Christian leadership is not for the lone wolf. The labor is too important when souls are in the balance, and all of us are simply too frail and shortsighted, with too much indwelling sin and too many blind spots, to go at it on our own.
Whatever the role, whether on the college campus, or in the inner city, or among an unreached people group, or in the local church, we desperately need each other in all of life, and especially in leadership. Christian leadership is a team sport, and in a post-Enlightenment society, still deeply affected by modernist individualism, the biblical model of plurality in leadership is a desperately needed corrective, and a powerfully redemptive grace.
Team leadership does not mean there is no “chief among equals”; it’s both inevitable and good among any group that one person eventually functions as the “senior” or the final buck-stopper—might as well name that and make it plain. But the clear model in the New Testament is team leadership in the local church—plurality, we call it. “Without exception,” says Gregg Allison, “every time the New Testament mentions the government of a particular church, the leadership structure is a plurality of elders” (Sojourners and Strangers, 293).
Before providing a dozen additional benefits of plurality in leadership, here is a headlining principle: We are wiser together. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). “By wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 24:6).
The vast majority of decisions we face in life each day are not clearly laid out in biblical do’s and don’ts. The way we learn to do “what is good and acceptable and perfect” is by being “transformed by the renewal of your minds, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2). We don’t live life following a list. Rather, God remakes us from the inside into increasingly new people, and as we’re “renewed in the spirit of [our] minds” (Ephesians 4:23), we exercise wisdom as we “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). As we are “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9), we learn to “approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:10).
Plurality in leadership, then, is the corporate manifestation of such sobermindedness, sanctified level-headedness. The toughest decisions we face in leadership are not clear do’s and don’ts. And in leadership, the messes multiply and the decisions become more difficult. What we desperately need is to exercise a collective wisdom stemming from God’s remaking of us, not just individually but together. We need to supplement each other’s judgment, and seek to discern together God’s path for the ministry we lead. Which is why one of the first characteristics required of elders in the church is “sober-mindedness” (1 Timothy 3:2).