take some creative license to assist, and then ran with it. Since I trusted each of them, I was happy to let them take artistic control of those two domains. 

The result was this: everyone thought me, Michael, and Phillip— my two partners on that project— were fabulous. At the same time, they hardly noticed Roger and Art (which is the way each of those men wanted it), because their gifts served to enhance ours.

Why did everyone think the guys onstage we great? 

Because Art and Roger made us look that way. They made awkward transitions entertaining, they highlighted the right things onstage and hid the unnecessary movements that might have been distracting, and we looked better for it. They were the “hidden parts” Paul writes about, the parts that deserve greater honor and esteem (1 Corinthians 12:23-24).  All that to say this: some watchers in the church remain sidelined because they don’t see that some of the most powerful ministry happens behind the scenes. 

There are a few others reasons people “watch,” too.

First, some people watch because life takes them there. New babies, moves, aging parents, illness, issues with children, and job transitions are just a few of the things that might necessitate stepping back from ministry and leaning into the other stuff of life. 

I’ve been there. During one season our family faced the biggest crisis we’d experienced to date. 

My solution? 

Cease all extra activities— including sports, small groups, and volunteer service— and rally together as a family during those moments. We still attended church on Sundays, but that’s all we did.

And sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do. Ministry can wait. 

Second, some people watch because they drift there. A necessary break might have taken them “out” of service, but they eventually find themselves more disconnected. Without an intentional trigger to step back into the game, many continue warming the bench.

Third, some people watch because they lack courage. Some people know their gifts, they understand their calling, and they have a clear sense of where they should serve. But, they still don’t. 

They might linger in the background because they're afraid of stepping forward, of putting themselves out there. Face it. When you register, sign up, or enlist, you face the prospect of being rejected. Then, when you serve, you open yourself to receiving feedback from others— like we discussed when we review the five “F” questions at the end of chapter 19. 

Fourth, some people watch because they accept that as their position. That is, they choose it. They might decide their best days of service are behind them, they might lack motivation to move back towards ministry after taking a necessary season off, or they might have drifted and feel unsure how to stop that slide away from the life they want. We’ll discuss how to reach these people in a moment. 

Fifth, finally, some people watch because— let’s just admit it— they lack commitment. They’ve not “bought in.” 

Now, it’s easy to blame them. In fact, it’s easy to get frustrated with the watchers. Many of them don’t simply watch; they complain. And they all consume. 

Paul exhorts us to look at watchers through our spiritual eyes, though. He tells us that it’s OK to address them, as long as we do so— as is the case with all of the gifts— from a position of love and patience.  

He describes the watchers at the church in Thessalonica and writes, “We urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 NIV).

Like we learned in talk 7, the context for everything is love. If we can’t minister in such a way that people feel loved (even when correcting them), we’ve got to step back and make sure we have all of the information available and that we’re truly serving them from the Spirit rather than our flesh or our frustration. 

That means we need to understand why they’re watching. 

  • Has “life happened” in such a way that they need to be served during this season? 

(When my family found ourselves in crisis mode, our non-churched friends supported us in droves. The church… was strangely silent.)

  • Have they declined or drifted away? 

(Perhaps there’s hurt or misunderstanding somewhere, a bridge that needs to be rebuilt.)

  • Are they afraid of serving? Do they just need someone to believe in them?
  • Has the watcher just chosen and accepted the “watch” position as their plight? In other words, do they need someone to call forth the greatness that’s inside them?
  • Do they lack commitment?

Each situation is different. 


Wanderers— 50%

About thirty years ago, I overheard a stat from Billy Graham. He was preaching at a televised crusade. He esteemed that about half of the people who claimed to attend any given church were actually lost. That is, they didn’t live in redemptive relationship with their Heavenly Father.  

Remember the strange statement that pastor made: “We have a lot of church members,” he said, "but the FBI couldn’t find half of them.” 

Then there was the couple for whom I officiated a wedding back in 2004. When I asked where they attended church, the bride said, “We’re Chreasters.”

“Chreaster? What’s a Chreaster?” I asked. 

The groom laughed and replied, “Christmas and Easter. We attend on Christmas and Easter.”

These Chreasters— or whatever you call them— comprise about 50% of the people who are connected to any given church. They call that church their home, meaning that’s where they’ll go if they need to get married or buried at any time between Christmas or Easter. 

But they’re not really involved. In fact, you and I may look at their life patterns and say that, clearly, they’re not connected to a church at all.

It’s easy to get frustrated with this group, too. However, let me make an observation: Aside from investing in a handful of workers, this is the group with whom Jesus invested the majority of His time. In fact, in the next chapter, I’ll show you what happened when a few hardcore workers confronted Him one day about His rationale for doing so.

For now, think about our three groups like this.

  • Our workers are growing Christians 
  • Our watchers are nominal or new Christians
  • Our wanderers are most likely non-Christians

We should see all three groups in every church. Not only do we want to create such an environment of love and acceptance that these people are drawn to the church, we want to walk in relationship with them so that we have the proximity required to call for the the greatness that’s inside them.

If you don’t see all three groups in your congregation, you can make an easy diagnosis as to what’s occurring: 

  • If you don’t have workers, you’re not discipling people. You might be imparting information to them, but Biblical Christianity is more about the application of the information and translating what we know in our heads to what connects with our hearts and what we do with our hands. One of the biggest parts of discipleship includes empowering people to live their purpose. 
  • If you don’t have wanderers, you’re not doing evangelism. You might believe in the idea of evangelism, and you might have people who share their faith in the marketplace or at other scheduled times. True evangelism, though, connects people to Jesus and His body— even before they make a confession of faith.
  • If you don’t have watchers, you don’t have a pipeline in place where people are moving from one aspect of their faith journey to another. Not only do workers sometimes step back and become watchers, but wanderers sometimes move in closer to get a better look. 


What do I want you to take away from this talk? 

Quite simply this. Embrace each of these people and love them where they are. But love them enough to lead them just a little bit farther, to come in closer, and to experience the fullness of life.

  • Imagine what would happen if in each church just a few watchers became workers? 
  • And then a few wanderers moved close enough to watch? 
  • And if a few more people who weren’t connected at all suddenly began wandering in relationship, feeling safe to explore and ask the tough questions of life? 

Sounds messy, doesn’t it? 

In the next talk, we’ll work through one of the most famous stories in the entire Bible and make a few observations about how to get it right. 

I want to help you see something like you’ve never seen it before. This has everything to do with how workers— people like me and you— should view the watchers and the wanderers.

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