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The 80/20 Gap

Ann Murphy

In the space between what you need and what you have in ministry, faith finds room to grow.

Let's imagine that God has called your children's ministry team to establish a preschool co-op for the fall that'll nurture young children and equip parents to effectively guide the spiritual development of their family. That's a good thing!

On August 15, with the scheduled opening two weeks away, you have an excellent preschool staff in place (except for one teacher), rich classroom environments (except for blocks and one more table), and a committed behind-the-scenes team (except the Web site specialist who just got transferred out of state).

Welcome to the 80/20 Gap.

You have a choice: Rebel against the gap of not having everything you need, allow it to wear you down and stay in safe stagnant places, or approach the 80/20 Gap with a combination of humility and confidence.

It's possible to genuinely seek excellence rather than comfort if you embrace the gap and celebrate the gap. The following are snippets I've learned through a journey of five years as a children's ministry leader in a healthy, growing church.

Embrace the Gap

What's the 80/20 Gap? It's the distance between the resources we define to be required to support an area of ministry (100%) and the actual resources we work with (80%). The 80/20 Gap is a fact of life in this world. For all of us, when time, volunteers, or funds fall short of our stated needs, God calls us to step out in bold ways.

What the Gap Is Not
As a leader in children's ministry, the 80/20 Gap is not "your burden to bear." It's not bridged by making volunteer ministry "fun" enough or by your sparkling personality. Although the gap is narrowed by intentionally and clearly being faithful to all the things we call ministry, you can't bridge it by producing the perfect Web site or poster, crafting the most meaningful recruiting campaign, or hosting the most touching volunteer appreciation event. The gap is not something that'll automatically disappear when either the ministry leaders and/or the church body reach some tangible measure of technical expertise or spiritual maturity. It doesn't disappear based on an effective message from the pulpit. And the gap doesn't respond well to guilt trips.

What the Gap Is
The 80/20 Gap is somehow in God's plan for our here and now. On Day 1 in heaven, children's ministry leaders may dance and sing over a volunteer schedule filled through eternity, but God hasn't ever promised that here. The truth is that our study of God's promises consistently reassures us of sustenance as we persevere. Proverbs 3:5-6 states: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." In no version of the Bible does "make your paths straight" translate to "make it a piece of cake"!

Standing in an objective, clear-sighted place outside the daily routines and demands of ministry, it's possible, even necessary, to celebrate the fruit of the 80/20 Gap. The 80/20 Gap keeps us children's ministry leaders humble; it presses us into reliance upon God; it keeps us alert; it keeps us thinking outside the box; it wards off self-sufficiency; and ultimately it leads us to connect with and value people.

Celebrate the Gap

Pray! Pray thanks, pray when you're dancing for joy, pray when you're sure, pray when you just don't know, pray when you're brought to tears, and invite the prayers of others. Pray for, with, and over your team. And listen to God!

Serve those who are serving. The heart and soul of your ministry as a leader of ministry to children is to be a faithful minister to those called to serve alongside you. God is indeed deeply concerned about bringing up our children. When we as leaders are serving God's purposes, God has planned for those purposes to be accomplished.

Let your volunteers serve you; be honest when you're weary. When we as leaders model self-sufficiency, we build walls. When leaders give voice to our honest limitations, we model unity and equality.

Listen and act on volunteers' needs and their ideas for improvement. Look for details and for big-picture inspiration. Seek written input on ministry and act on the wisdom shared by those most intimately involved in the day-to-day implementation.

Let others see your joy! Thank God for those given to your ministry. Stop and chuckle and praise God every time just the right person steps up at just the right time! Blurt out the joy that you have when you see someone so "on"-so connected to what they're doing in your shared ministry.

When you commit to step out in faith in the 80/20 Gap and accept the challenges of bringing new vision to reality, you realize that resources will be stretched and creativity and flexibility are a must. Through the 80/20 Gap, God reminds us that there are so many more layers than our Big Important Thing We Need to Get Done. God is using us to build up people; God is breaking down our pride; he is demanding authenticity and molding each one of us to be like Jesus; and God is molding a people too.

•••

God creates pictures in my heart and mind sometimes. In August, when I was breaking before a mountain of empty volunteer "slots," tempted to violate every single piece of wisdom God has provided throughout years of leadership, God painted this picture: Seated before a daunting 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, I pushed pieces in on my own, somewhat frantically, whether they fit well or not-my mind scrambling and my heart disengaged.

At that moment God stood behind me, reached around my shoulders, and placed his hands gently and firmly over mine. With each hand now held in his, God carefully placed each unique and necessary piece where it belonged.

My prayer for you, as a leader of people, is that you would know God is standing behind you, faithfully guiding the pieces of your ministry -- all 80 percent of them!


Ann Murphy is a children's minister in Eagle River, Alaska. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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