Working Together in Synergy

Paddy and Bartley were two horses behind whom my father would plough the fields on the home farm in Ireland. Paddy was an old and disciplined animal but Bartley was young and headstrong. When my father was ploughing, Bartley sometimes wanted to pull the plough in a different direction from Paddy. When this happened, my father had to work very hard to get them to pull together in the same direction. At other times, Paddy and Bartley worked happily together and progress with the ploughing was so much easier then.

Synergy is a combined effect which is greater than the sum of individual effects. Two horses working together can pull rather more than twice what one horse can pull alone. My father sometimes enjoyed the effect of synergy between his horses but all too often it was lacking and he would come home exhausted by his efforts to promote it.

The Greek word ‘sunergeo’ is used several times in the New Testament in verses that talk about ‘fellow-workers’, “co-workers” and ‘working together’. For example, 1 Corinthians 3:9 reads “We are co-workers in God’s service”. Some of these verses even suggest that we can be co-workers with God himself, we can work synergistically with him and he with us!

An oft-quoted verse in Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Matthew 11:29, NIV). The image here is probably not of horses but of oxen yoked together to work together.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases the verse this way: “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

This has implications for us in our daily lives in our work-places. We need to walk with him and learn from him. We also need to walk and work with others. Those of us who teach easily come to see ourselves as queens and kings in our own classrooms and I expect the same kind of thing is true in other workplaces. We do not like to have others observing our work closely. We may be having problems but we tend to pretend to others that everything is all right at our desk or in our classroom.

A partner relationship with another colleague can be very helpful to both. We can commit ourselves to share the highs and the lows, to observe one another’s ways of working and expose our own practice to the scrutiny of the other, to work together to find new and better ways of doing things. We are not really self-sufficient, we need one another. Why pretend to be perfect?! Why not be vulnerable? What have we to lose except our pride?!

O God of all might and energy, as workers together with you and you with us, we ask that you will help us to admit our need of others and to work better together with them and that we will help those with whom we work to discover more synergy in working together too. Amen.

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