The Gospel and Teamwork

Posted On March 24, 2020

This material has been previously published in Jeff Mingee’s Called to Cooperate: A Biblical Survey and Application of Teamwork. (Ichthus Publications, Apollos, PA., 2016). Reprinted with permission.

“Whether or not one realizes it, the gospel is – by its very nature – intensely social.” -Mark Liederbach[1]

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 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 staff teams, we volunteer on ministry teams and committees, we play on teams, we gather in teams; but we don’t know what God says about teams. Teams matter to God.

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.” (Gen 2:18). In Exodus we read of Moses, who is sharpened by the advice of Jethro (Exodus 18) and we read of the participation of God’s people from Oholiab and Bezalel (Ex. 31) to the cooperative work of the people of Israel in building the Tabernacle (Exodus 36-39). In Numbers we are systematically reminded that the story of salvation is a communal story as we read the census of God’s people (Numbers 1, 26). Recounting Israel’s history, David and his mighty men are exemplified (2 Samuel 23), and we hear David’s parting wisdom to 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 Ninevites, rather than understanding that a relationship with God compelled him to such.

We ought to work with one another, as Paul did, 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. The Bible tells me so. 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. Those of us who are Christians and who work or serve, or want to 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. To dismiss the written Word is to dismiss the Author, God. To dismiss the written Word is to dismiss the Subject, Jesus. To dismiss the written Word is to dismiss the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us by the Word. Any understanding of teamwork without the biblical text will be incomplete. As we will see throughout Scripture, God, who calls us to Himself, calls us to teamwork. But what is teamwork?

Teamwork Defined

D.A. Carson defines Christian fellowship as “self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel.”[2] Building on that definition, Christian teamwork could be defined as “self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel for the advancement of the gospel.” No matter what field of service your team is in, athletics or education, or church or humanitarian or managerial or retail or business, Christian teamwork in your field will require self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel for the advancement of the gospel. Teamwork is coming together around a common goal. An athletic team works together to get points on the scoreboard. A publishing team comes together to publish the work. A team of educators comes together for the purpose of educating. Christian teamwork comes together for the gospel. But the gospel is not merely the goal of Christian teamwork, it is the grounds of Christian teamwork.

The Gospel

“For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). This is the gospel. Paul lamented that his Jewish kinsmen did not understand it and sought to achieve righteousness on their own (Romans 10:1-4). John wrote that we might believe it and believing have life (John 20:30-31). Peter realized that this gospel overpowered social divisions (Acts 10). This gospel recreates us and reconciles us through the blood of Christ.

Our righteousness is in Christ, not in ourselves. Our righteousness, or right-ness before a holy God, is not wrapped up in what we do but rather is found in what Christ has done. This is fundamental to living rightly before God. Paul wrote, “the righteous shall live by faith.” We are not the heroes of our righteousness, actively achieving it on our own. We are rather humble recipients who, in Christ, become the righteousness of God.

The gospel is the good news of this gifted righteousness. It begins with God creating a good world and giving people good rules by which to enjoy life. But as the sad chapter of Genesis 3 tells us, we traded those good rules for our own way. And we traded the protection of the King for separation from the King. But while we were yet sinners and separated from God, he sent Christ to live the life we failed to live and die the death we deserved to die. In our place, he stood condemned. And by the triumphant resurrection from the grave, God displayed his approval on Jesus. The resurrection etches into a rolled away stone that which God had said, “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” And this Jesus will be known and worshipped by people from every tribe. He will dwell with his people. He will wipe away every tear and subject every enemy under his feet. The gospel is the good news of a great King.

We cannot appreciate the good news of the gospel without facing the reality of our sinful condition. 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.”[3] Have you ever served on a dysfunctional team or on a team with a dysfunctional people? (If your answer is no…. perhaps you’ve been the dysfunctional person!) This is not merely the result of our imperfections, but 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.

We see the effects of sin and the power of the gospel everywhere. This gospel 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.

God’s design in salvation is to reconcile a people to himself, and in so doing, he reconciles those people to one another. The gospel leads us to community. The dividing wall of hostility now has been broken down as the Lord Jesus is creating one new man. Christians are now fellow citizens being built together into a holy temple. The gospel leads us to teamwork. When we fail to appreciate this, we fail to appreciate the richness of the gospel. To treat salvation as though it reconciles us to God but not to other believers is to cheapen salvation. We do not have a one-dimensional gospel but a gospel that reconciles every dimension.

