Perhaps you’ve heard of the Pareto principle, also called the 80/20 rule. It states that “roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” In business, 20% of clients purchase 80% of your sales. In personal productivity (think GTD), 20% of your tasks accomplish 80% of your most important work. In a church, usually 20% of the flock do and give 80% of the work and budget.
I want to introduce the Progressive principle as a twist on Pareto’s observations. I’m calling it the Progressive principle after the car insurance company that markets itself by comparison. Comparing quotes on car insurance is fine but the Progressive principle is not.
We Westerners are a people of comparison, not only as consumers who compare products, but also as those who compare people by the products they consume, or by the position they hold, or how attractive they are. The Progressive principle is that we usually spend 80% of our time comparing ourselves with the 20% who, we believe, have it better than us.
We only spend roughly 20% of our time comparing ourselves with the 80% who have less than we do, who are in more pain than we are, who have endured much worse than we have. (If we added those who lived before the year 1900, without all the things we take for granted today, the percentage would obviously be even higher.)
Why do we compare at all? Why do we usually compare in order to make our situation seem awful? Perhaps because complaining gives us a sense of control that we don’t have over our situation. Plus, sin always wants what it doesn’t have. And thankfulness is only easy for those who submit to God’s sovereignty.
If I’ve overstated the principle, or if you think it’s too general to be useful, I would still ask how many times do your comparisons lead you to thank God? And if your comparisons have ever lead you to grumble against God, have you asked Him to forgive you for that?
Both Peter and Paul charged elders to shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28). The title “pastor” comes from the Latin word pastor which means “shepherd.” Pastors must take special care in their work because of the cost for this flock.
The Chief Shepherd is also the lamb. We “were ransomed from the futile way inherited from our forefathers…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). And Paul told the Ephesian elders:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Pastors are not owners, they are stewards of precious people. The people are precious because of the purchase price: the blood of Christ. So elders must be careful. They must be eager examples not domineering.
This challenges not only the attitude of bossy shepherds who are motivated by their authority, and it should also uplift every sheep. You were bought at the highest price. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for You. You were sinful before His purchase. You are special now because of it. So don’t be pushed around. Don’t be discouraged. You are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:7).
Do you know someone who is all cloud and no rain? A man who is big promise, no delivery? A lady of great declaration but zero reliability? Do you have a “friend” who always has time on his calendar for you but whose watch regularly yet mysteriously stops working the final fifteen minutes before the work party starts? A person who recites the refrain, “You can count on me” then takes the other side as soon as the numbers turn against you?
This character is the older, bolder brother of Bunyan’s Talkative. His name is Mr. Pomp-and-confidence, also known by his rap name, Alwayz-B-Tru (“z” and no “e”s). But that’s just the thing: his pledges of loyalty are never true, or at least not when tested. His bark bites those who depended on him worse.
The apostle Peter went through a season like this. He claimed that even if all the other disciples abandoned Jesus, he never would (Matthew 26;34). Then he denied Christ three times. Solomon wrote proverbially (20:6) about this sort of man: “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” Good luck.
The danger is not mainly in making assertions, it is in making proud assertions. When we hold too high of an opinion about our own strength then we are headed for a fall. Those who stay faithful, those whose words can be trusted, are those who humbly recognize their weaknesses and depend on the Lord.