Leadership in the New Testament, by Witness Lee


In God’s New Testament economy the leadership among His children is not official, permanent, or organizational. Rather, leadership depends upon spiritual capacity. The one with the greatest capacity is the leader. At one time that capacity may be with a certain brother, but at another time it may be with a different brother. On the day of Pentecost the greatest capacity was with Peter, but in Acts 15 it was with James.

The relationship between Barnabas and Paul further illustrates this principle. Acts 13:2 says, "As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Set apart for Me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Here we see that Barnabas is named before Paul (Saul). But when they were on their mission, Paul spontaneously took the lead (Acts 13:9) because he had the greater spiritual capacity. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to Antioch, and as long as they were in Antioch, he took the lead. But Barnabas did not argue with Paul when Paul took the lead on the mission. Barnabas did not say, "Paul, stand back. Don’t forget that my name was mentioned first when we were called. Why are you taking the lead?" Because Barnabas realized that Paul’s capacity was greater than his, he did not argue with him over taking the lead.

All these cases prove that the leadership among God’s children today should not be official, permanent, or organizational. On the contrary, it depends always upon spiritual capacity. God ordained it this way in order to set aside the human concept of leadership. In the Old Testament the kings succeeded one another. There were never three or four kings at the same time. But in the New Testament the Lord appointed not one apostle but twelve. Later, He added others, such as Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. I believe that there were many apostles. If not, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 how could there be false apostles? Moreover, in every local church there are always a number of elders. The plurality in the eldership indicates that actually there is no fixed leadership in the church.


The reason I mention this matter now is that during the past few years someone presumed to be the leader of the Lord’s recovery not only in this country, but throughout the world. If the saints had been clear about the truth concerning leadership and had practiced the truth, no one would have accepted such a claim. If we are clear about the truth and practice the truth, from now on no one will dare say that he is the leader.

To consider me the leader in the Lord’s recovery is to not be clear about the real situation; it is against the practice of the truth. During the years I have been with you, I have never assumed to be the leader. I have not given orders either to the churches or to the saints concerning what they should do. On the contrary, many times elders of various churches have begged me to tell them what to do. I always told them to go to the Lord in prayer and let Him lead them. There is no organized leadership in the Lord’s recovery. When we left the denominations long ago, we mainly left the hierarchy, the organization. We all must hate hierarchy and never accept it in any form. Nevertheless, during the past few years a hierarchy began to creep in and assume leadership. Because so many were in darkness and did not practice the truth, this was tolerated. Now we must all know the truth regarding this matter. We must be under the shining of the light and full of truth.

Suppose someone claims to be appointed the leader in the recovery. We should not take his word; instead, we should go to the one who is said to have appointed him. If a janitor who works in the White House claims that the president has given him an order concerning you, do not take the janitor’s word for it. Instead, contact the president and ask him about it. You should not follow the janitor’s order simply because he comes in the name of the president. If you take the janitor’s word blindly, you cannot help but be deceived, for you are in darkness and are short of the truth. You should never do anything or believe anything because the claim is made that a certain brother says so. What matters is what the Lord says and what the Bible teaches, not what a brother says. How we must learn the truth and practice the truth concerning this!

I was with Brother Nee for years. We never considered him the official leader, and he never regarded himself in this way. Whenever someone thought of Brother Nee as the leader and came to him for instructions, Brother Nee would never say a word. Only when a person came to him for fellowship would he open himself to share something. He never assumed that he was the official leader. Likewise, I do not regard myself as the official leader in the Lord’s recovery today.

(Leadership in the New Testament, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)