Mark #15: A Team Player
The role of the church in the world is a team effort that requires the cooperation of all the members of the body of Christ. Sometimes its members make serious mistakes, but this never means they are not needed. They may need rebuke followed by forgiveness and restoration, but we must recognize they are needed as members of the body of Christ as Paul make so clear in 1 Corinthians 12.
In the realm of sports today and even in the corporate world, we often hear the terms, team player, team effort. In football, the truly great running backs are usually quick to give credit to the effort of the whole team, especially to the linemen, because they wisely realize a running back’s ability to make yardage is dependent upon the efforts of the rest of the team. We often hear players and coaches praising members of the team as a team players. It’s a quality highly regarded because it is so valuable to the team effort.
It is teamwork that enables common men to do uncommon things.
No organization can depend on genius; the supply is always scarce and unreliable. It is the test of an organization to make ordinary human beings perform better than they seem capable of, to bring out whatever strength there is in its members, and to use each man’s strength to help all the others perform. The purpose of an organization is to enable common men to do uncommon things.137
One of the problems in the church today is its failure to function as a team. Too frequently we have situations where a few people, often very gifted, are trying to do all or most of the work. This is completely contrary to Scripture and always leads, at least eventually, to inefficiency and failure biblically speaking, even when there is apparent success. No matter how gifted or capable, the ones who think they need no one else or that they are fundamentally indispensable, are immature. No person is an island. A teamwork mentality is another one of the litmus test qualities of maturity.
The Lord Jesus Taught Teamwork
Again, as with each of the qualities we’ve discussed, the Lord Jesus always comes to the front as our perfect example and teacher. That is no less true regarding the issue of teamwork and I say that because of who He is as the God-man Savior. One might think that Jesus, of all people, would not have enlisted the help of others to accomplish the things the Father had sent Him to do. This One who could still the storms, raise the dead, heal the sick, make the blind see and the lame walk, bind the demonic, forgive sin, and even call ten thousand angels to his aid still enlisted a team of men, a small band of disciples. However, it is significant that, rather than the religious elite or hotshots of the day, the Lord selected common men that we might describe as a rather motley group. Robert Coleman described them as follows:
By any standard of sophisticated culture then and now they would surely be considered as a rather ragged aggregation of souls. On might wonder how Jesus could ever use them. They were impulsive, temperamental, easily offended, and had all the prejudices of their environment. In short, these men selected by the Lord to be his assistants represented an average cross section of the lot of society in their day. Not the kind of group one would expect to win the world for Christ.138
But with the exception of Judas, the Lord saw in these men the potential for turning the world right side up as they grew in their relationship with Him and as they would learn to work together as a team for the kingdom of God. Thus, at the very outset of His ministry Christ called a small team of twelve men to be with Him for training and to whom He also delegated responsibilities (see Mark 1:14-18; 3:13-19). Jesus’ team of disciples was hardly the epitome of success in the early part of their ministry, but after the Lord’s ascension and the coming of the Spirit of God, history demonstrates how this first-century team of men became tremendously successful as they went forth to spread the message of the gospel. They not only led people to Christ, but invested and multiplied themselves in others in a great team effort. Thus, by His very methods, the Lord Jesus illustrates the indispensable principle of teamwork and being a team player. If we are to grow, mature, and follow in His footsteps, we must learn to become team players whether leaders or followers.
Definitions and Explanations
Simply put, a team is a group organized to work together for a common goal or project. Team effort is the cooperative effort by the members of a group or team to achieve a common goal, and a team player is one who does his best to do his part in cooperation with the other members of the team. A team player does not seek to be a one-man show, but works together with his teammates and relies on their skills and abilities as he seeks to use his own abilities and gifts in a cooperative way.
From a biblical standpoint, teamwork means sharing in the biblical responsibilities based on biblical goals, values, priorities, giftedness, training, and God’s leading. This will be amplified in what follows.
