The Biblical Foundation of Team Leadership

In writing a research paper on Team Ministry in Church Planting, I spent a few pages defending the biblical foundations for team leadership.  I thought that some of you nerdy types like me might enjoy this, so I have posted it below.  Fair warning: this one’s boring.


Unfortunately, space does not permit a full examination of the Bible’s teaching on team leadership.  However, even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that God prefers His followers to lead in relationships.  Few are the occasions of single-person leadership, such as John the Baptist and Jonah.  However, God Himself led even these men.  Scripture very clearly illustrates the idea of team leadership, even from its beginning.  In the first chapter of the Bible, the reader understands that creation is a team activity, with God the Father speaking (Genesis 1:1), the Son being the very Word of God (John 1:1), and with the Spirit presence, hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2).  The creation of man was a Trinitarian activity as well, as God makes clear in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  God uses team leadership from the very beginning.  After creation, God enlists Adam’s help in cultivating the earth.  Later, Moses and Aaron together lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Moses then mentors Joshua, his successor.  Elijah mentors Elisha.  Kenneth Gangel expounds on the nature of leadership in the Pentateuch: “Finding people whose hearts were right toward Him (Noah, Abraham), He developed a vertical relationship with those leaders, which affected their horizontal relationship with others.”[1]  Simply put, God led His leaders to lead others.  This pattern continues on into the rest of the Old Testament as well.

Nehemiah builds a team, which he uses to complete construction on the wall in Jerusalem.  David leads Israel with the help of the prophet Nathan and his best friend and counterpart Jonathan.  The principle continues on in the New Testament, where Jesus Himself displays the importance of team leadership.  Although He was God in the flesh, powerful enough to lead without human help, Jesus enlists twelve men whom He mentors and sends out on His mission.  Later, He sends out a greater number of disciples to announce the coming of His Kingdom (Luke 10:1-12).  He explains the sending of His disciples in this way: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2 ESV).  After His death and resurrection, Jesus sends His hand-picked laborers into the harvest through His Great Commission, with the promise of the power of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8.  He even goes so far as to promise that His beloved church will be built on the work of this team of disciples (Matthew 16:18).

As the church marches on, expanding God’s Kingdom, it does so while emphasizing team leadership.  Paul was perhaps the greatest proponent aside from Christ Himself of team leadership in ministry.  F. F. Bruce explains: “Paul insisted on the common life in the body of Christ, in which the members were interrelated and interdependent, each making a personal contribution to the good of the other and of the whole.”[2]  He taught churches and mentees the necessity of leading in relationships in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 (his teaching on the body of Christ) and 1 Timothy 3 (where he taught Timothy how to set up biblical leadership, using elders and deacons in teams to minister to the body).  Not only did Paul teach on this philosophy, he also practiced it.  He was raised up in leadership as a team member on a church planting expedition with Barnabas (Acts 13:1).  He continued to minister as a part of mission teams on his subsequent journeys.  He raised up younger leaders for the benefit of the church, including Timothy, Titus, and Epaphroditus.  And he even “left team members behind, or sent them to places visited previously in order to…help develop mature, responsible local churches.”[3]  David Hesselgrave summarizes Paul’s use of others in team ministry: “Included at various times were Luke, Silas (the Silvanus of the Epistles), Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, Trophumus, and others (Acts 20:24).”[4]

This brief overview of team leadership illustrated in the Scriptures includes nothing of Peter’s teaching on the subject and it leaves out much of what Jesus and His apostles taught.  However, the evidence is clear: Scripture plainly illustrates that God values, honors, and establishes team leadership in His church for the good of the body and His glory.  Perhaps no biblical leader better embodies this principle than Moses.

To begin, Moses shared the primary leadership of God’s people with His brother Aaron, who served as the spokesperson for the nation (Exodus 4:10-14).  Moses shared power, decision-making, and problem-solving responsibilities with others.  Under God’s leadership, Moses raised up 70 elders to lead and care for the Israelites, so that he would not be overwhelmed with responsibility (Numbers 11:16-26).[5]  In perhaps the first instance of biblical small-group ministry, Moses followed his father-in-law’s advice in Exodus 18:15-26, choosing capable men from Israel to serve as judges and leaders as well as teachers for the people.[6]  Kevin Lawson and Orbelina Eguizabal sum up Moses’ leadership style well: “As a leader, Moses looked for the assistance of a number of people who also qualified to take the role of leaders.  He had a humble attitude before God and men, recognizing that other people could carry out the mission with him.  He trusted their capacity and skills and built confidence in them by letting them make decisions and solve problems.”[7]  Any wise pastor or church planter will follow the example of Moses and other biblical leaders, as well as Paul’s advice to Timothy to entrust aspects of the ministry to “faithful men” and women (2 Timothy 2:2).  This team leadership approach must start at the beginning of the work.  It must be built into the very DNA of the church.

[1] Kenneth O. Gangel, Team Leadership in Christian Ministry: Using Multiple Gifts to Build a Unified Vision (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1997), 45.

[2] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 2000), 142.

[3] David J. Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 76.

[4] Ibid., 75-76.

[5] Kevin E. Lawson and Orbelina Eguizabal, “Leading Ministry Teams, Part I: Theological Reflection on Ministry Teams,” Christian Education Journal 6, no. 2 (October 1, 2009): 254.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.



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