Note: Excerpt from Workplace Discipleship 101: A Primer by David W. Gill, copyright 2020 by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The secular case for teams tends to be pragmatic: teams are embraced because they work and they improve the organization. The biblical case grounds the argument even deeper in our created human nature. In the beginning, God said,
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” . . . [S]o God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiple, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
When God created the world, everything was “good” or “very good” – except for one thing. As the second creation story has it: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper as his partner’” (Genesis 2:18).
Here is the core message: God is an “us” not just an “I/me.” Christians understand this as the mystery of the Trinity. God is simultaneously One and Three. Three persons in perfect unity of being and action. The first, fundamental account of creation explicitly says that God created humanity as a twosome, male and female. The second account presents one undifferentiated Adam, not the twosome of the first account. But in carrying out his mission and work, Adam’s individuality is “not good” according to God. So, God separates Adam into a twosome-in-partnership, a man and a woman. It is important to note carefully that in both accounts of creation, both male and female – in partnership – will have and raise children, and both will tend, cultivate, and protect the garden. It is only when sin and the fall occur (Genesis 3) that the man and woman suffer the curse of being alone (and being stereotyped) in either field labor or childbearing labor.
The point is that all human beings everywhere are created in the image of God; and because of this, it is deeply and essentially in our nature to live and work in partnership. It is not good to dwell or work alone. It is dehumanizing not to work and live in partnership. The creation story, which presents the first partnership as a male/female one, certainly teaches us that we need the voices, gifts, and presence of both women and men on our work teams (and child-rearing teams) of all kinds.
It was because of sin and rebellion against God that led to alienation and accusation, blaming and hiding, and then jealousy and murder. It then became necessary for Jesus Christ to reconcile us to God and to also overcome sin and its barriers between people. As we see in the Gospel accounts, Jesus built partnerships, and he sent his disciples out two-by-two, not one-by-one (Luke 10:1). His major teaching was to a band of disciples, not to individuals. People sometimes listen to the Sermon on the Mount and say that it’s impossible to live out the Beatitudes. Well, it is a high standard but it was given to a community, not an isolated individual – you can be recklessly generous if you have a brother or sister who will give you a replacement coat after you give yours away. Jesus also gave considerable decision-making authority to partnerships, not to individuals: “Truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:19-20).
Remember how Paul had Barnabas as his sidekick. Two is good – the minimum – but three may be even better, as when Paul teamed up with Aquila and Priscilla, for example. A word used often in the early church was koinonia (Greek for “community”). The root word koinos means “common, shared.” In the early Spirit-filled church of the book of Acts, the believers were no longer idios but koinos – it was no longer just about “me and mine” but about “us and ours.” I love how idios is also a root of our word idiotic. It is idiotic to be an autonomous individual focused just on what is yours. Right after Paul’s famous call to “not be conformed to this world but be transformed” (Romans 12:1-2), he writes to do not “think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Romans 12:3-8). Paul stresses the importance of the various gifts of the members of the body of Christ (the church). Each of us has something to contribute; no one stands sufficient alone.
All of this in the New Testament was building on the Old Testament. Moses needed Aaron to get the job done, and Ruth made a covenant to be with Naomi, saying, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16). David and Jonathan swore loyalty to a covenant with each other three times to watch out not just for the other but for their households as well (I Samuel 18:3; 20:16; 23:18). The entire Bible argues the practical benefits of working in partnership, but it goes much deeper by showing that this is embedded in our nature. We are made to live and work in relationships. It is dehumanizing not to seek and build such partnerships, but it is lifegiving to live and work in partnerships. Workplace discipleship needs to be pursued in partnership.
Theologian Karl Barth once said, “Humanity is co-humanity.” We are all made in the image of a Triune God, a “we” not an “I.” In Creation, God said that everything was “good” except that the man was alone. Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two, not one-by-one. Partnership is basic, not optional.