A short while ago, one of the high school students in my church told me that she hates group projects. She finished her part already, but because one of the foursome was slacking, her grade will suffer. Thus, her conclusion was when people work in groups, inevitably, there is one person that feels that they are going to let other people do the work – they will have a free ride.
I tried to balance the conversation by talking about individual sports such as chess, singles tennis, bicycling, and swimming versus team sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, and baseball.
I was thinking of the creation story when God looks over His creation and speaks these words, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Even though I was a bachelor until my mid thirties, I knew that the single life was not for me. Jesus tells his listeners that there are people who are gifted to be single for the entirety of their lives, but that number is pretty limited.
I find that I enjoy the benefits of both realities of life, but my preference is for a family, for a group of people, for a large gathering. I drive weekly for two hours from Atlantic Highlands to Philadelphia and while I enjoy the ride, what I enjoy more is the groups of students that I teach and the professors with whom I interact when I arrive. The same thing happens on the way home. I enjoy the great array of foliage as I drive, but I look more to the fact that when I get home I will meet my wife, my children, the members of the congregation I pastor, and the people in this community.
Now in favor of individualism, I recall when a congregation wanted to give me some help with the office work. One person volunteered for two days a week, and at the end of the month, I was further behind than when this person came. Instead of helping me, there were lots of conversations and I was still behind. Group work has to have its guidelines, otherwise, it becomes ineffective.
One of my colleagues, who travels globally, was telling me that when he comes home, he volunteers to do the shopping with his wife and his children. When he comes home, he does everything with two or three family members. From the time management perspective, this is not the best he tells me, but from relationship building this is the best idea that he has come up with.
The person that led my parents to Christ when I was child lived with his wife for over fifty years. They were inseparable. Yet, when she died he married within one year. We who love him defended his decision but we also asked why he did this. His concise answer was, “I do not know how to live alone!”
When I went to Chicago to work for a missionary organization, I found out that on Fridays, they had a group of about 20 people that came to do the mailing of the organization. I calculated that they spent about 60 hours doing this tedious mailing. I found out that it could be done in less than two hours at a nearby office. What I did not realize was that for the 20 people that came every Friday morning, this was their social gathering, their declaration that they were still healthy, and their willingness to pray for our organization. My effectiveness was short sighted and short lived.
Group work for my high school friend will be very different if everyone in her group will commit to do their part to the best of their abilities. At the same time, there are things that we can do more effectively on our own and we should have the liberty to do them.