Since 2012, I have felt a certain geek satisfaction that I never thought I’d feel growing up. In May of that year, I saw what I thought was impossible: Marvel’s The Avengers, featuring multiple heroes, staples of my childhood, on-screen together for the first time. Sure, I expected it. I had followed development of that film from inception forward, carefully taking in information as to satiate anticipation yet avoiding spoilers the best I could, and I didn’t find myself sitting in a seat at midnight by accident. You could even say I had raised myself up waiting for all it offered.
Looking back at my pre-Internet age childhood, one of my most read comics wasn’t even a comic at all, but a mostly black and white, text-heavy “encyclopedia” issue called “Avengers Log,” a compendium of all team members and enemies up to its printing in 1994. I pored over the history of the team for hours upon end, and I knew the team’s roster like the back of my hand with all of its shifts, splits, victories, and losses.
I knew where The Avengers had been, but I never thought I’d ever see them in live-action on the screen, only within my imagination or on the page. Yet, just after midnight on May 4, 2012, the culmination of the four years prior of Marvel films and my own years of wishful thinking coalesced into an experience I wouldn’t forget. That wrap-around shot near the end of the movie, showing the assembled team, fully sealed the deal.
Now, in mere days, Captain America: Civil War (referred to tongue-in-cheek by many as Avengers 2.5, due to its plot) will be released, blowing my mind even further that no longer is it possible to see so many different heroes together, but also find ways to drive them apart. All indications are that it will continue the Marvel films’ tradition of quality work.
Still, in a few short years, we’ve seen the heroes come together, be tested in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and now, come to full-on blows in Civil War. With a planned two-part “conclusion” featuring in Avengers: Infinity War coming in just a couple years, I think we can assume that despite their disagreements, some if not all of those scrapping will lay aside their differences to take arms against the looming threat of Thanos. I look forward to seeing how it is all resolved, opening night I’m sure.
While the term “teamwork” isn’t mentioned in the Bible, its concept is illustrated well, especially in New Testament teaching, as we will see. As a pastor, I often remind my church of each person having their role to play in the larger reality that is Christ’s church. I have talents and abilities, attitudes and dispositions, imbued within me by my Creator and tempered by my experiences, that are unique to me, if not in peculiar form, then in particular assemblage.
I was created to live in this particular time that I am in, face the problems that I face, and minister to those led to me in the ways Scripture and the Holy Spirit lead me to do. Guess what? All of that I just shared applies to you too, if you are a believer. Wherever you are in this world, I believe God has a plan for you to do the work He calls you to do. Yet, we don’t exist in a vacuum. We exists among others, lost and saved. The lost we minister to, and the saved, whether we agree or always get along with them easily or not, we work with.
We should count it a full honor that Christ has entrusted us, each of us individually as His people, with the ability to minister, and it should also be an honor that He counts all of us, collectively as His church, worthy to work together. As I said, I am a pastor, but I also consider myself a ‘geek pastor’, and sometimes, I, personally, better understand the truths of God through things known very well to me. In this case, after seeing The Avengers and all they’ve been through thus far, I see them as an indication of teamwork, yes even for us as the Church.
I don’t mean for this article to be an exhaustive breakdown of the entire MCU, but succinctly, the initial team we got on screen in 2012 was this:
A principled leader, isolated in his views that somehow seem out of touch with the world he’s in now.
An egocentric billionaire who, after a change of heart, no longer arms enemies but stands up to them.
A lonely scientist, suffering from destructive rage issues, that leave him unable to fully connect with others.
A powerful being, forced to understand what it means to be human and humble, despite his family issues.
A government operative, trained to be cold and calculating and forced to find her place among those seemingly more able.
Another “mere mortal”, initially deceived by the enemy, but later proving his worth with his weapon of choice.
I don’t mean to delve deeply into psychoanalyzing each of them as characters or to try to squeeze six sermons out either, but I present them this way, because I see a dysfunctional group of dysfunctional individuals. Each has to cope with their own issues alone, but put together, as Bruce Banner states it, they’re not a team…they’re a “time-bomb.” I could probably find similar dynamics at play in almost any type of group, and, yes, even in local churches.
