What is your definition of teamwork? If the ushers were to distribute paper and pencils to you right now, what would you write down as the definition of teamwork? Two or more people cooperating in a common task together? Making a joint effort? Collaborating together on a shared project? All pretty good definitions.
My baseball coach in college had a unique definition for teamwork. "Teamwork," he said, "is everyone doing his job." That often mentioned word and concept often strived for—teamwork—boils down to "everyone doing his/her job."
Teamwork is a word used often in sports. And "everyone doing his job" is critical to success. Sometimes being a team player requires giving up possible other glory opportunities. In baseball, they use the term "sacrifice" to speak of a batter giving up the possibility of getting a hit for the smarter team play of moving a baserunner into scoring position by the "sacrifice bunt." Or, when a runner is on second with no outs good team player batters will try to hit the ball toward the right side of the field in order to move the runner over to third. Is it possible they could swing away and get a hit? Sure. But the team play is to try and move the runner over.
Basketball has its "assists"—passes that result in a teammate scoring. Might the player make the shot himself? Possibly. But the smart team play is to pass the ball for a better shot. Football has its defensive linemen who take on blockers so that the linebackers are freed up to tackle the runner. Might the lineman make the tackle? Maybe. But the more sure play is to take on the blockers so that the linebackers are free to make the tackle.
Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a chapel service for the Denver Broncos before an exhibition game. This was back when we lived in Greeley and the Broncos pre-season practice was held in Greeley. I was working at the radio station and the secretary gave me a phone message that said, "Please call Randy Gradishar" and there was a number to call. My immediate reaction was to look around for the practical jokester who had conspired with the secretary to write the note. However, she swore it was a serious note, so I called the number fully prepared to be the victim of a practical joke, expecting one of my co-workers to answer the phone. To my surprise it was Randy Gradishar who answered the phone! Turns out he had asked about a pastor in the area to lead their chapel service in Greeley before the team bussed to Denver for a preseason game. Someone gave Gradishar the name of our pastor in the Presbyterian Church there, had called him but he wasn’t able to do the service. However, he had suggested to Gradishar to call me and that’s where the phone message came from. I gladly, and somewhat nervously agreed to lead the service…then started thinking about what in the world I would say. I had recently read about Saul’s jealousy of David when, upon David’s return from a victorious battle, the crowds shouted "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands," (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul wanted Israel to experience the victory. He just didn’t want David getting the credit and becoming so popular. In other words, Saul wasn’t a team player. I used that story to talk about teamwork on the Denver Broncos—that Reuben Carter had tackled his thousands…and Randy Gradishar his tens of thousands. But that’s the way it’s supposed to work. If personal glory and statistics become more important than team success, then team failure is guaranteed.
And it’s not just true in sports. The beauty of an orchestra is in each instrument playing its part—some in the background and underneath the melody. If the trumpet section wanted to take the piece over and dominate with their sound they could. But it wouldn’t be very beautiful. If a choral piece calls for pianissimo—that section to be sung softly—and the basses decided to highlight their voices by singing it forte, the beauty of the piece would be lost.
In every endeavor involving more than one person—whether in sports or in music, our work and even our play—teamwork is required. "Everyone doing his/her job" isn’t a bad definition of teamwork. It does, however, assume a common goal. The dictionary definition says it more completely: "work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole." That strikes me as a pretty good definition.
1 Corinthians 12 is one place where Paul defines teamwork for the Church. Each of us, Paul says, has been given gifts by the Holy Spirit. But those gifts are not given for personal glorification. Rather, they are given for "the common good." In other words, they are given for the work of the Church...for the work of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone.
It has been that way from the very beginning—both at creation and at the beginning of the Church. At creation—the Spirit hovering over the waters. At the beginning of the Church, at Pentecost, the day we mark today in the cycle of the Church Year, the Spirit comes to the disciples like tongues of fire over their heads and the disciples speak languages unfamiliar to them but familiar to many who had gathered in Jerusalem for an annual feast. It’s what was needed at that time for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel. The gift came from the Holy Spirit and the Church began. And it’s been that way ever since. The Church, described throughout Scripture as the body of Christ, the metaphor used to describe the Church is that of a body, as Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12, with each part playing its role. The work of the Church gets done, the purpose of the Church is accomplished as each part does his/her job.
It’s interesting to see how this develops in the scriptural story of the Church. At Pentecost, the disciples are gifted by God’s Spirit to proclaim the gospel in the languages of those gathered in Jerusalem. Peter is a gifted preacher and he preaches that first Pentecost and 3,000 are added to the Church! A few chapters later in the book of Acts the Church’s ministry is growing…and a problem arises over the distribution of food to widows. A new ministry is needed and people who are gifted for that kind of ministry—caregiving—are sought…and the first Deacons are selected (Acts 6). Soon, the missionary gifts of Paul are employed and he is sent out to raise up new believers and new churches. Those churches need leadership after Paul departs and the first "elders" are selected. We see the gift of hospitality helping the church in Philippi as Lydia becomes a believer and opens her home to Paul and the others. One can imagine at some point people in the early Church who are gifted musically and they bring their gifts to the work of the Church, enhancing the ministry of worship. All of these "parts" in the body of Christ coming together to accomplish the ministry and purpose of the Church.
All of us—you, me, the person sitting next to you—have been gifted by God’s Spirit for the common good of the Church. I can’t tell you what your gift is. That comes through exploring the gifts of the Spirit (such as in a Spiritual Gifts class) and experimenting with different ministries, discovering what you find fulfilling and at what you are "successful," keeping in mind that success is not about self-glory or self-accomplishment, but in what builds up the body. I can’t tell you what your gifts are—although I am willing to join with you on a journey of discovery—but I can tell you this: If you are not using your gifts, the body suffers. If someone is absent from the body and their gifts are subsequently absent, the body suffers. Every follower of Christ is given gifts from God’s Holy Spirit and they are to be used for the common good—the edification of the body of believers known as the Church.
Let’s not undervalue the importance of teamwork to the life of the Church. That is what makes the Church work. I suspect part of our struggles are with that definition—"subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole." In a culture that values "rugged individualism" and individual accomplishment, we tend to struggle with "subordinating personal prominence."
Do you know what Olympic swimmer has won the most medals? Out of all the nations and all the swimmers that have participated in the Olympics, what swimmer has won the most medals? Would you guess Mark Spitz? A good guess, but also a wrong one. Amy Van Dyken perhaps? Wrong. Some other names come to mind? Perhaps no names, but a generic guess that it’s some East German swimmer. Wrong again. The answer is American swimmer, Jenny Thompson. Anyone guess Jenny Thompson? Are you familiar with that name? We don’t know that name because her accomplishment is undervalued. None of her ten medals, eight gold medals, were individual events. All of them were won in relay races. We don’t value that kind of accomplishment, but it is not only a great accomplishment, it is a beautiful picture of the Church.
Each of us has been gifted by God for the common good of the Church, the Body of Christ. If we don’t use our gifts, the body suffers. If we value our gifts over the gifts of others, the body suffers. God has gifted each of us to be a part of the symphony that is the Church, each of us different instruments playing in harmony with each other. Each instrument matters, but only if played according to our part in the score composed by Christ, who is the Head of the Church. Let’s take a moment of silent reflection to consider the part each one of us has to play in the symphony that is Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church.