“You didn’t build that!” This phrase from an election campaign speech was uttered by U.S. President Barack Obama last July in Roanoke, Virginia. He was speaking about the ways in which successful businesses rely on both individual and public infrastructure, stating in part:
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life…Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business-you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. ”
St. Paul addresses the truth of interdependence and interconnection in First Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 12-31a. He is writing to a church in which some members feel superior to others. Yet all are important to the work of God, he says, comparing members to one body:
“If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”
What a beautiful way to say that all of us are important in the kingdom. All of us belong. All of us are dependent on each other. And that’s good to know. We need each other. In real life, there are no rugged individualists, no super heroes-only ordinary people helping each other to become all we can be. None of us can do it alone.
When I consider my own life, I realize that many people have helped me become who I am. Moreover, I have helped other people become who they are. “No man is an island,” wrote the 17th-century Anglican divine John Donne. He was right. We succeed in life only because there have been people with us and behind us, around us and ahead of us, who have helped us to succeed. By ourselves, we can go only so far or do so much. But together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.
God, in fact, has instilled in us a profound need for other people. This need is not a weakness; it’s our strength. There simply are no self-reliant people-only people who recognize that the only way for any of us to succeed is for all of us to succeed.
Christianity claims that God created human beings to be interdependent. Not dependent-that leads to paternalism. Not independent-that leads to individualism. But interdependent, recognizing that we need each other to excel in this adventure of living.
This is especially true in the church. In my time as a priest, I have studied the dynamics in hundreds of churches. Without exception, great churches are great not because of the rector, the staff or the lay leadership, but because, by some miracle of God, everyone in the church worked together, using their particular gifts and talents for the common good in support of a common mission.
We are all ministers in the church.
Think about it. In every church, all members are gifted for some kind of ministry. Some are compassionate listeners and could be visiting the homebound, people in nursing homes and retirement residences. Some have outgoing personalities. They could be active in newcomer ministry, evangelism work or community outreach. Some work well with children or teens, and could be teaching in the church school, helping with summer camp or assisting in youth ministry. Some have skills in finance and property management, skills that every church needs. Others could assist in the liturgy, sing in the choir, work on the altar guild…the list goes on.
We are all important in the church. In fact, this church cannot be the church that God has called us to be if each of us is not doing our part.
We need each other. There are no self-reliant people. Rather, we are made for one another in community-interdependent and interconnected.
In Christianity, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. We can do more together than we can alone. Some call it synergy, others call it teamwork, but one thing is certain: with God, nothing is impossible when Christians join together in common mission guided by the Spirit of God who empowers us to do more than we can ask or imagine.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.