restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Companionate Leadership

 David Alan Black 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go with others.”

– African proverb

More and more pastors are leaving “the ministry,” unable to handle the unrealistic expectations placed upon them. One of them recently wrote:

When I left full-time ministry and took full-time secular employment, my interviewer was a fine Christian man who asked me why I had left the church to get an MBA. I told him, “I guess I expected people to act their best at church, when in fact most of them acted their worst.”

They said things there they dared not say to their boss, spouse, parents, or children, and acted too often like immature children. I felt like a paid punching bag. I realized I could probably be more effective and happier as an involved layman than I could be as a minister. And it certainly did away with my stomach problems. In the end, I was right. I have been a happy and active churchman on the other side of the pulpit. Only in the last few years have I gone back to part-time ministry and I’m enjoying it completely. But I can walk away at any moment – it’s not my livelihood. It gives me a freedom to do and say exactly what I think is right and if any one individual doesn’t like it...too bad. Maybe that’s the whole problem in a nutshell. Too many pastors feel tongue-tied by the fear of losing their job, so they can’t bring themselves to call people on the carpet for how they speak and act.

When we turn from personal experience to biblical instruction – the words of Christ and His apostles – we find that church leadership is not a “job” at all in the secular sense. Nor is it a one-man show. In New Testament times, a plurality of elders served individual New Testament churches.

Acts 11:30: This they also did, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Acts 14:23: So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 15:2: Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

Acts 15:4: And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported everything God had done with them.

Acts 15:6: So the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.

Acts 15:22: Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

Acts 15:23: They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.

Acts 16:4: And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.

Acts 20:17: From Miletus he sent messengers to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

Acts 21:18: The next day Paul went with us to visit James, and all the elders were present.

1 Tim. 5:17: Let the elders who handle their duties well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

Tit. 1:5: For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.

James 5:14: Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

1 Pet. 5:1: The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.

1 Pet. 5:5: Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Clearly the New Testament does not point to any congregation with a stand-alone pastor and leader. A plurality of godly men, exercising their individual giftedness, is the consistent pattern. Leadership in the early church was companionate, or shared.

What would such companionate leadership look like if it were implemented today?

1) Leaders would recognize that each local Body is a theocracy with Jesus Himself the absolute monarch and Head of the church (Eph. 1:20-23). He alone possesses all legislative authority (Matt. 28:18).

2) Congregations would recognize that the nature of pastoral ministry requires more than can be done well by only one pastor.

3) Leaders would acknowledge that they all have equal responsibility in their congregations, so that no one of them could be singled out as the pastor.

4) Congregations would see that shared leadership is a deterrent to any one leader becoming a Diotrephes (3 John 9) who runs roughshod over the church.

5) Leaders would understand and accept the diversity of ministering according to one’s individual spiritual gifts.

6) Congregations would make decisions together, and unanimously. Where there is no unity of the Spirit there is grave danger. Being “of one accord,” the early church sought consensus, not “majority rule.” Unanimity was the goal of every decision (see 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 1:27; 2:2; Eph. 4:1-6; 1 Pet. 3:8).

7) Leaders would encourage all believers to have an active role in the Body. They would teach and model the priesthood of all believers. They would not allow the congregation the luxury of expecting their leaders to do everything. “He that is greatest among you will be your servant” would be their motto.

8) Congregations would recognize that plural leadership brings collective wisdom to bear on problems and decisions.

These are but a few implications of companionate leadership. We have said that shared leadership consists in following the New Testament pattern of congregational life. Let us see to it that we do not frustrate the wise purposes of God by neglecting truth in order to pursue man-made ecclesiastical traditions and structures.

June 27, 2006

David Alan Black is the editor of

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