One of the ways I lead within my church is to teach a spiritual class for women. For ten years, I have taught a weekly class, often taking a group of 50 to 60 women through a spiritually challenging book. We dive in deep, spending several months going through chapter by chapter, taking time to discuss, to reflect in solitude, to learn.
The best thing about this class, hands down, is that I do not lead by myself. Two other women and I equally divide the teaching responsibilities and share other tasks based on our giftedness. We have another group of women who each facilitate a small group within the class. Every person who serves in some capacity is essential and necessary, valued and loved. I think this team approach is what has kept me fresh and focused for a decade.
The church has often, to its detriment, embraced and enfolded the culture of competitive individualism that surrounds it. While Christian faith typically begins with a personal, individual decision, a believer is not meant to stay isolated. We are meant to be a body—a collective whole made up of many parts, each distinct in character and purpose. As leaders, being part of a team keeps us grounded, and prevents the loneliness that often plagues those who try to lead alone.
Teaching as a part of a team helps me hone my gifts—I get to see others teach; I get feedback that helps me grow. It prevents burnout and pride. My church models this well: The church is led by a team of elders; the preaching is done by a team of teachers; the worship is led by a team of men and women who are gifted in this area. This is not just practical, it's biblical. Beyond that, it creates opportunities to do the hard work of community and also experience the deep joy of accomplishing a task together.
This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the church at Corinth: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:12, NRSV).
In my book Deeper into the Word, I examine this word, body:
It is little wonder that woven throughout Paul's letters, especially those to the church at Corinth (a pagan center) emphasized the bodily resurrection of Christ, and our connection with one another as a body, and with Christ as his body. As it was in the first century, our communion table is set with the body and blood of Christ, and we take these into our bodies as a spiritual practice and a reminder and affirmation of Christ's actual death and resurrection.
The Greek word for body, soma, appears more than 150 times in the New Testament. It is used to describe the physical body, and the physical nature (as opposed to the spiritual nature). It's also used as a metaphor to describe the church as a whole, or even a local church, which is made up of various members or parts, but remains a whole connected unit.
… When Paul describes spiritual gifts in passages like 1 Corinthians 12 (where he uses the word soma 17 times), he uses the analogy of a body to describe how all the gifts work cooperatively in the church. It's a well thought out metaphor, true on more than one level. Yes, it's a way of thinking about the differences in functions of various people within the church, but it's also a reminder that faith is meant to be lived out. In and through our physical bodies, we are able to do things like care for the sick and the poor, share the Good News, and so forth. Whether our spiritual gift is mercy or preaching, we do it with our hands or our voices—in other words, with our physical bodies.
The word body points to our unity with Christ, and with each other. Ephesians 1:22 states: "God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."
For the last few years, my teenage daughter has served in our church's children's ministry, where she and two friends lead a small group of three-year-olds. They are part of a larger team of volunteers who lead groups. I love that she sees team leadership as "normal." She says it's fun to lead with her friends, and it's easier to corral a dozen toddlers with a team approach. But she's also getting to experience what the Bible is talking about with the word soma: mutual dependence, encouragement and strength.
How about you? Are you trying to lead on your own? You may say that God gives you strength to do so. But according to the Bible, the way God provides strength is through others who make up the body of Christ. Even as leaders, we are not the whole body, but a part. We experience his presence and power when we serve in community.