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Beyond Pragmatism: Developing a Theology of Teamwork

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By Jeff Mingee

A season of social quarantine has changed the way we interact with others. What’s interesting, though, is that even though we are distant, we are having to work together and function as a team more than ever before. And this is well and good, because part of obeying Jesus involves cooperating with others. Indeed, as Southern Baptists, we hold to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000; a statement of faith that includes an article on… cooperation.

You matter to God. And, as we say in the south, “Y’all matter to God.” In calling you to himself, God has called you to cooperation and teamwork with others. He’s called you to community and partnership. From community and accountability groups to ministry volunteer teams and Sunday School classes, every step in our walk of faith leads us into the context of teams. We enjoy the fellowship of other believers during worship. We embrace our common responsibility and we agree to serve on the school board, the homeowners association or the leadership team. We learn from the beginning that “there is no such thing as the lone ranger Christian,” and are taught to embrace the paradigm that “where two or three are gathered” a good thing must be happening. We nod with understanding that “a chord of three strands is not easily broken.” These truths make practical and pragmatic sense to us. We’re better together than we are on our own.

But to our impairment we have failed to develop a theology of teamwork. We work on staffs, volunteer on ministry teams and committees, play on sports teams, we gather in groups; but we don’t know what God says about these teams. Yet teams indeed matter to God.

While ministry and teamwork are certainly practical and pragmatic, they are also inherently theological.

What the Bible Says About Teams

A familiarity with Scripture exposes our folly. In the beginning, God the Father works with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, as a team, in creation. In Genesis 2 we see the theological foundations of teamwork as God himself declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). In Exodus Moses is sharpened by the advice of Jethro (Exodus 18), and Oholiab and Bezalel contribute to the cooperative work of the people of Israel in building the Tabernacle (Exodus 31, 36-39). In Numbers the census of God’s people systematically reminds us that the story of salvation is a communal story (Numbers 1, 26). 

Recounting Israel’s history, David and his mighty men are exemplified (2 Samuel 23), and David urges Solomon to “deal loyally” with those who have helped in times past (1 Kings 2:1-9). We see the sad example of Jonah who thought that a relationship with God excused him from community with such people as the Ninivites, rather than understanding that a relationship with God compelled him to such. Paul models for us how to work with one another in this “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). We are not meant to work alone. The triune God, from creation to redemption, has operated in teamwork and calls us to teamwork. God, in calling you to himself, calls you to teamwork.

Teamwork is from God. While ministry teams that read and discuss the latest secular business books may gain great counsel on how to work better as a team, they will never learn the theological foundation of teamwork apart from Scripture. We Christians who work or serve in the context of teams must see teamwork as primarily theological and biblical. We must search the Scripture for the why’s and how’s of teamwork.

When Teams Are Dysfunctional

The effects of sin on teams are not hard to discover. Patrick Lencioni points out, “The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.”[1] Have you ever served on a dysfunctional team or alongside dysfunctional people? This dysfunction is not merely the result of our imperfections, but of sin. The anger you feel when your co-worker disagrees with you is a result of sin. The way board members attack each other and gossip about each other is a result of sin. We see in the first effects of sin a blaming between Adam and Eve. Have you ever served on a team with people who fought for credit but always shifted blame? It’s never their fault. Those moments are clear echoes of Genesis 3.

In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, key actions and attitudes are revealed that cause teams to breakdown. Each of these dysfunctions is an echo of Genesis 3 and the results of sin:

  • Absence of trust seen in refusing to be vulnerable.
    After Adam and Eve sinned they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. They were unwilling to be truly known because they no longer trusted each other or God. In the same way, teams today are filled with individuals who struggle to trust.
  • Fear of conflict seen in artificial harmony.
    Fear entered the world in Genesis 3. Fear caused Adam and Eve to hide from God in the garden. Lencioni points out that fear of conflict expresses itself in teamwork through artificial harmony.  When Adam and Eve hid out of fear, they were avoiding responsibility and pretending that nothing had changed. Similarly, teams today are often characterized by artificial harmony instead of the willingness to disagree graciously. We don’t create artificial harmony by hiding in the bushes or clothing ourselves in greenery, but we’ll absolute hide out in the office or put on that empty smile.
  • Lack of commitment seen in ambiguity.
    Ambiguity is the language of unfulfilled promises. “It’ll get done.” “Mistakes were made.” Ever since Genesis 3 we’ve been pulled in multiple directions and our commitment has suffered ever since.
  • Avoidance of accountability seen in low standards.
    God found Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes after the first sin. Unfortunately we’ve been hiding ever since. Even when we’re working together in teams, we hide in our avoidance of accountability.
  • Inattention to results seen in concern for status and ego.
    The serpent appealed to Eve’s ego. He’s covered a lot of ground since then appealing to ours as well. Rather than attention to the results of the team, we’re often more concerned with our individual stats.

The Gospel and Teamwork

This gospel, though, changes us and changes how we interact with others. Having a righteousness that is independent of our performance, we are only then able to become interdependent with others; especially those who also have found their righteousness in Christ. We are reconciled to God and to those whom God has reconciled to himself.

And yet, church staff teams and pastoral leadership teams struggle for lack of a theology of teamwork. Church planting launch teams are being built into “gospel-centered communities,” but an inability to articulate how the gospel drives their teamwork prevents full growth. We converse about teamwork from a pragmatic and practical standpoint. And while ministry and teamwork are certainly practical and pragmatic, they are also inherently theological.

We can no longer afford to operate in teams without developing a theology of teamwork. If our teams are going to be driven by a deep appreciation for the banner “Soli Deo Gloria,” we must work to see God’s glory in our teams. We must labor to understand how the gospel impacts our teams. We must get to the theological foundations, the God-centeredness, of teamwork.

Even in the midst of a pandemic and a season of social distancing, our teamwork matters. We are reminded in the weeks after Easter that no virus has the authority to put Jesus back in the grave. And no circumstance has the authority to derail our obedience to Jesus. As we develop a theology of teamwork, we will find ourselves worshipping more fully the God who created us and called us. We will find ourselves enjoying his glory as we work with others for the good of the church and the cities in which we live. As we develop a theology of teamwork we will come to better understand what it means to be together for the gospel.

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from Jeff Mingee’s book Called to Cooperate: A Biblical Survey and Application of Teamwork (Apollos, PA: Ichthus Publications, 2016).

[1] Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, (Josey Bass, 2002), p. vii.

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Jeff Mingee

Jeff Mingee is the pastor of Catalyst Church in Newport News, VA. He serves as a Church Planting Strategist with the SBC of Virginia, overseeing church planting throughout the southeast region. Jeff received his M.Div from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his D.Min. He is the author of 'Called to Cooperate: A Biblical Survey and Application of Teamwork' as well as other books. Jeff and his wife, Lauren, are the glad parents of Aiden and Carter.

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