OF THE ELDERS
THE SCHOOL OF
III. SINGULAR OR PLURAL LEADERSHIP
by Israel C.S.Lim
Since the Nazi invasion, singular leadership had been looked upon as
dictatorial and dangerous, used only by the power hungry leader who
refused to share authority and power. Plural leadership became the
natural answer and had been wide spread ever since. Itís only until the
latter years that prominent singular leaders began to rise and receive
acceptance, but with much caution, checks and balances. Yet plural
leadership always seems clumsy, slow and divided. Singular or Plural
leadership, which is better? More importantly which is of God? This is
what we want to look at here.
No man is infallible. All God's mightiest leaders, whether singular or
plural, are fallible men. All God's wisest councils are made up of men
who are fallible. The ministry as a whole must look to God and God alone
to survive and to thrive. This is well proven in the Bible and in Church
history. If Moses, David and Peter could make mistakes, who other than
Jesus will not make mistakes.
There are seeming advantages and disadvantages in singular and plural
leadership. A singular leadership looks more volatile while a plural
leadership looks more stable. But when a single leader fall, he is more
quickly discovered and dealt with. When a powerful council strays away
from God, nobody can do a thing about it. They are all fallible, but in
different ways. Great individual leaders like King David crashed to the
ground but was restored. Under the Apostolic Fathers, the Church plunged
into the dark ages, but later resurrected. In all cases, God in His
Sovereignty preserved the faithful remnants, continued His work and
fulfilled His plans.
As a general observation, singular seem more appropriate for pioneering
move where radical and quick decisions are critical. On the other hand
plural leadership seems a natural development where equal peers become
successors of a singular leader and may be better for maintaining a
settling organisation. Yet not necessary true. Choís church in Korea,
the largest in the world is still under singular leadership, at least in
Still which is better, and which is of God? History tells us that the
issue is much more complicated than what it seems, thus the debate
continues. There are few principles we need to understand, and confusion
should clear up.
Firstly, letís define what is singular and what is plural leadership.
Plural leadership is not plural number of people making decisions but
rather plural number of people having equal votes in making decisions.
Singular leadership is not necessarily one person making all the
decisions, but can a plural number of people making decisions with one
having the responsibility and authority of the overall final decision.
Secondly, while there is wisdom in the counsel of more people, 3 one
third calibre men put together do not produce a full calibre leadership.
The reason is that while they multiply their strength, they also
multiply their weaknesses. On the other hand, it is also true that a
single person may not have the capacity and ability to make all
decisions, especially when he has equal peers who are as good as he is.
Thirdly, God put His calls and mandates on specific individuals but
never on legal entities or organisation. These individuals may or may
form up a council, but the accountability to God is still not on the
council or anybody who happens to be there in the council but still on
the specific individuals who are called for specific divine purposes.
These anointed individuals when united together under in Godís direction
becomes a powerful council for Godís work. I donít believe in having
members for spiritual council who have no spiritual portfolio. They
exist only to cast a vote. To minister is to serve, and a minister
without a specific ministry is a servant who serves without knowing what
he is serving. Ministers who seem to know something of everything but
always good for nothing, are never going achieve anything beside
becoming a problem. God does not use anyone He does not call. Accepting
such a one mean inviting trouble. Whom He calls, He justifies and
Putting all these principles together, we see that when this group of
people are assembled together according to their anointing, speciality,
authority and responsibility in God, singularity or plurality becomes no
longer an issue but a natural outcome. Who will be the head, and who
will be on the left and the right. Singularity and plurality is no
longer a issue. Everyone is singular in his own way, having authority
over his area of his calling and plural in another way, submitting to
the anointing and calling of the other. This is true unity. Which means
that there is no true unity until we individually know who we are in
God, and what is our calling, then only will we know how we are fitted
into one another in His divine order. Does that mean that we cannot be
involved in service until we know our calling? No, This is the spearhead
council of anointed ministers put together by God, while there is also
the supporting council put together by the individual anointed minister
which weíll discuss later.
The next step is to establish the whole structure in good understanding,
identifying the positional authority, responsibility and scope of
operation of each council member. Whether singular or plural in form,
there will always be a more prominent, more outspoken leader or spokesman
that presides, arbitrates, represents or influences the group more
than the rest, either conspicuously or not. For example, while the
Apostles seems plural, with each anointed in their own calling and
direction, Peter was the main leader and representative among them1.
Yet Paul with his calling came to contend with him on certain issue. But
Paul, on the other hand had a rough time with Banabas over John Mark.
This would probably not happen if they had been clearer on who should be
in charge of what.
Basically, we are singular in where we are given the overall authority
and responsibility and plural if we are working with equal peers, giving
reverence to each other in his calling. Yet there will always be an
overall overseer, leader, vision bear, or unifying figure who has to
answer to carry the ultimate overall accountability of any project or
ministry. How shall we classify the scriptural order of leadership,
Singular or Plural? I say, both, and neither is better. Letís look at
Jesus. He [is] singular and/or plural. He said all authority and power is
given to Him, yet is subjected to the Father, but is He not also equal
[in the] Godhead?2
Can there be one raised among the equal brethren to be an overall
leader? Yes, we see that in King David, Moses, Joseph and many others.
