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Teamwork seems to be everywhere these days, from members of our congregation working on the roof together to our church staff team. We might think of our newly created transitional pastor search committee as a kind of team. Our church council. Our deacons. The different committees of the church.
Some of you may work on a team as part of your job, although just as in the church it might be called something else—a work crew, a task group, a department. In a healthy marriage, husband and wife work together as a team. I read an article on family teamwork:
Families are like a team. Each individual family member brings skill, personality, and role to the family team, just as each sports player has a specific position on the team. As a whole, the family shares a history and goals, just as the team works together to win a game. . . . We need our families to help us live through the happy, good, sad, and painful times.
But what makes for healthy teamwork? In families, at our jobs, in the church, and wherever else we might be working together with other people? And what does Scripture have to say about working as a team, if anything? If there are teams in the Bible, what can we learn from them?
In his years of ministry, the apostle Paul worked with a number of different teams. The letter to the Philippians comes from Paul and Timothy (1:1), and in our text for this morning, Paul commends both Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom he calls “my brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier” (2:25). So in the context of Philippians, we might think of Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus as a ministry team.
At other times, Paul’s co-workers included Barnabas, Silas, Priscilla and Aquila, Phoebe, Titus, Clement, Euodia, Syntyche, Justus, and Mark. These are just a few of his team members that we can identify in the New Testament: men and women, Greeks, Jews, people younger than Paul and perhaps older as well—people that he called his co-workers, or we might call team members today. Here’s what Paul says about Timothy and Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:19-30:
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to see you soon so that I may be encouraged by hearing about you. 20 I have no one like him. He is a person who genuinely cares about your well-being. 21 All the others put their own business ahead of Jesus Christ’s business. 22 You know his character, how he labors with me for the gospel like a son works with his father. 23 So he is the one that I hope to send as soon as I find out how things turn out here for me. 24 I trust in the Lord that I also will visit you soon.
25 I think it is also necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. He is my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier; and he is your representative who serves my needs.26 He misses you all, and he was upset because you heard he was sick. 27 In fact, he was so sick that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him—and not just on him but also on me, because his death would have caused me great sorrow.28 Therefore, I am sending him immediately so that when you see him again you can be glad and I won’t worry. 29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy and show great respect for people like him. 30 He risked his life and almost died for the work of Christ, and he did this to make up for the help you couldn’t give me.
Throughout his letter, Paul says, “I thank my God” (1:3), “I pray” (1:4, 10, 11), “I want you to know” (1:12), and in the text above, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy” (2:19), “I trust in the Lord that I also will visit you soon” (2:24), “I am sending [Epaphroditus] immediately” (2:28). Later in his letter when he talks about those who choose to go their own way, he says, “I have told you many times” (3:18).
Paul communicated with God in prayer, he communicated with the church by writing letters—most of the letters in the New Testament were written by, or attributed to, Paul. He communicated by visiting in person, and when he couldn’t do that, he sent some of his team to communicate on his behalf. So we might say the first C of a healthy team is communication—regularly and often, in prayer, in person, by letter—and today we might include cell phone and texting, email and Facebook, and Snapchat and whatever else we use.
No communication means no team as each person goes their own way in their own little bubble. That might be part of the reason for the popular saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” It’s a reminder that for healthy teamwork, we need to communicate, we need to act in the best interests of the whole team instead of my doing what I decide is best for me without telling anyone else. In that sense, there is no ‘I’ in a healthy team.
2. Contributing Your Authentic Self
Yet as some point out, there is an ‘m’ and an ‘e’ in the word team. For in a healthy team, I am always bringing me—my authentic self. You bring your authentic self. We bring our gifts and creativity, our experience and questions—we bring our authentic selves. Because if everyone on the team were the same, there would be no need for a team. You’d need just one person.
In a letter that Paul would later write to Timothy, he says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. . . . Don’t neglect the spiritual gift in you” (1 Timothy 4:12, 14).
In other words, be you. Nurture the gift that God has given you and bring that to your ministry. Bring that to the team. One of the buzzwords in the workplace today is collaboration which means individuals working together. Collaboration doesn’t mean everyone is the same. It’s actually the opposite, because it’s about bringing yourself and contributing your uniqueness.
As part of the team, Timothy contributed his youth, he contributed the gift that God had given him. Paul doesn’t say exactly what that gift was, but perhaps it was his genuine care for the people. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “I have no one like him. He is a person who genuinely cares for your well-being” (2:20). That’s something unique that Timothy could bring to the team. And it demonstrates the second C of healthy teamwork—for each team player to make their own unique contribution.
Some of you know that I’ve been putting together a team to help launch my new book that’s being released by Herald Press in September. Some of my team are authors who have published books of their own, and are experienced launch team members. Some have never been on a launch team before. Women and men—some young moms with toddlers at home, some retired after long years of ministry. Some are in Canada, others in the U.S, two in Asia, one now living in Kenya. They don’t all participate in the same way, and I don’t expect them too. Each is unique and will make a unique contribution.
The same thing could be said about our church if we think of it as a team. We have different gifts, different personalities, different interests. Just as Paul said about Timothy, “I have no one like him,” we can say about our church, we have no one like Leann, we have no one like Alfred. We have no one just like you. So if you sometimes feel awkward because you’re different from everyone else, being different is a good thing, because you have a unique contribution to make.
