Co-Leading for Singles and Students

Co-Leading for Singles and Students

For a single man, leadership embodies a thrilling opportunity to inspire others and change the world for Jesus... but the man sighs deeply and hesitates at the thought of all the emotions and seemingly endless details that come with leading alongside a woman.  For a single woman, leadership could be her defining moment to heal the brokenhearted and bring a message of reconciliation to many other women... but frustration quickly sets in at the thought of letting go and allowing her co-leader, a man, to set the pace.

“Complementary Co-Leading” is a chapter authored by Marcus & Amy Overstreet in the DPI book,  Singlehood Redefined.

“Complementary Co-Leading” is a chapter authored by Marcus & Amy Overstreet in the DPI book, Singlehood Redefined.

One of the absolute best, yet most daunting experiences singles face is co-leading with a Christian man or woman of the opposite sex.  Are you ready for a wild, roller-coaster ride full of potential life-changing personal growth and adventure?  Do not be intimidated or let the negative setbacks of the past inhibit you. We appeal to you to “take up the shield of faith” and fully embrace the joy of complementary co-leading!  

We do have biblical evidence that single men and women worked well together spreading the Gospel in the first century.  In Luke 8:1-3, Jesus (a single man) and his Twelve Apostles traveled from town to town preaching the good news about the Kingdom of God.  Included in this missionary leadership team were numerous influential women such as the apparently unmarried Mary Magdalene, described as “helping support them [Jesus and the Apostles] out of [her] own means”. 

The Apostle Paul, also a single man, gives us confirmation of successful co-leading (at some level) in the early church.  Paul formally endorses and praises his partnership in the Gospel with Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 saying, “she has been a great help to many people, including me.”  In fact, of the 27 men and women Paul mentions and pays tribute to by name in the last chapter of Romans, he honors his spiritual partnership with Phoebe first on the long list. 

In his epistle to the church in Philippi, Paul informs us that two women, Euodia and Syntyche, “contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel” (Philippians 4:3).  We get the impression Paul and these two women fought many spiritual wars together in the early days of the Philippian Church, working arm-in-arm in the trenches in order to save lost souls in that city.

We admit there are few, if any, day-to-day, practical details of how married or single men and women led together in the Bible; but scripture does give us an overall picture of platonic, spiritual relationships between men and women that were supportive, helpful, and complementary in successfully advancing God’s Kingdom.

Co-Leading Ups and Downs

I (Amy) benefited from several significant opportunities to lead and serve alongside extremely different men during my years as a single woman.  Most of my memories of those times are very positive, while, admittedly, a handful are “cringe-worthy”.  Certainly, during both the pleasant and difficult circumstances, I learned a great deal and God worked to build my character. 

In my most successful co-leadership experiences, I noticed three common traits: regular planning times, mutual respect, and fun, whereas disorganization, irresponsibility, and a lack of friendship marked my less fruitful co-leading relationships.

When I recall my fondest adventures in co-leading, I am flooded with wonderful memories.  I smile thinking of times I met with awesome brothers to discuss plans for our group, praying for those men and women we led, and dreaming together to help many people become Christians.  I also remember numerous times laughing with them, quoting movie lines, and joking around.  (And by-the-way, none of these memories are with my husband from when we were single.  In fact, we never led a ministry together until after we were married!)  Be sure to set aside time to have fun together and learn what helps your partner to enjoy leadership.

On the other hand, as hard as I tried to be a supportive and respectful co-leader for the other men I teamed up with, it was hard to overlook such negatives as a co-leader’s messy home, unkempt appearance, and demeaning comments directed toward me. Those times were tough and discouraging.

I sincerely desired for all my co-leaders to grow in maturity and humility.  And when (in my opinion) they fell short, I frequently felt tempted to be independent and do my own thing.  To my shame, I am guilty of turning back to my own sinful nature of eye-rolling and sarcasm.  My disrespectful attitude had a detrimental effect on our potential success as co-leaders. 