The New Testament Model:
The Church, the Body of Christ
The nature and character of the church is far too extensive to be exhausted in the meaning of the single term “church” ( ekklesia, “a called out assembly”). Because of this the New Testament writers employed numerous descriptive expressions to describe its manifold meaning and significance. They portrayed the truth of the church both in literal and in rich metaphorical descriptions. Such a richness of descriptions precludes a narrow concept of the church and warns against magnification of one aspect to the disregard of the others. When we do this, it generally results in imbalance and hurt to the body of Christ. It has been estimated that there are some 80 plus images of the church. But perhaps none are so instructive as are the seven images or figures of the church that are directly related to the Lord Jesus.139 These seven demonstrate how vital He is to the church corporately and individually in the way they demonstrate how the church is related, dependent, and responsible to Him. But one of the most instructive figures is that of Christ as the head of the body, the church (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:12-16; 5:23; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19). This beautiful picture as portrayed in these verses stress:
1. the leadership, authority and preeminence of Christ as the head of the body,
2. the unity of the body, one body of mutually adapted parts working together as a team, as one,
3. the diversity of the body, a diversity of abilities and gifts varying in function, in strength, and in honor, yet every singly one a vital and needed part of the body,
4. the mutuality of the body, each member being dependent on all the other members as are the members of the human body—no man is an island, and thus,
5. the necessity of the growth, care, and function of each member of the body as part of the team.
Further, other terms used in the New Testament to describe Christians and their activity as “fellow heirs,” “fellow members,” “fellow partakers,” and “working together” all speak of the fact that we are a body of people united together by our common salvation in Christ, each blessed with every spiritual blessing and complete in Christ, and under His sovereign headship and authority. This means we are not only sharers together in the blessings of salvation, but also in the calling of the gospel from the standpoint of Christ-like character and His goals, purposes, and the ministry we are to have together. It means we are a team, a body, a family, a fellowship or partnership.
As fellow members together of one body, every Christian becomes a co-member of the one body of Christ. Being likened to the human body means the church is a spiritual organism. It is made up of many members while possessing a oneness or unity. Thus, regardless of background, nationality, or social status, every believer becomes a co-member and is essential to the function of the body or the church. There are no unimportant members (1 Cor. 12:12f). Just as it is physically impossible to divide a human body without detrimental results, so any division or distinctions made between Jew and Gentile or any other man-made distinctions does serious harm to the function of the church in carrying out its goal to the praise of God’s glory and to its ministry to one another in the world.
The emphasis of the New Testament, therefore, is on unity, not distinction. One of the basic skills we pick up from our youth is how to make distinctions based on our prejudices, likes, cultural habits, and opinions. This creates disunity rather than unity and nullifies or destroys our capacity for effective teamwork. The emphasis of Scripture is on a unified body working together in unity. When disunity occurs, the result is not only discord in the body of Christ (the church, God’s spiritual team) but the inability of a church to follow the headship of Christ and to function as a coordinated team.
In Colossians 1:18-20, the apostle Paul stresses the preeminence of Christ as the head of the body, the church:
18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead so that he himself may become first in all things. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—whether things on the earth or things in heaven.
Then, building on this truth, in Colossians 3:1-17 Paul gave us some very practical teaching that is pertinent to effective team effort, especially verses 10-15.
…and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it. 3:11 Here (literally, “where there is neither”) there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free (i.e., no human distinctions like race or human religion or social status), but Christ is all and in all (again cf. 1:18f). 3:12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 3:13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you too forgive others. 3:14 And to all these virtues, add love which is the perfect bond. 3:15 Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart, for you were in fact called to this peace, and be thankful.
First, verses 1-4 show us that Christ is the very source and sphere of our life and security. Consequently, based on our new life in Christ, there is to be radical character change—transformed behavior patterns through daily renewal in the Word and our new life in Christ (3:5-10).
Verse 11 is literally, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, …” In other words,
The new man lives in a new environment where all racial, national, religious, cultural and social distinctions are no more. Rather, Christ is now all that matters and in all who believe. The statement is one of the most inclusive in the New Testament and is amply supported by the pre-eminence of Christ in New Testament theology.140
With Christ as the preeminent one and the new center of the Christian’s life, this new life in Christ means that all man-made distinctions have been removed. There is now a new basis for our attitudes and actions concerning ourselves and others and our life together in service and worship as those called to work together as a team, as a coordinated body (3:11-17).
