The Lone Ranger Is Not a Team Player

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I like reading the acknowledgments page in a book. I enjoy seeing the names of friends, family members, mentors, and others who comprise the community surrounding the author. There's a romantic myth of the author as solitary genius, the hermit who goes into a cave and throws out a masterpiece. Not so. Every book is the product of collaboration, and the acknowledgments are a window into each author's community.

We see this in Scripture as well, especially at the end of Paul's letters. Romans 16 is an example of his "acknowledgments." There Paul greets twenty-nine individuals by name, from Priscilla and Aquila to Tryphena and Tryphosa, as well as many others included in general terms like "the church," "the household," "the other brothers and sisters," and "all the believers with them." He describes the recipients as his "coworkers" and "dear friends" who "work hard in the Lord."

Paul also mentions his immediate companions and coworkers—Tertius, who wrote the letter down. Phoebe, who delivered the letter to the Romans. Gaius, who hosted Paul. And other coworkers like Timothy and Sosipater. In other words, Paul is no lone ranger in his work. He is not an isolated individual. He is part of a particular community (probably in Corinth at the time of the writing), and he writes to another like-minded community (in Rome).

As E. Randolph Richards has pointed out in his book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, ancient letter writing was not a solitary activity. Paul did not write letters in isolation, like we send off e-mails from our laptops or Blackberries today. Nor was he merely dictating letters to a secretary. In the first century, letters such as Paul's were often written in a communal setting, such as a patron's living room or workshop. Several people probably worked in the room together, interacting with the material as it was composed. Because of the expense of writing supplies, Paul and his coworkers would have bounced ideas off each other, honing and clarifying the concepts before carefully setting pen to paper.

Paul's letters were likely crafted during vigorous discussions. God's inspired, authoritative Scriptures were written (and preserved and handed down to us) by faithful Christian communities. And these communities grappled seriously with God's call and word to his people. Indeed, while some epistles give Paul solo billing, others explicitly point to this Christian teamwork. Several epistles carry Timothy's name alongside Paul's. The first and second epistles to the Thessalonians were written jointly by Paul, Silas, and Timothy (see 1 Thess. 1:1 and 2 Thess. 1:1). And 1 Corinthians was coauthored with Sosthenes. Galatians may reflect a larger group effort, since it is issued from Paul and "all the brothers and sisters with me."

Romans is considered the high-water mark of Paul's writing. It is his longest, most detailed and theologically developed letter. But it also mentions more of his teammates and coworkers than any other letter. Surely, that is no accident. Excellence and productivity are a natural result of healthy community, dynamic collaboration, and energizing teamwork.

Too often at the office, I'm tempted to close my door, buckle down and tackle my work alone. Too often, I assume that I'm more productive when I'm not interrupted by others. But I need to remember that I'm part of larger communities in my workplace—a team, a department, and the overall company.

We are not merely isolated individuals doing our own thing. We must remember, as Paul says in Romans 12:4-8, that we are members of a larger body, and we work best when we all work together.

Are you part of a team? Is your work collaborative? Don't be a lone ranger. May your work thrive as a result of participation in community.

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