On the way to work one morning recently, I heard Dave Willis, a guest on the Focus on the Family Broadcast, talk about bringing up his sons with Christian values. He shared a memorable incident where his own son had said something negative to the only girl on his Little League baseball team. As a good coach, he made his son apologize to her, and then addressed his players. He said, “We never want to make anybody on this team feel that they don’t belong.”
This reminded me of one of the things I have loved about serving in the U.S. Army for over 30 years: its emphasis on treating all personnel with dignity and respect. Equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of their demographic, is constantly reinforced at every level, whether for military centralized promotion and command select boards, or for civilian hiring actions and promotions. I believe that our strength lies in our unity of purpose amidst great diversity. Every member on the team brings something positive to the table based on who they are and where they come from.
Let me address this topic from a biblical perspective. I will share a few personal observations and suggestions from what I have seen in my own workplace, unpack an important passage from one of Paul’s epistles that is applicable for us at work, and share some wisdom from another writer.
Valuing Differences in a Team
As a child, I lived in a racially diverse neighborhood in Long Island, New York, for several years. I attended kindergarten through 2nd grade there. Classmates with different skin colors were the same as those who wore blue or red shirts—that is, it didn’t matter. I am glad I grew up that way. When I joined the Army 20 years later, I truly appreciated the diversity of my teammates. It was so great to see my kids making friends with those of a different race in our neighborhood or at school.
When I give my orientation brief to new members of our team, I make certain that they understand that this office will be a safe place to work for all concerned. There will be no tolerance for sexual harassment or racial discrimination. Every single member of the team will be treated with basic human dignity and respect. Period. I then carefully point out the diverse groups within our office and within the larger organization. Not only are many races and ethnicities present, but we have military and civilian, male and female, officers and noncommissioned officers, old and young, active duty, reserve and National Guard. And even though everyone used to joke around about the competencies of the other two branch schools where we work side-by-side (military police and engineers), we can no longer do that. We even get along with the Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who are stationed here.
How do we treat those who are different than us with dignity and respect? We notice them. We smile and greet everyone in the morning and say goodbye when we head home in the afternoon. We praise them in public and correct them in private. We engage with all. We ask questions to get to know our teammates and listen to their answers. We never tolerate any kind of negative talk about “those people” (whether they be of other races, ranks, ages, genders, or services; it doesn’t matter). If someone were to say something carelessly about blondes, millennials, or boomers, we stop it. We let all know on a daily basis that they are appreciated and are valued members of the team.
Building Up the Church through Mutual Respect
Let us look a little closer at what the Apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, we read a brilliant analogy concerning various parts of the human body. In context, Paul had just been teaching about spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1-11). He writes that there are a variety of spiritual abilities that every Christian has received from the Holy Spirit, who gives to each one as he wishes. In the same way, the human body is made up of many parts that form one complete body.
In his analogy, Paul compares individual body parts that each have a divine purpose and a shared connection to the local body of believers in Corinth, whose members forgot their unity in Christ. The foot should not think that it does not belong to the body just because it is not a hand. If the foot was missing, how would the body walk around? Additionally, the eye can’t say to the hand that it is not needed. Every part contributes to the whole. What Paul is saying to them (and us) is this: Every member of the team is essential, has a unique purpose, performs a necessary function, and is to be valued by the other members. We need each other.
Here is what it would look like at my work. One of my sergeants could say, “Well, I am not an officer. Officers are really important. What I do doesn’t matter.” One of the male employees could say, “Why do we have females on our team? They are different. We don’t need them.”
What would it look like at your place of employment? Do your custodians or administrative assistants feel like valued members of your organization? Are there leaders at or near the top of the chain who do not recognize or value the contributions that everyone on the team brings?
In William Morris’ great book Love Thy Colleague, he addresses how to minister to the loners who have forgotten that they are part of the team. He shares this valuable insight:
Allowing each person as an individual to fully develop their talents and build and deepen relationships within the framework of a team, is what best promotes the human flourishing that God desires in the workplace (and everywhere). And the loner can severely disrupt that dynamic just like Paul’s unruly limbs.
Later, Morris exhorts his readers on how to show God’s love to these workers who prefer to go solo.
Mercy lay in showing the colleague that they didn’t have to change from being a foot to being a hand, or try to be the whole body… Paul was actually arguing against conformity inside the church. There was, he said, room for different talents, different characters, different types of people. And it was from diversity inside the one body that real strength, and richness, and fruitful possibility truly lay.
I know from my own experience in building teams over the past 12 years—teams that seem to change every few months or so—that I have to be intentional to ensure that every member of the team is treated like family. I have to monitor my own relationship to each one, and also the relationships that each one has with the others on the team. We cannot accomplish our mission without them.