Leadership in the New Testament, by Witness Lee


The New Testament reveals that all the children of God are one Body. Although there are many members, there is just one Head. However, according to our natural concept, there are many subheads. We regard the shoulders, the arms, the hands, and the fingers as subheads. Nevertheless, there is one Head who gives orders to all the members directly, not through subheads. In the Lord’s recovery there is no organization; there is just one organism, the Body. Therefore, there are no subheads of any kind. Do not regard the arms or the shoulders as subheads. The Body has one unique head—Christ. If our vision concerning the leadership is clear, no one will be able to deceive us.


We have seen one aspect of the truth concerning leadership, the aspect that in God’s New Testament economy there is no official, permanent leadership. Now we need to consider another aspect. Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey the ones leading you and submit to them, for they watch over your souls as those who will render an account, that they may do this with joy and not groaning; for this would be unprofitable to you." We all need to obey the leading ones. This does not mean that the elders exercise authority over us; it means that as those who are older and more experienced, they take the lead and we need to follow them. To obey means to follow.

Regarding elders, Peter says, "Nor as lording it over your allotments but by becoming patterns of the flock" (1 Pet. 5:3). The elders are to take the lead by becoming patterns, not by lording it over the saints. If the elders see that the floor has not been vacuumed, they should not sit on the throne and summon the servants to vacuum it for them. Instead, they should take the lead to vacuum the floor and thereby set an example for others to follow.

Although the elders should not lord it over God’s flock, Peter does say, "Younger men, be subject to elders" (1 Pet. 5:5a). Moreover, there are times when the older ones need to submit to the younger ones. As Peter says, "And all of you gird yourselves with humility toward one another" (v. 5b). Thus, not only the young ones submit to the older ones, but all, including the older ones, submit to one another in humility. What a beautiful picture this is! It is absolutely different from the natural concept of leadership in the fallen mentality. The leadership in the church is not that of Nimrod, who built the city of Babel. Rather, it is a leadership that builds up the Body.


Finally, we need to say a word about apostles. Do apostles have authority? According to my knowledge of the New Testament, the apostles have no authority in themselves to control the churches. Only the word ministered by them has authority. If the churches and the saints go on according to the word, according to God’s oracle, the apostles have no authority to touch the churches. But if a church goes astray or is misled, then the apostles have the obligation and responsibility to deal with the situation according to God’s word, which has authority. Therefore Paul says, "What do you want? Should I come to you with a rod or in love and a spirit of meekness?" (1 Cor. 4:21). He also told them that he was present in spirit to deal with the sinful one among them and to cast him out (1 Cor. 5:3-5). The authority of apostles is spiritual and is in their ministry of the word. They have no authority in position to interfere with the church affairs.

Among the children of God in today’s New Testament economy, there is actually no leadership in the natural sense. There is no official, permanent, organizational leader among the apostles. The same is true regarding the elders in a local church. Furthermore, all the churches are on the same level; there is no unifying organization. Likewise, all the regions, districts, and areas of the work are on the same level. Therefore, all the apostles, all the local churches, all the elders, and all the regions of the work are on the same level. There is no organization, no hierarchy, and no official, permanent leader. Rather, we all respect and honor the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we see this, we shall be cutting straight the word of the truth concerning leadership among God’s people today.

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