The people will have to discern and accept. Where the people truly look
to God concerning this, He will vindicate.
THE LEADER & HIS SUPPORTING COMMITTEE
When God appoints an overall leader over a ministry or a project, He
gives him charge over it, to run it the way God showed him. As
concerning accountability, as much as possible, he is accountable to any
Christian who sincerely question him [from] the Word, so as to edify and not to
stumble him. But this is not always possible. This is the Believer's
Authority. There are 2 other authorities that he may be subjected to -
the leadership and ministerial authorities. We will deal with this under
the topic "Spiritual Authority".
What about his accountability to his supporting council that he
appoints? The primary task of any functioning committee or council set
up under a leader is to do the work of the ministry, rather than to
check on the head leader itself. While [the] working or advisory council has a
responsibility to watch over everybody in the ministry, including the
leader as an individual, it is a fallacy, a deception and a carnal act
to rally on the council of human strength rather than ministerial office
and authority to exercise power over him. True spiritual people exercise
their authority through the spiritual call or office rather than through
human votes. Before the Holy Spirit came, the apostles cast votes to put
in a man in the place of the fallen Judas Iscariot. But God had someone
else in mind, namely Paul of Tarsus3.
Everyone, including a singular leader or plural leadership should be
subjected to higher or at least equal leaders and ministerial authority
God has vindicated and appointed over him, but appropriately not a
council of less spiritual people raised by the leader himself as if a
strong father raising up little children to guard over him. It becomes
clumsily awkward, as less spiritual brethren are given equal authority
to assume the difficult task of brainstorming with the leader on
spiritual issues beyond their understanding and carrying responsibility
concerning matters beyond their ability. Many times, it has no advantage
besides giving a mere outward show of plural consultation and support.
Such figure head council is usually of no spiritual value to the
ministry, and can become a hindrance to the move of God when it has to
undertake assignments where God has not given the man appointed
individual members of the council the grace and discernment to do so.
It is wise for a spiritual leader to be subjected to someone or a
committee more spiritual or more experienced than he, whom the Lord
vindicates over to be submitted to. Someone who is given a burden by God
to genuinely care for him and his ministry. Someone whom he can trust
and confide himself to, and not simply subjecting himself and the final
say of his ministry to those less spiritual than he is, otherwise the
outcome will be disastrous. Sadly, such authority has been given away as
trade-in for popularity support that may just run short with time.
Finally, for all leaders and followers alike, we must continually
remember that God jealously watches over all His things and He is in
full control. The Church of God has survived, not because she has an
infallible council or infallible singular leaders, but because she has
an infallible God, and an infallible Head, Jesus Christ!
Finally, whether singular or plural leadership, the government of God is
to be a godly council. It is not to be a council of useless "yes men",
neither a council of disloyal "thorns in the flesh" but a council of
committed, God-fearing and anointed men and women that will support the
leader, lay down their lives for the ministry and the Kingdom of God. It
is not to be a council of fearful, faithless self-seeking people to
control the leader, neither a council of disgruntled spirituals to
struggle under the leader, but a council of godly people who find
fulfilment in the leaderís ministry, and to help run the ministry in the
direction of God.
The surfacing of the singular and plural issue is usually is an
indication of a power problem. Consider situations where you witness
such a problem and apply the knowledge above to identify and solve the
problem, setting thing right, according to the way God wants it to be.
Do the same for a situation where a leader constantly has problems with
his council. Are the council members in the place where they should be,
equal or below the leader? What can be done to make the council more
effective to carry out the plan of God in that particular ministry?
Copyright © Israel CSL, 1997
email [email protected]
Supplementary Footnotes by NCCG
(not a part of the original essay but added for the benefit of Church readers)
1. Though Peter is traditionally associated with leadership of the 12 apostles, the leadership
of James at the Council of Jerusalem suggests to New Covenant Christians at least that James
had a higher position of authority.
2. Such an argument is based on the assumption of the validity of the Trinity doctrine. New Covenant
Christians would maintain that Christ is co-equal with the Father by consent only of the Father
and that in reality the Father has an everlasting Headship.
3. This is not necessarily the only interpretation of Acts 1:12-26. Whilst New Covenant Christians
regard the selection by lot an unusual method of selecting apostles (which was, as far as we
know, never repeated again in NT times) the passage in question nowhere indicates that the Holy Spirit
did not use this method at this time. The context reveals great spiritual preparation and
a sequence of events suggesting that God was in the method --
and nowhere hints that this was a human work of the flesh. The apostle Matthias (Matthew)
later distinguished himself in writing a Gospel.
Improvements/corrections in grammar have been indicated by [square braces].
This page was created on 15 November 1997
Updated on 23 February 1998
This article is made available freely to the public on the condition that it is not altered in any way. Posting of it does not imply endorsement of the poster by the Author, Dr. Israel C. S. Lim.