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,” while an inability to articulate how the gospel drives their teamwork prevents full growth. (And try planting a church without teamwork!). We converse about teamwork from a pragmatic and practical standpoint. And while ministry and teamwork are certainly practical and pragmatic, they are 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, and leave behind, 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.

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.

Ethics professor Mark Liederbach explains, “whether or not one realizes it, the gospel is—by its very nature—intensely social. It is given to people for the benefit of people and is expected to have an impact not only on individuals but also on the world in which they live.”[4]

The Gospel Frees us to Teamwork

This good news frees us to teamwork.

  • Because we have God’s full approval in the gospel, we no longer manipulate the people around us, our teams, or seek other’s approval.
  • Because we have the riches of grace in Christ Jesus, we no longer have to cheat others as we strain for an advantage.
  • Because we have been reconciled to God through the work of Christ, we are no longer seeking prestige in the opinion of others on the merits of our work.

God, in his gift of common grace, can and does give us good team members who are not Christians. He sometimes surrounds us with people who, though they are not Christians, are honest and law-abiding in their business ethics and generous in their personal dealings. Yet, without Christ, all of us are following the “spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 2:2). Without the saving grace of God, we are, by nature, self-serving, and enemies of God. But in Christ, we who were once far off have been drawn near. In the gospel, we have been made new. And this gospel frees us to teamwork.

The Gospel Compels us to Teamwork

The gospel, however, does not merely open up the possibility of teamwork. The gospel actively compels us to teamwork. We say with Paul, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Yes, we live for him who died for us. Such a display of love grips us and governs us. It becomes not only our model, but also our motivation. We are controlled or compelled by the love of Christ. We, having been reconciled with God, have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” and have become “ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Cor 5:18-20). And this ministry is a call to teamwork. Tim Chester writes, “Into our pervasively individualistic worldview, we speak the gospel message of reconciliation, unity, and identity as the people of God. This is perhaps the most significant “culture gap” that the church has to bridge. […] My being in Christ means being in Christ with those who are in Christ.”[5]

The liberating love of Christ does not merely open us up to the possibility of teamwork; it actively compels us to teamwork. If we claim to be gripped by the gospel, we must be active participants in gospel teamwork. We hear this in Paul’s opening words to the believers in Philippi, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. […] It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace…” (Phil 1:3 – 4,7).

The apostle Paul wrote, with chained hands and a free heart, of his love for his fellow believers. Undoubtedly Paul thought of the Philippian Jailer whom he had baptized, the slave girl whom he had seen delivered, and Lydia, who faithfully served as a minister of the gospel. (Acts 16). At the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he would call Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord.” (Phil 4:2). Paul knew that this gospel was creating a new society, a new team, and he thanked God for it. Paul, in light of the gospel, called them to teamwork.

British theologian John Stott writes, “God intends his people to be a visual model of the gospel, to demonstrate before people’s eyes the good news of reconciliation. But what is the good of gospel campaigns if they do not produce gospel churches?”[6] The apostle Paul labors in Ephesians 3 to help us see how the grace of God leads us to be active participants in the community of faith known as the church. Grace, Paul explains, was given to him so that he could preach Christ to the Gentiles so that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:10). The gospel of grace created the church, and now grace compels us to active participation in the church as we display the beauty of the gospel. Grace compels us to teamwork.

Those of us who long to be Great Commission Christians must develop a theology of teamwork. If we want to see churches planted and new gospel communities formed, part of our journey will be learning how to work together in a healthy and gospel-centered way. If those of us in leadership want to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry,” then we will do so in the context of intentionally developed and theologically informed teams. Let us marvel, as Paul did, that the gospel has saved us. Let us labor to see this gospel advanced. And let us do so, not as lone-ranger Christians, but as those who have developed a healthy and gospel-centered theology of teamwork.

[1] Liederbach, Mark, and Alvin Reid. Convergent Church, pg. 214.

[2] DA Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 16.

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

[4] Liederbach, Mark, and Alvin Reid. Convergent Church, Pg. 214.

[5] Timmis, Steve. Total Church. Pg. 41.

[6] Stott, John. Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today. Pg. 111.

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