The implications of this are awesome. This means: (1) All racial, past religious associations, social and economic distinctions have been permanently removed because Christ is all and in all. (2) Thus, Christ is to become the complete source of the life of each believer. He is not only the source of salvation, but the source of all our relationships together, our ministry and worship together and the source of our identity and feelings about who we are. (3) In the past as unbelievers, our identity and sense of self-worth was derived from the typical human distinctions of race, religion, social and economic status, physical size, IQ, education, awards, degrees and you name it. In other words, such distinctions of the past became one’s means or were a part of one’s strategy for finding significance and security, which naturally negatively impacts teamwork.
Why does this impact teamwork? Because of what these human distinctions create! They create discord, competition, partiality, playing the game of “spiritual king of the mountain,” and feelings of inferiority or superiority, or security or insecurity. All of this works against unity and the glory of God and a daily faith that rests in who we are in the Lord Jesus. Why? Because one’s focus and trust is in these human distinctions rather than in the Savior who is all and in all.
This “no distinction” mental attitude comes out of the process of doctrinal and spiritual renewal according to the new man created in the image of Christ. It comes from who and what we are in Him who is all and in all as the preeminent head of the body. The point is that Christ must become the standard and source by which we are to grow, for how we think about and see ourselves and others, for how we treat others, and how we serve together.
But there is another truth here that is vital to good teamwork or to the proper function of the body of Christ—the Contribution of the Grace of Diversity. The truth of the body of Christ also stresses that unity and the absence of distinctions do not mean sameness. While we are part of the one body of Christ, we are each different just as the members of the human body are different for the sake of the orderly and effective function of the body. This difference, however, is grace given so we never have a cause for boasting or jealousy which always harms unity and the orderly function of the body of Christ. It harms the function of the body as a team as well as its government under Christ’s headship and the leadership He gives to His church.
This means there must be the recognition of the special abilities and limitations of others by individuals and leaders alike so people can be placed in jobs where they can do their best in cooperation with the rest of the team. Thus, part of the responsibility of the church through its leadership involves first the ability to appreciate the gifts and abilities of a variety of people and then the ability to help them find places of ministry in accordance with their own giftedness, personalities, and God’s specific leading. Because we too often fail to do this, we end up with the futile exercise of attempting to fit square pegs into round holes. Churches and their leaders must help the members of the body of Christ work to their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
This truth is especially vital to the leadership of churches and organizations. Too often we end up with ten percent of the people attempting to do ninety percent of the work, which is both futile and disheartening and a travesty on the body/team principle of the New Testament. There are, of course, many reasons for this—a poor or unbiblical philosophy of the ministry including the Clergy Mentality, a lack of strong Bible teaching, and a failure of those in leadership to delegate responsibility.
“The degree to which a leader is able to delegate work is a measure of his success.” It has been rightly contended that a one-person activity can never grow bigger than the greatest load that one person can carry. Some leaders feel threatened by brilliant subordinates and therefore are reluctant to delegate authority.
The man in a place of leadership who fails to delegate is constantly enmeshed in a morass of secondary detail that not only overburdens him but deflects him from his primary responsibilities. He also fails to release the leadership potential of those under him. To insist on doing things oneself because it will be done better is not only a short-sighted policy but may be evidence of an unwarranted conceit. The leader who is meticulous in observing priorities adds immeasurably to his own effectiveness.141
Dwight L. Moody had the right perspective. He once said that he would rather put a thousand men to work than do the work of a thousand men. As we have seen, the Lord Jesus, after a night of prayer (Luke 6:12), chose twelve disciples, poured Himself into them, and ultimately put thousands to work doing the Father’s business.
