Confession: I am not a giver. I am a self-absorbed taker. On occasion, I may appear generous or thoughtful, but in my heart I know the truth, especially when compared to so many of my selfless friends and relatives.

Living in the shadow of their examples, and acutely feeling the difference between us, I have often been stirred out of complacency to follow where they lead. After more than 20 years, they still show me how to give, serve, and love more generously, to say yes when I’d rather say no, and to step out when safety and comfort beckon me home.

I would never have grown or risked much without walking in their sizeable footprints. But their quick response to nearly every need has also had the opposite effect, allowing me to remain on the sidelines, unneeded and unengaged.

An often quoted statistic says that in many environments, 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. I believe it. I know and love the 20%. They are always happy to help, incredibly loyal, and excessively generous.

I am ashamed to admit: I am not one of them. I may be rationalizing my own behavior when I wonder if perhaps it would be better (for them and for me) if the 20% would help a little less.

Measuring Results

In the Christian circles where I hang out, serving and giving is highly encouraged. In many places the Bible tells us to give generously without seeking a return or reward. Bestsellers like Francis Chan’s Crazy Love and David Platt’s Radical teach us to turn from self-centered comfort and live generous, other-centered lives.

Those messages land with conviction and drive both the 80% and the 20% to act. But there’s another message.

This one is found in books like Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts, or in the documentary Poverty, Inc. In some situations, radical generosity discourages or demeans those on the receiving end, raising barriers rather than tearing them down.

A great deal can (and should) be done to help those in need, especially after disaster strikes, but in some cases, well intended help may also hurt.

Staying Healthy – The 20%

The health benefits of serving others are well documented: increasing self-worth, decreasing stress, and easing mild depression.

It does wonders for the soul to feel like you are needed, to know you have helped, and to be repaid for your time with a heartfelt hug or smile. The camaraderie and joy of working together with a team toward an honorable goal is powerful medicine.

Yet, I’ve also watched some of the 20% suffer physically the unintended consequences of being overcommitted. An excessively full calendar will eventually wear you down, even if it’s filled with good things.

Watching precious friends struggle with anxiety, stress, and a lack of time to take proper care of themselves makes me wish they would say no a little more often.

Scripture teaches us not to compromise our physical bodies, and it reveals the example of Jesus who did not heal everyone, who knew the value of taking personal time away from a demanding crowd, and who brought his disciples to a remote area for rest.

Your health and the outcome of your service are real issues to consider, but wait, there’s more!

Finding Volunteers – The 80%

When we recently shifted our attendance to a different church, I saw this same issue from a new perspective. I was no longer tight with the 20% who were fully connected. In this environment I could not step in or out of commitment on their shirttails, as if I were skating between the 19.9 and 20.1 percentile.

I tried to find unmet needs and volunteer, but for a while, I couldn’t get in. From the outside, it seemed as though all the needs of the church were met. As if they needed no volunteers! If true, it would indeed be amazing.

What I now know, and see through different eyes, is that it is not true. The church has needs, but the 20% are so quick to volunteer that those in charge rarely need to look further to fill the roster. I see the same faces leading and serving in many different areas.

I wonder how they balance all their commitments, and I wonder how many others are on the outside looking in as I did? How many want to serve, are ready to grow, learn, and give, but don’t get the chance because there doesn’t seem to be a need?

Finding Balance

I’m not a classic giver like many of my friends. I am rarely the first to volunteer. I’m happy to help, but unlikely to steal your spot if you want it more than I do, and I know I am not the only one. Perhaps we can work on this dilemma from both sides.

To the 20%: I am eternally grateful for your influence on my life, and for all the good that you tirelessly accomplish. As L’oreal used to say: You’re worth it! Get some rest, take care of yourself, lower your stress level and your workload, and sit on your hands once in a while. Give me, and the others like me a chance to grow up in your shadow.

To the 80%: Let’s rise up and step in a little more quickly! Actively look for and commit to serve somewhere consistently. Don’t wait to be asked. Get your fair share of the hugs and other benefits, and relieve the burdens that weigh so heavily on the other guys.

In a perfect world, this 80/20 split would not exist. We are far from perfect, but I believe in both of you, your hearts are good, but your habits (and mine) could use a little tweaking.

If you want to make these changes, but don’t know how, call me. It’s one of the ways that I like to help.