In this message, I want to describe two very important and interdependent concepts that have Biblical origins and have become basic, foundational ideas of our church, larger businesses, government, military, and society in general. These two concepts are (1) Collective Strength, and (2) Division of Labor.
To properly explain the idea of Collective Strength, let’s suppose that there are two teams of people working on independent projects. The first group is comprised of individuals who each play special, personalized roles, and work in close cooperation with each other to complete all the tasks necessary to complete the project. The second group is comprised of members working independently and in competition amongst themselves. Typically, the first group is able to perform much more efficiently and produce higher quality work than the second group, and this is due to their “collective strength”. To understand why this is so, please consider the following.
Upon observation of the first kind of group, each individual “contributes to” the success of the group. This means that there is not one person who is responsible for the success of the group, but they are all responsible to each other. This type of situation is likely to build strong relationships among the members, regardless of whether a success is achieved or not.
In the application of the second kind of group, there tends to be more disorganization, and the competition motivates some people to do certain tasks superfluously, while other tasks (usually the dirty, mundane and thankless ones) remain undone until a crisis arises. Each and every person is responsible for the success of them all. Therefore, if success is not achieved, there is likely to be bitter feuding and blame casting among the members, which commonly invokes jealousies and self-vindications, leading to a breakdown of their relationships.
For example, in 2002, I went to Fuzhou, China, with a group of Americans, to teach English to a large group of young people. We lived together at a summer camp for almost a month. After classes, we would swim and play basketball and other games. We formed two basketball teams: One team was only high-school-aged Chinese boys. The other team had all the American male teachers, and the average age of the American team was about 35. You’d think that those young Chinese boys, who played basketball every day, would run circles around the older, American teachers… right?
Wrong~! The Americans beat them hands down, every game~!
Why is that? It’s because the Chinese culture does not teach young people about collective strength. Every one of those Chinese boys wanted to be the Michael-Jordan-styled leader of the team, so every time one of them got the ball, he would fight to keep it until he could make a basket, which was hardly ever, because the Americans would gang up and hound him until he lost possession. Whenever the American team got possession of the ball, they would pass it all around, among themselves, player to player, until one of them made a basket. A lot of the Chinese boys just stood and watched, because they didn’t know to whom the ball would be passed next.
In witness of this phenomena, we arrive at the philosophical concept of collective strength, which reasons mathematically that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. In physics, this concept is addressed by what is called “superposition”, and the same idea is utilized in engineering design, where many light, flimsy struts can be connected to form a very sturdy and rigid body. In psychology, “Gestalt therapy” uses this principle to give individuals a healthy and wholistic concept of one’s self. In government, it is alluded to in the political axiom, “United we stand, divided we fall.” Additionally, the most successful business enterprises commonly have divisions of specialized tasks, which are skillfully combined by the management to reach the desired ends. This brings us to the next topic – the division of labor.
Division of Labor
The idea of a division of labor is described very vividly in Exodus 18:13-26, which follows…
13 And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. 14 So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?”
15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”
17 So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. 18 Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. 19 Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. 20 And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. 21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”
24 So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel , and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26 So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.
Churches have a division of labor, comprised of pastors, trustees, deacons, staff members and volunteers, who serve the entire church.
Governments have a division of labor, made up of courts, legislatures, departments, and cabinets.
Strong, Godly marriages have both collective strength and a division of labor.
For a further study of collective strength and division of labor, read Ephesians 4, 1st Corinthians 12 and 14, the structure and practices of the Early Church, the 12 disciples under Jesus, and the Old Testament Israelities with their divisions and duties. These should provide a more thorough picture of collective strength and in the Bible.