The Benefits of Teamwork:
Some Biblical Illustrations
An old Swedish motto says, “Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half the sorrow.” The secret to life is not simply enjoying life’s joys and enduring its sorrows, but being involved in both with others like co-workers or team members working together—rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). There are many benefits of good teamwork, but a few biblical examples will help to clarify some of the issues.
4:9 Two people are better than one person, because they can enjoy a better benefit from their toil. 4:10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion; but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up. 4:11 Furthermore, if two lie together, they can keep each other warm; but how can one person keep warm by himself? 4:12 Although an assailant may overpower one person who is alone, two would be able to withstand him. Moreover, a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.
With great wisdom, Solomon addresses those who would seek to handle life or ministry alone. It’s risky business and very unwise. The passage can be divided into two sections: a statement of the basic principle (vs. 9) and the reasons the principle is true (vss. 10-12).
1. A Statement of the Basic Principle (vs. 9a) with the Basic Reason (vs. 9b)
Following on the heels of the discussion of one who works alone (vss. 7-8), who works selfishly only for himself and with no one for support or fellowship, verse 9a points us a basic principle of life, “Two people are better than one person.” We are quickly reminded of God’s pronouncement in Genesis 2:18, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Even when man was walking in the beauty of the Garden of Eden and in the presence of God, he could not be happy without a mate, a helper fitted to him. People who are happily married, especially when living according the principles of Scripture, can truly relate to this truth. However, this is a truth that is true for all, married or unmarried.
But why are two better off than one? Verse 9b explains—simply “because they can enjoy a better benefit from their toil.” The abilities of one compliment and make up for the needs and weaknesses of the other and vice versa.
We gain perspective by having somebody at our side. We gain objectivity. We gain courage in threatening situations. Having others near tempers our dogmatism and softens our intolerance. We gain another opinion. We gain what today, in our technical world is called “input.”
In other words, it is better not to work or live one’s life all alone. It’s better not to minister all alone. It’s better to have someone alongside us in the battle. For that reason, during my days in the Marines, we were taught that if the command “dig in” were issued, we should dig a hole large enough for two.142
Here again the Lord Jesus is our example. He never sent the disciples out alone. He sent them out two by two. Even when He wanted the upper room prepared for the last Passover, He sent more than one.
2. Other Reasons Why Two Are Better Than One (vss. 10-12)
a. We Need Mutual Support Because We are Weak (vs. 10)
In the statement, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up,” we are confronted with our natural human weakness. If we were not weak and prone to stumbling, we would never fall down in the first place. Further, because of our own weaknesses and the nature of a world around us that is often very hostile, conditions often exist that make getting up after a fall sometimes difficult, so much so that it requires the aid of others. Here is an interesting story that illustrates how we need the support of others because of our inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
According to USA Today, on Wednesday, November 23, 1994, a couple named Sandy and Theresa boarded TWA flight 265 in New York to fly to Orlando and see Disney World. Theresa was almost seven months pregnant. Thirty minutes into the flight, Theresa doubled over in pain and began bleeding. Flight attendants announced that they needed a doctor, and a Long Island internist volunteered.
Theresa soon gave birth to a boy. But the baby was in trouble. The umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around the neck, and he wasn’t breathing. His face was blue.
Two paramedics rushed forward to help, one of whom specialized in infant respiratory procedures. He asked if anyone had a straw, which he wanted to use to suction fluid from the baby’s lungs. The plane did not stock straws, but a flight attendant remembered having a straw left over from a juice box she had brought on board the plane. The paramedic inserted the straw in the baby’s lungs as the internist administered CPR. The internist asked for something he could use to tie off the umbilical cord. A passenger offered a shoelace.
Four minutes of terror passed. Then the little baby whimpered. Soon the crew was able to joyfully announce that it was a boy, and everyone on board cheered and clapped.
The parents gave the little boy the name Matthew. Matthew means “Godsent.” The people on board the plane “were all godsends,” the father said.
Indeed, God had met the need through people that gave what they had and did what they could. God usually meets needs through people.143
What a different outcome if Theresa had been alone where no one could have come to her aid. This is what Ecclesiastes refers to when it adds, “but pity (or woe to) the person who falls down and has no one to help him up.” A lot of difficulties were overcome in these few tense minutes on Flight 265, but through the care and team effort of those on board, the story had a happy ending.