Another quality that Timothy brought to the team was his character. Paul writes to the Philippians, “You know his character, how he labors with me for the gospel like a son works with his father” (2:22). Epaphroditus was also a man of character. “He risked his life” says Paul, “and almost died for the work of Christ” (2:30).
They had the mind of Christ, the character of Christ that Paul describes earlier in the chapter, for they served unselfishly, they served for the good of others and not for themselves. They had our third C of healthy teamwork: character.
In the National Hockey League this year, the Ottawa Senators have had a tough time both on and off the ice. So I was interested to note that drafting at number four this year, the Senators general manager said, “We draft for skill, we draft for character.” For a healthy team, skill is not enough. You need team players with character—whose behavior won’t be a distraction or a disruption or destructive in any way, who will use their skills unselfishly and for the good of others. And the Senators hope that by drafting for character, they can turn around their team.
A healthy team also needs commitment. While others might put their own business ahead of the business of Jesus Christ, Timothy was committed to the cause of Christ. So too with Epaphroditus. In the ancient Roman world, the families of prisoners were allowed to provide for them–food, clothing, and even books. The church in Philippi had evidently sent Epaphroditus as their representative–as a member of the family–to bring supplies to Paul (2:25). But Epaphroditus didn’t just drop everything off and run. Instead of returning home, he remained to serve Paul with whatever he needed. That took commitment.
One Sunday morning, a young pastor said to his church, “if you’re here just to warm up the pew, we don’t need you. We don’t need more numbers. We need people willing to serve.” I understand what he was trying to say. When I look at our Sunday School teacher list for fall that still has so many blank spaces, I agree with him, we need people willing to serve.
Yet I also believe that we need people who will simply be present. Epaphroditus stayed with Paul. Timothy stayed with Paul. And we need people with staying power in our lives and in the church.
In fact, when people are grieving, when people struggle with change, when people go through crisis—and sometimes we all face such difficulties–sometimes the best thing we can do is simply to be there for one another: to listen, to pray, to be quiet together. At those times, we’re not just warming the pew, not just warming the seat next to someone else. Think of it instead as the ministry of presence, that warmth of community that surrounds us. We need that too. So if you sometimes feel, I can’t do much, but I’m here, please know that can also be a gift. It’s the ministry of presence, and that takes commitment as the fourth C of healthy teamwork.
5. Genuine Caring
While Epaphroditus stayed with Paul, he became ill. We don’t know what his illness was, but it became so severe that he almost died. “But God had mercy on him—and not just on him but also on me,“ writes Paul, “because his death would have caused me great sorrow” (2:27). As a member of Paul’s team, Epaphroditus wasn’t simply another cog in the church planting machine. He was a whole person, and when he was ill, Paul expressed genuine caring.
For healthy teamwork, the fifth C is our genuine care for one another. As we contribute our unique strengths, we also contribute our weakness: the things we’re not so good at, the times of illness whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Yes, a healthy team needs to communicate, to contribute effectively, to have character and commitment—but when we fail in those things, we also need genuine caring, to pray for one another, to extend grace and forgiveness.
6. Clear Leadership
In the opening of his letters, Paul would sometimes include other members of his team. So the letters of Philippians, 2 Corinthians, and Colossians come from Paul and Timothy. 1 Corinthians comes from Paul and Sosthenes. The letter to the Galatians was sent “from Paul . . . and from all the brothers and sisters with me” (Galatians 1:1-2) . Yet each of these letters came to be known in church history as Paul’s letters. Clearly, Paul was the leader of his team.
In our congregation today, I know that we’re not always comfortable with the title and responsibility of being a leader. Some of our Connection Group leaders will say, “I’m not the leader. I’m just the representative for my group. I let everyone know what’s going on. I pass around a list so people can sign up to host. I phone people who missed the last meeting because they might be sick. But I’m not the leader.”
Well, you might not be THE leader–after all, Christ is the leader, the head of the church. But you’re providing clear leadership in the way you communicate and care and contribute to your group, in your character and commitment. Clear leadership is also part of healthy teamwork as our sixth C.
7. Common Purpose
That brings us to the final C on our list today: healthy teamwork shares a common purpose. Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus were united around the business of Jesus Christ (2:21), united around the gospel (2:22), united around the work of Christ (2:30). These are three different ways of saying the same thing. Instead of each doing their own thing, they shared a common purpose in the cause of Christ.
In the world of hockey close to home, the big news this week is that Trevor Linden is no longer president of the Vancouver Canucks organization. After just over four years, they’re parting ways, and there’s a lot of speculation: whether he had a falling out with the owners, whether they disagree on how best to develop young players like Quinn Hughes, whether there’s something else going on. In the midst of the controversy, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini sent out a series of tweets. In one, he said: “A rebuild is a long, slow, gradual process. Everybody needs to be united behind the same vision and pulling in the same direction.” To move forward as a team, the Canucks need a common purpose pulling in the same direction. That too is part of healthy teamwork.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? I don’t usually alliterate my sermon points, since that can seem artificial, but it seemed to work this time–with just a little cheating by adding some extra words.
What other qualities of healthy teamwork would you want to add from your own observations, experience, and reflection?
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