Monday, September 13, 2010

Shared Leadership Is Normal for the Church

The New Testament demonstrates a shared leadership model as normal for the church. In modern times, many churches have become accustomed to a single-pastor model of church leadership. This model puts pastors in situations where they are serving alone as the primary leaders of the church. In larger churches this model may be modified if there is a staff of pastors who serve under a senior pastor, but the basic concept is still that the senior pastor has a great deal of authority over the church. This single-pastor model is especially evident in the preaching and pastoral care ministries of the church. The solo pastor, or the senior pastor in a larger church, is often expected to do almost all of the preaching and pastoral care.

When the bulk of the preaching and pastoral care is centered on one person, it creates the impression that the person has more authority than the New Testament grants. Once the congregation perceives that the pastor has all the authority, it follows that the pastor also bears all the responsibility for getting everything done. This tension between authority and responsibility can be significant. Yet this is exactly what many bivocational pastors face in their churches. The church expects them to provide most of the leadership in the church as well as accept most of the blame for any faults in the church. This is not how the church was led in the New Testament.

In the life of the New Testament church there was an equal sharing of leadership by a group of people. One example of this multiple leadership approach is found in Acts 13:1-3: "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,
Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." This passage demonstrates that five people were serving together as the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. There is no distinction made between the leaders, which indicates a joint sharing of duties and responsibilities between these five individuals.

This plurality shows that the church should not rise and fall on the leadership of just one person. When pastors find themselves in churches that do not have multiple leaders, developing leaders should be one of the first priorities. Paul's young protégé Timothy found himself in such a situation while he was serving as pastor of the church in Ephesus. Paul wrote a letter to Timothy instructing him in how to lead the church. Part of those instructions are found in 2 Timothy 2:1-2: "Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others."

In this passage Paul instructs Timothy to teach other individuals the truth of the gospel. But they were not just any individuals; they were individuals who must be able to share in the teaching ministry of the church. They were to be trustworthy people who would pass the truth of the gospel on to others. The emphasis was on Timothy training others who would join him in his teaching, preaching, and leading ministries in the church. This should be a goal of all pastors, especially those serving in bivocational roles.

The above comments are adapted from Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett. To learn more about bivocational ministry and how lay people can help bivocational pastors become more effective, purchase the book at or at or


  1. Terry, this is a fantastic point of view. I pastor a small church in Washington, and though I am not bi-vocational at this time, it is only because my wife is able to work as a school teacher. The rigors of the pastorship must be a shared task. I know that I cannot accomplish alone what God wants done, and I need the cooperation of the body--especially solid, godly leadership. I have ordered your book and I look forward to learning the Biblical principles you espouse.

  2. Dr. Dorsett, thanks so much for posting this. This comment really says it all, I think:

    "Once the congregation perceives that the pastor has all the authority, it follows that the pastor also bears all the responsibility for getting everything done."

    I know, or have been a part of, too many churches that easily fall into this type of perception.

    I look forward to more of your posts.
    Andrew R