So also, when a person stumbles spiritually, that person needs those (note the plural and the team effort focus) who will come along and help him or her get out of the ditch into which he or she has fallen. Someone has said, “When one finds himself in a hole, the first thing needed is to stop digging,” but one also needs to find help from others. So Paul wrote:
Galatians 6:1-2 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin (i.e., if a person has stumbled in sin), you who are spiritual restore (both the pronoun “you” and the verb “restore” are plural in the Greek text) such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. 6:2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
b. Mutual Support Because We are Vulnerable (vs. 11)
Furthermore, if two lie together, they can keep each other warm; but how can one person keep warm by himself?
Again, because of the nature of the fallen world in which we live, we are all vulnerable to the elements and different conditions for which we need others. It may just be their presence as with the warmth of another human body or even that of an animal when its cold. I remember reading of a little boy who wandered off and became lost in the woods in the winter. The temperature was below freezing but he had his dog with him. When he was found, he had made it through the night by snuggling up in the leaves with his big old dog.
Because of the problems we may face, we also need others because of their skill, gifts, and expertise. Ships at sea or those moving up and down our large rivers are vulnerable to many forms of danger that require the teamwork of the whole crew.
A sea captain and his chief engineer were arguing over who was most important to the ship. To prove their point to each other, they decided to swap places. The chief engineer ascended to the bridge, and the captain went to the engine room.
Several hours later, the captain suddenly appeared on deck covered with oil and dirt. “Chief!” he yelled, waving aloft a monkey wrench. “You have to get down there: I can’t make her go.!”
“Of course you can’t,” replied the chief, “She’s aground!”
On a team we don’t excel each other; we depend on each other.144
c. Mutual Support Because We Have Assailants (vs. 12)
Although an assailant may overpower one person who is alone, two would be able to withstand him. Moreover, a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.
Every Christian should be able to identify with this. Scripture teaches us we all face three great assailants, the devil against us who walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8), the sinful nature within us that opposes a walk by God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17), and a hostile world system that stands against us (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 2:2; 1 John 2:16; Gal. 1:4). This is a constant issue for every Christian and for which we need the team effort of the body of Christ. While every Christian is responsible to put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-17), we also need the support of the body of Christ as fellow soldiers to aid one another against these assailants. We see this when Paul concludes this call to put on our spiritual armor by writing,
With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints. Pray for me, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak—that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18-20).
Finally, Ecclesiastes 4:12 adds, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” The point is that if two are better than one, if two can help in our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and against our assailants, then how much better (as with the story of Flight 265) to have more—to have three or four or even more working together on the team.
A good illustration is 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 where the apostle deals with the prophetic subject of the Day of the Lord. Here he teaches us that our understanding of the prophetic word should mark us out as a distinct people just as cream is separated from milk. We are not of this world which is dominated by sin and Satan, just as the Savior is not. This should show itself in the moral quality of our lives, in our values, priorities, and pursuits. Paul uses several analogies in this passage to illustrate this: light versus darkness, sleep versus alertness, drunkenness versus soberness, and wrath versus deliverance. But the point is, biblical prophecy is not designed to satisfy our curiosity or desire for the sensational. In view of what it means spiritually, it is designed to motivate Christians to holy living. But this is greatly enhanced by the important equation, one plus one equals survival or victory. So he concludes with these exhortations:
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all (1 Thess. 5:11-14).
An outstanding illustration of the importance of the team principle and of the need for delegation of responsibility and authority is the advice give to Moses by Jethro, his son-in-law, in Exodus 18. Sanders writes:
In essence, the nation of Israel had emerged from their slavery in Egypt as an unorganized horde. But gradually, as a new national spirit was beginning to take shape through the leadership of Moses, they began became more and more organized. As so often happens, organization can lead to an unbearable workload if there is not proper delegation. And this happened with Moses. From morning to evening he sat making judgments and this kept him from taking care of his primary responsibilities. On seeing these conditions and the strain it put on Moses and the people, Jethro gave Moses some very wise advice. Let’s note the interchange between Jethro and Moses.