I believe we’re promised as such in Scripture. As Romans 3:23 shows us that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that means we all have one thing in common starting out: we’re messed up. I may be flawed in ways unique to me, as you may be too, but we’re not perfect as individuals, so imagine the potential issues that can emerge when we come together. We shouldn’t see the possibility of dysfunction, so much as we should expect it.
That’s not to say that nothing good can come from working with others. In fact, great things come from working together, greater things than we can do on our own, as Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 shows. No better example for why we should actively pair up with other imperfect believers can be found than that. We are actually better together, with the team being greater than the sum of its parts. Each of us have a role to play as well, as we read in Ephesians 4:11-16:
Ephesians 4:11-13 (NKJV) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
Did you catch that? Not all of us are going to be the Captain in the church (and if we’re entirely honest, Jesus should be the true Captain). There is nothing wrong with it, either, because each is “given” to what God makes them to be. I’m a pastor and teacher in my church, but I know that even in those roles, sometimes, another can minister better to a particular need (i.e. if a woman needs help in certain areas, who better than another understanding woman?).
While I won’t link an extended clip of that final battle in the film, there is no arguing that everyone played a part in the team’s victory (YES, even Hawkeye, who I would argue more than pulled his own weight). It doesn’t matter if we have seminary degrees or not: every Christian is called to speak up for and stand up for the name of Christ, and we may struggle in that calling, but we should strive to push past doubts and tell others.
Ephesians 4:14-16 (NKJV) 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
We will surely come up against opposition, internally and externally, as we find our part on “God’s team” and work out that part we play. The world will oppose us, our self-doubts will oppose us, and we may even feel like throwing in the towel. Just as we should expect dysfunction, we should also expect these feelings. Still, we must push on, growing in Christ as we play the part He fashions for us. Each of the Avengers does their part when needed, something very evident in the opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron (as Cap would probably warn, “Language!”):
As dysfunction and opposition are ever present possibilities, even the church can find itself with individual members at odds with one another. The Bible tells us times like that are likely to happen. When we find ourselves at odds with others, we aren’t left alone to figure out how to deal when friction exists between us and others caused by sin. It absolutely must be dealt with, but we should do it in its proper order:
Matthew 18:15-20 (NKJV) 15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
1 Corinthians 12:17-31 shows us an extended text, saying that through our uniqueness, we can still attain unity (one could say that true congregational unity only comes from each individual believer finding their particular role and continuing in it). I may not be just exactly like someone else, able to serve God in a particular way that I may personally wish I could, but I can be me. I can be the unique individual who can devote my particular abilities to the greater good of serving Christ corporately in the local church.
For example, I know of a woman who doubted her role in her local church. She felt like “There’s nothing I can do here. I can’t sing, I can’t preach or teach, or do anything the ministry team does. I have no role.” She didn’t know it but the children’s minister she shared that with told her this: “You don’t know it, but you were discussed in our ministry team meeting this morning. We see you, without failing, filling the soap dispensers every Sunday and making sure things are right in the restrooms before every service. No one does that but you. You do something that no one else even thinks to do, and you do it faithfully and without fault.” Those words were a great encouragement to that woman, and hopefully, they’ll give you some perspective that no role is ever too small in God’s Kingdom.
In summation, as we prepare for the film, Captain America: Civil War, we can make a connection for ourselves as believers. Things happen in life, be that in our homes, our churches, or our workplaces, and things aren’t always smooth sailing for Christians working together in this sin-filled world. There will be times when we doubt ourselves, other believers, but let us never doubt the Christ we serve.
If there is anything I can sense about the conflict at the center of the upcoming film, characters on both sides are stirred to act out of a sense of deep conviction. Brother would not war against brother, unless they felt their position is right. Many who claim to follow Christ now do so without a heavy sense of conviction or any real stance on doctrinal beliefs. The world will war against us, sin against our members, and we will likely disagree with other believers on some thing, great or small. Still, the only way we can stand in those times is if we know what we believe and take a stand for it. As the powerful battle the powerful on-screen, we battle as believers but in a way much more real and with outcomes of eternal significance. We stand only truly powered by our knowledge of God’s Truths and our reliance upon them.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV) 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
As you trek through this life, alone or alongside other believers, know what you believe as a Christian. Be able to take a stand for it. Encourage others to know and stand as well.
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