When we dissect Paul’s vision of unity, we find gritty ingredients like humility (Phil. 2:3) and an earnest commitment to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). When these key values are practiced, team cultures grow healthy, and ministry becomes sweet.
Church planters have the opportunity to build and develop a plurality of elders through a slow and measured process. It’s not effortless, mind you, but these men have time on their side. And the eldership manuals by Strauch, Dever, or Bannerman are companions to guide them along the way.
Others, like me in my first pastorate, inherit a plurality almost overnight through a church crisis, or perhaps through being hired to lead an established church. Right away, one discovers that having a plurality of elders is not synonymous with enjoying a united leadership team. Surprisingly, shared values, mutual respect, relational history, denominational affiliation, and constitutional responsibility do not automatically conjure up the kind of culture where doing ministry together is joyful.
In fact, church cultures are sometimes marked by rivalry, self-protection, and competing agendas. The apostle Paul got this.
While the Philippian church and its leadership had many assets, wholehearted unity was not among them. Paul exhorts the church, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). Selfish ambition and conceit were undermining the unity and joy in the Philippian church. Later on, in chapter 4, Paul mentions two women, Euodia and Syntyche, with disagreement so pronounced that he must address it publicly—from prison!
This wasn’t just messy for Paul; it was joy-killing. For him, unity inspired delight. “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). When we dissect Paul’s vision of unity, we find gritty ingredients like humility (Phil. 2:3) and an earnest commitment to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). When these key values are practiced, team cultures grow healthy, and ministry becomes sweet.
Paul’s vision reminds us of a principle that’s true of pluralities: The greater the unity among the workers, the deeper their joy in the work.
Allow me to unpack this a little more. What’s the connection between a healthy leadership community and delight in ministry? And what is it about the marks of humble surrender and commitment that deliver us joy?
The Joy in Surrendering
In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek tells the story of a former undersecretary of defense who gave a speech at a large conference. The decorated official took his place on the stage and began his speech. Then he paused to take a sip of coffee from the Styrofoam cup that he’d brought with him on stage. Sinek describes the scene:
He took another sip, looked down at the cup and smiled. “You know,” he said, interrupting his own speech, “I spoke here last year. I presented at this same conference on this same stage. But last year, I was still an undersecretary,” he said. “I flew here in business class and when I landed, there was someone waiting for me at the airport to take me to my hotel. Upon arriving at my hotel,” he continued, “there was someone else waiting for me. They had already checked me into the hotel, so they handed me my key and escorted me up to my room. The next morning, when I came down, again there was someone waiting for me in the lobby to drive me to this same venue that we are in today. I was taken through a back entrance, shown to the green room and handed a cup of coffee in a beautiful ceramic cup.”