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” (emphasis mine)
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
Wise advice! The principle is simply that there are “limits to the expenditure of physical and nervous force beyond which it is not safe to go.”145 Furthermore, Moses’ approach was inefficient. It was impossible for one man to meet the needs of all the people. By delegating and sharing responsibility, Moses could speed up the process, meet the needs of the people, and they could go about their own business as a satisfied people (v. 23).
Jethro then proceeded to point Moses to the path of delegation so the nation could experience the blessings of teamwork. He said:
19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
In this advice we see three vital principles. First, without God’s presence and enablement, all the delegation in the world will be ineffective. We need God’s hand on whatever is done. Second, we must work to our primary responsibilities according to the gifts and leading of the Lord. For Moses, this was teaching the people God’s decrees and laws and showing them the way to live. Third, for Moses to accomplish God’s primary will he must delegate the other needs by selecting qualified people to aid in the tasks at hand.
Moses response is not only refreshing, but it illustrates true spiritual maturity and humility.
24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.
Lesser and immature men, out of foolish pride, would have resented Jethro’s input and advice and would have told Jethro to mind his own business. But seeing the wisdom of this advice, Moses immediately put it into practice to the benefit of the nation.
Acts 6:1-7 is a New Testament illustration of this same principle.
6:1 Now in these days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 6:2 So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. 6:3 But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. 6:4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 6:5 The proposal pleased the entire group, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Jewish convert from Antioch. 6:6 They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them. 6:7 The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
Many other passages give witness to the important principle of teamwork and the team mind-set as not only a vital principle for life, but as a quality of spiritual maturity. See also Ephesians 4:12-16; 1 Timothy 4:13f; 2 Timothy 2:2.
Practical Suggestions For Good Teamwork
First, if we are going to function as a good team member, it would be wise to examine our own lives to determine what God has called us to do as a member of His team, the body of Christ. For this we should know ourselves (our gifts, talents, abilities, training, burdens, etc,) examine our motives, seek input from others, and prayerfully seek God leading (Rom. 12:1-8).
Second, it would also seem wise to take inventory periodically and examine where our priorities ought to be according to the standards or guidelines of the Word. Our responsibilities and priorities change to some degree through the various stages and circumstances of life—and circumstances can change and may move us in a very different direction with regard to what we do as members of the body of Christ. This is easily seen through the various stages of life. Parents of small children have responsibilities and priorities that might keep them from serving in certain spheres or at least keep them from serving to greater degrees. But once the children are out of the nest these can change drastically. Changing health conditions may also revamp the direction of one’s ministry.
Third, the needs seem overwhelming, but we can each do just so much. A basic principle we should remember is that the need does not constitute the call. There are infinitely more needs than we can each handle. The actions of the Lord Jesus in Mark 1:32-39 provide us with a wonderful example. We will let the passage speak for itself.
When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered by the door. So he healed many sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him
Then Jesus got up in the darkness of the early morning and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer. Simon and his companions searched for him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He answered, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came to do.” So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
This principle, however, must never be used as an excuse to avoid responsibilities in the things God has called us to do.
Fourth, the issue for every team member is simply, what position is God calling me to play and what are some guide lines to help determine that?
(a) Take inventory of priorities: We must take on ministry according to God’s priorities and not on the basis of peer pressure or false guilt. As mentioned, Moses did this at the advice of Jethro and the apostles did this in Acts 6. Biblical priorities would naturally include putting God first and one’s relationship with Him, and then, out of that relationship, caring for one’s family, getting involved in a local church or other ministries in the neighborhood or community (1 Tim. 3:1f).
(b) Burden: We should ask, “Where are my concerns, what does the Lord seem to be burdening me with?” A good example might be Paul’s response to what he saw in Athens ( see Acts 17:16f; 16:6-10). Then, in going to Macedonia, Paul and his cohorts walked past one need after another because God had directed them to Macedonia rather than Asia.
