Team players for Christ

For those who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, yesterday was ‘The feast of Timothy and Titus’. It is the day in the year that we remember that the Apostle Paul never operated as a solo pastor. He constantly surrounded himself with colleagues who could share in the pastoral task. Two of those colleagues were Timothy and Titus.

It is reckoned that, if one adds all the names found in Acts and in the ‘Corpus Paulinum’, then at various times some one hundred people were associated with the apostle. His favourite word to describe those with whom he served was ‘co-worker’ (sunergos). He used that term twelve times to identify such people as Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16.13), Urbanus (Rom 16.9), Timothy (Rom 16.21; 1 Thess 3.2), Titus (2 Cor 8.23), Epaphroditus (Phil 2.25), Clement (Phil 4.3), Justus (Col 4.11), Philemon (Philem 1), and Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke (Philem 24). Paul clearly saw himself as part of a ‘team’ of leaders. What is more among this team of leaders there was great affection for one another (see Acts 20.37; 1 Cor 4.17).

Wherever we look, the churches of the New Testament were led by a team of leaders. It is true that in the Pastorals the list of qualifications for leadership speaks of a ‘bishop-elder’ in the singular (see 1 Tim 3.2 and Titus 1.7): however, these are probably examples of what is known as a ‘generic singular’ (see 1 Tim 5.4-10 where the ‘generic singular’ is also used of widows). Although Andrew Clarke believed the singular form reflects the context of a house-church, as he himself recognised, this would not have been the norm, for there would have increasingly been a plurality of house-churches in any given place.[1]

Precisely how this plurality of leadership was expressed in the early church varied. This variety was expressed in the names they used for leaders: in Antioch there were “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13.1; in Asia Minor there were  “elders” (14.23) which in Ephesus were also known as ‘overseers’ or bishops’ (20.17,28).  In Philippi, the church had ‘bishops’ or ‘overseers’ and deacons’ (Phil 1.1); whereas in Thessalonica (1 Thess 5.12) and in Rome (Rom 12.18) the Greek word Paul uses for ‘leaders’ (proistamenos) implies that “those who governed the church were at the same time the ones who sought her benefit” (Gene Green).

Significantly the only example of one-man ministry or one-man leadership in the New Testament is found in 3 John 9 where “the elder” writes of “Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first”. However, as the letter clearly indicates, Diotrephes set no example.  According to Stephen Smalley, “He assumed a position of leadership in his congregation because of an egocentric lust for power, which he confused with zeal for the Gospel”. C.H. Dodd made the interesting comment that Diotrephes was “a symptom of the disease which the quasi-apostolic ministry of monarchical bishops was designed to receive”![2]

From this brief survey of New Testament evidence regarding the plurality of leadership, we may conclude with John Goldingay, “For all the diversity of patterns in the New Testament, there is no example of the concentration of local leadership in one man”. Or as Colin Brown said, “It would seem to be the case, that if there was to be a church at all in the New Testament, it needed at least two ministers”. Not without justification, therefore, Andrew Le Peau wrote:

Organisations that are built on the preaching, teaching, thinking, entertaining, fund-raising charisma of one person – of which there are many in Christendom – are built contrary to Scripture. These are not bodies. These are grotesque mutations.

[1]  Andrew Clarke, A Pauline Theology of Church Leadership 77.

[2] C. H.Dodd, The Johannine Epistles (Hodder & Stoughton, London 1946) 164.

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