A Dozen More Gifts
When we have carefully guarded the door to leadership on the way in, and we know each other well enough to confirm we’re walking together in the light, then we can exercise great trust in the team’s sense of direction. We are significantly wiser together than alone.
Of course, there are drawbacks to plurality in leadership. Even though it’s more likely that an individual will be led astray, whole groups have been deceived and corrupted. And as Alexander Strauch concedes, “Team leadership in a church family can be painfully slow and terribly aggravating” (Biblical Eldership, 44). That’s true. But on the whole, the benefits of leading together far outweigh going at it alone.
Here, then, are a dozen more benefits, among others, to supplement the truth that we indeed are wiser together. (These are not meant to heap discouragement on those who are in singular leadership situations and would love to be surrounded by fellows but have none. Rather, we hope they will give you incentive to keep praying for, and investing in the lives of, future teammates in ministry.)
1. More Strengths, Fewer Weaknesses
Plurality in leadership means rounding out our giftings with the talents of others, and pooling our complementary gifts to do the work more effectively. God gives “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:6).
And as we pool our strengths, we make up for our deficiencies. Leading together covers many of our weaknesses. In a team setting, our individual lapses in judgment cause less damage, if any; other voices can speak up and point in another direction. It’s OK to be imperfect; others can see our blind spots and bring correction. And leading together can guard against domineering tendencies in individual leaders, as peers stand alongside to sharpen and challenge them.
2. Healthier Teaching
It’s good for individual teachers to make their provocative points, have their well-placed hyperboles, and exhibit their own winsome quirks and idiosyncrasies. But when they’re alone over the long haul, they can introduce wobbles and imbalances into local church life. Any group with only one teacher will become painfully like that leader if you give it enough time.
At the heart of Christian leadership is speaking God’s words (Hebrews 13:7). And it’s just as important to have a plurality of elders in public teaching as it is in private meetings and decisions. Also, when there is a team of qualified teacher-leaders, they can teach in various settings. In this way, there are multiple significant influences on the people. No one teacher has all the gifts, and all the balance, that a healthy, vibrant community needs.
3. Lightening the Workload
Pastoral leadership can be very demanding. Not only is there the proactive labors of preparation and delivery of public teaching, and the long meetings to make mind-bending decisions, but also the intensive reactive ministry of responding to needs in the flock. When we lead together, we share the heavy load that shepherding can be at times. When we divide the labor and distribute the weight of ministry, we make everyday life more livable for leaders and protect them from exhaustion and burnout.
4. Being Pastored and Accountable
Plurality in leadership also provides essential care and accountability. When the church’s most public leader has peers who can speak into his life, and hold him to the fire, there is less room for subtly taking advantage of privilege and making self-serving decisions. And for every Christian shepherd, our more fundamental identity is being one of the sheep (Luke 10:20). Pastors need to be pastored. We all need to be held accountable and have some structure for being called out if we get off track, as well as led proactively into greener pastures.
5. More Safety Together
Often in Christian leadership, we encounter situations that seem far beyond us as individuals. We simply don’t know what to do, or what counsel to give. We’re confused and torn; we feel stuck.
Leading together not only makes us wiser together when many options are on the table, but also helps us to move carefully forward, one step at a time, into a situation in which we’re not even sure there’s one good option. As Proverbs 11:14 says, “in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
6. More Support From the Church
Because elders are first and foremost sheep, not shepherds, they are “of the people.” This office is different than that of Apostle, as those who represent the Chief Shepherd in a more significant sense. We might say that while the apostles are “of God,” the elders are “of the people.”