(c) What are my gifts, abilities, training, interests? Can I get training in the area of my interests? How does my age and health fit into the scheme of things?
(d) What needs could I get involved in? Where am I needed according to the above guidelines.
(e) If uncertain about your gifts, get involved on a trial basis. The trial is not to ministry, but to a specific ministry. We are all called to ministry. The trial is to a particular ministry for the purpose of discernment.
Fifth, we should also note that God is not calling all of us to minister in a local church. He may be calling some to minister outside the church. Some may be able to do both to some degree, but there should be one main focus.
Finally, when our ministry gets too big, or if we see other potential ministries, rather than jump in and overload ourselves, we need to pray for and enlist help to share in the responsibilities. If help doesn’t come, then God is not ready or is not in the project. So WAIT!
The Importance of Delegation and Sharing Responsibilities to the Team Process
When We Fail to Delegate146
(1) It manifests shortsightedness. Without shared responsibility, we fail to discover and develop the potential of others and fail to allow the body of Christ to function according to the gifts of God. When Moses followed Jethro’s advice, the unknown talents of many in Israel were discovered.
(2) It manifests conceit. We think no one can replace us or do it as well as I can. It may also manifest fear—someone will take my spotlight or do it better than I do it or if I do not do it, I’ll be criticized. As Sanders points out, “It is often a mistake to assume more duties than we can adequately and satisfactorily discharge. There is no virtue in doing more than our fair share of the work. It is good to recognize and accept our own limitations.”147
(3) It hinders our own effectiveness. As mentioned, D.L. Moody said he would rather put a thousand men to work than do the work of a thousand men. Without this we become entangled in a morass of detail and secondary things that prohibit us from functioning in our primary responsibilities. When the apostles insisted on the selection of qualified men to care for the neglected widows, they were able to concentrate on their primary responsibilities of prayer and the teaching of the Word. Many pastors today come to the pulpit ill prepared for this very reason.
(4) It causes burnout. We lose the joy of the Lord in the work God has called us to do. Serving the Lord with gladness is not only what God desires, but it makes serving a lot easier (cf. Ps. 100:2; Mark 6:30f; Ex. 18:17-18).
(5) It hinders the function of the body creating inactive members. If we go ahead and do it, others will not and can’t. Ephesians 4 strongly stresses the principle of every member involvement as a part of the team (Eph. 4:12-16).
(6) It causes failure and the dissatisfaction of others because of the failure to get things done efficiently (again, compare Exodus 18 and Acts 6).
Blessings of Shared Responsibilities
1. We are able to concentrate on the greater obligations of our responsibilities.
2. Through shared responsibilities, we discover the latent and often unsuspected talents of others.
3. The problem of dissatisfaction is stifled by greater efficiency in the ministry or organization.
4. It helps train others for the future.
5. It protects against burnout and frustration.
6. It improves communication and understanding between the members of the body. More people understand what is happening and are involved with the process of ministry.
7. It provides a sense of teamwork and a sense that “I belong and am important to the body of Christ.”
“One definition of leadership is the ability to recognize the abilities and limitations of others, combined with the capacity to fit each one into the job where he will do his best.”148
First of all, understanding and acting on the principle of teamwork means recognizing that God has gifted each of us and called us to be part of a ministering team—the body of Christ. Second, it means becoming responsible for our primary responsibilities, the things we believe God is telling us to do according to our God given gifts, abilities, training, burden, and God’s leading in our lives. Third, understanding the teamwork concept also means we must grasp the need to limit what we add into our schedule and workload so we can do quality work and avoid the inefficiency and harassment of overstretch. In other words, it means refusing to take on more than we can effectively handle for the sake of our priorities and God’s leading, as did the apostles in Acts 6. Fourth, it means a willingness to share the workload and a willingness to be involved in being trained and in training and/or enlisting others as needed under the principle of careful selectivity according to biblical standards (Ex. 18:21, 25; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1f; Tit. 1:5f).
