The Spirit and the Body, by Witness Lee

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Now I wish to say a word concerning the leadership in the local churches. Among us there is no self-assumed authority. It is a shame for anyone among us to assume authority or to desire to be a leader. In Matthew 20:25-27, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and the great exercise authority over them. It is not so among you; but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you shall be your slave." Anyone who desires to be great should serve the saints as a slave. The church is different from the world. In the world the kings rule over the people, but in the church the highest ones must be slaves. All the elders must be the servants of the churches. If anyone desires to assume authority or to have a certain rank or position, that is a shame. The most shameful thing is the seeking of rank, position, or title. This is a shame not only to the person seeking it, but to the whole recovery. Our spirit must reject and condemn this seeking for position. Paul may be considered the greatest Apostle, but he was one who labored as a slave to serve the churches and to take care of them. According to the New Testament, the elders are not those who assume authority for themselves; on the contrary, they are the serving ones, the laboring ones. We all must be clear that among us we do not agree with the seeking of rank, position, or title. Rather, we must forsake this shameful practice.


We have seen one aspect of the matter of authority, and now we must consider another aspect. Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey the ones leading you and submit to them." Three times in Hebrews 13 there are references to the leading ones (vv. 7, 17, and 24). We thank the Lord that in His recovery He has given us a number of leading ones. The elders are leading ones, those who take the lead. The elders must take the lead in everything, including the cleaning of the rest rooms in the meeting hall. An elder should not give orders and expect the saints to work as slaves in cleaning the meeting hall. If one of the elders feels that the rest room needs to be cleaned, he should take the lead to clean it. When the saints see what the elders are doing, they should follow them. To obey is to follow, to submit to the one leading. However, this definitely does not mean that the elders are rulers and that all the saints are subjects submitting to them. This concept is utterly wrong. Rather, the elders, the leading ones in the church, should take the lead. But once the lead has been established, there is no need for the elders to continue doing that particular thing. Some elders enjoy giving orders to others without doing anything themselves. Other elders like to do everything themselves. Even if they clean a rest room, they prefer to do it alone, not allowing others to share in this task. Thus, the elders may either give orders and do nothing, or they may do everything themselves. Instead of either of these extremes, the brothers should set an example, establish the lead, and then leave the matter to the saints and allow them to do it. In item after item the elders need to do this.

When the elders are taking a proper lead, the saints should not merely say, "Praise the Lord for the diligent elders who do everything for us! They sweep the yard, vacuum the carpet, and clean the rest rooms. There is nothing left for us to do but enjoy the Lord." Sometimes the saints may even criticize or condemn the elders. Certain saints do not want to do anything. They prefer to let the elders do everything. This is abnormal. The elders should take the lead humbly and set an example, and all the saints should follow them. If the elders clean the meeting hall or mow the lawn, the saints should do the same. This is what the Bible means when it says for us to obey the leading ones and to submit to them. If the elders set an example and establish the lead and the saints follow them, the Lord’s testimony will spread, and all the saints will be brought into function. This is the correct understanding of leadership in the New Testament.

According to the New Testament, there are no rulers and subjects in the church. Rather, we all are brothers (Matt. 23:8). In the New Testament to rule means to take the lead, and to be under the rule means to follow the lead and submit to the lead. This is the kingdom of the heavens on earth today. It is vastly different from any earthly empire or administration. In the practice of the church life, some take the lead and set an example and then the saints follow. Among us, there is no hierarchy.

(The Spirit and the Body, Chapter 21, by Witness Lee)