We live in a work ethic society where people are measured and tend to measure themselves in terms of busyness or quantity. They put quantity and activity over quality. The focus needs to be not just on the product, but on the process. If the process is right, the product will be right both in quality and in quantity. The point is that God has called each of us to ministry and service (1 Pet. 4:10,11), but He has also called us first of all to be with Him, to know him more deeply. Then out of that personal relationship/fellowship He has called us to serve in the strength of His might (Mk. 3:13, 14, 15; Col. 1:27-2:2). The emphasis is on quality of life—the process—taking root downward and bearing fruit upward (Isa. 37:31). So, the mark of teamwork includes the need for a balanced life. In some cases, doing less, but doing it better—quality and not just quantity. Perhaps we can say that one of the acid tests for maturity, whether in a place of leadership or otherwise, is one’s willingness to either delegate responsibility or accept responsibility as part of God’s team.
In our fast-paced, activity-oriented society today, this has become even more difficult. Many people become “workaholics” by becoming over committed financially, by making unrealistic plans, or simply by failing to recognize a compulsive need to work to prove something to one’s self or to others. We have all either known or heard of those who worked to prove something to a parent who never seemed to accept a child or be satisfied with their performance. Many people use work as an escape for their loneliness or unhappiness, or because they are afraid of allowing others to get too close. Thus, many people become so driven by these underlying and compulsive needs that they exclude what should be their priorities and the priorities of the team by overwork.
It is most unfortunate that we deplore drug and alcoholic addicts, but somehow promote and admire the work addict. We give him status and accept his estimate of himself. And all the while his family may be getting so little of his time and energy that they hardly know him.
Over work is not the disease itself. It is the symptom of a deeper problem—of tension, of inadequacy, of a need to achieve that may have neurotic implications.… Such a person also is usually defending against having to get close to people.149
The workaholic behavior will not only work against the team effort, but is destructive to one’s own spiritual well being and effectiveness.
By contrast, in a true team environment, there will be freedom to develop one’s gifts and abilities, to be innovative, to share ideas, but also to make mistakes and learn from one another. In addition, there will an environment where each team member feels loved, supported, and affirmed Rather than suspicion and put-downs, there will be a trust that builds a team spirit or comradeship. Not only will stress be held to a minimum, but there will be an excitement or enthusiasm about what God is doing in and through the team.
139 The seven figures of Christ and the church are (1) The Last Adam and the New Creation, (2) the Shepherd and the Sheep, (3) the Head and the Body, (4) the Bridegroom and the Bride, (5) the Foundation and Chief Cornerstone and the Superstructure, (6) the High Priest and the Royal Priesthood, and (7) the Vine and the Branches.
Appendix: Discussion Questions for Marks of Maturity
MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of bible.org. Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.
These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
1. After reading the text and your dictionary, define the following terms in your own words:
- Team effort
- Team player
2. What are the five characteristics of the New Testament church model as portrayed in Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:12-16, 5:23; and Colossians 1:18, 1:24, 2:19?
3. What are the three implications of all man-made distinctions being removed when we have a new life in Christ?
4. Why does this impact teamwork?
5. How did Christ use teamwork in the work of His ministry?
6. Read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and answer the questions below.
- What is the basic principle and reason for mutual support stated in verse 9?
- Explain our need for mutual support as stated in:
7. In what activities are you involved where you are part of a team? Beside each one, indicate if you are a leader or a member.
8. As a leader, describe in detail your process of delegating responsibilities.
9. What difficulties do you have in delegating key responsibilities to others?
10. As a team member, how well do you work with others?
11. Describe the times when you feel you are doing more work than is fair.
12. Have you asked for help? If not, why?
13. What happens when we fail to delegate or share responsibilities?
14. What blessings occur when we share responsibilities with others?
Many people use work as an escape for their loneliness or unhappiness, or because they are afraid of allowing others to get too close.
- Discuss how this is occurring in your life now.
- Discuss how you will be free to develop your gifts and abilities, and be able to be innovative, share ideas, and learn from one another by maintaining a true team environment.