With this in mind, we must be on our guard during those grueling times because the way co-leaders treat one another, especially in front of the rest of the group, can have serious consequences.  When conflicts happen, I encourage you to tame the tongue and exercise self-control.  Negative talk and rude body language toward the other “parent” will spread seeds of discord in the family.  Members of a group watch their co-leaders closely looking for an inspiring example of unity, mutual respect, and vision -- which makes a monumental difference in the connection of the family.

Diligent Communication

One of our many planning meetings as single co-leaders in the campus ministry in Gainesville, Florida (circa 2001). Our best days with lifelong friends!

One of our many planning meetings as single co-leaders in the campus ministry in Gainesville, Florida (circa 2001). Our best days with lifelong friends!

For me (Marcus), communication stands at the mountaintop of what it takes to achieve and maintain outstanding co-leading relationships with women.  I shared tremendous victories with co-leaders and on nearly every occasion, it all started by habitually setting aside the time to plan together, brainstorm ideas, and respectfully listen to one another.  It is invaluable to solicit feedback and frequent input from spiritual women on a wide variety of areas including:  group bible study topics and questions, event planning details, and the current emotional “temperature” of the men and women you currently oversee.

If a man’s gift “ leadership, let him govern diligently” (Romans 12:8).  For most men, one of the most formidable tasks of leading with a woman is consistent communication.  It involves focus, listening ears, and diligence.  If we neglect this (which men have a tendency to do), be prepared for an extraordinary amount of drama, complications that cause headaches, and a co-leading relationship that is destined to crash and burn. 

Looking back, I recall making the mistake of often racing ahead of my co-leader with little care or consideration of her thoughts, ideas, and insight on the direction our group.  On one particular occasion (which we both laugh about now), a co-leader and I met to discuss an upcoming event.  Our communication leading up to the meeting was so dreadfully poor, she angrily walked out of our appointment after only ten minutes and disappeared.  To make matters worse, I was so clueless about her hurt feelings that I sat alone in the room for the next hour waiting for her to come back.  I thought she was in the bathroom the entire time, when in fact, she had permanently left and ended our appointment!  Christian men, do not take communication for granted.  We must be diligent as leaders in this area.  Communication will make or break any co-leading relationship.  I have found it to be an indispensable bastion in my marriage to Amy. 

The Andrew Principle

It has helped us to study the dynamic between two of the Apostles.  We have learned beneficial lessons about complementary co-leading from these men.  In choosing the Twelve, Jesus strategically called the strong-willed, outgoing, and attention-grabbing Simon Peter to be the front-man for his new movement.  Even as a young disciple, Peter possessed a dominant personality: he spoke up repeatedly, asked lots of questions, and once Jesus ascended to heaven, he famously served as the keynote preacher at Pentecost (Acts 2) and the lead Apostle.

A sculpture of Andrew memorializes the Apostle at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

A sculpture of Andrew memorializes the Apostle at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Jesus also selected Peter’s lesser-known brother and business partner, Andrew, as an Apostle.  From what little we know, Andrew seemed content to work in the background with less public recognition while supporting the commanding personality of his brother.  Additionally, we always find Andrew bringing people to Jesus (John 1:41-42; 6:8-9; 12:20-22), including his own brother.  In fact, the first thing Andrew did as a disciple of Jesus was to set up a meeting to introduce Peter to Jesus (John 1:41-42).  Andrew immediately brought his brash brother to Christ knowing full well this probably meant Peter’s personality and leadership would overshadow his own.

Peter and Andrew developed a synergy as brothers, business partners, and most importantly, as co-leaders in the first century church.  In order for this relationship to thrive, each man needed to embrace the specific role given to him by the LORD.  No one would ever argue that Andrew was not a leader -- he was an Apostle!  But he willingly submitted to Peter’s leadership.

This “Andrew Principle” proves to be vital in complementary co-leading for single men and women. When we follow this principle, the man feels free and empowered to lead the charge with the full support of his female counterpart.  Similarly, the woman, like Andrew, relishes the opportunity to keep bringing people to Jesus while faithfully releasing the overall leadership and vision for the group to her male co-leader.

There is nothing quite like diligently putting in the hard work, prayer, and bible study to  develop a dynamic co-leading relationship with the opposite sex.  Without question, there will be pitfalls and heartaches along the way.  But you will miss out on one of the true joys of the Christian journey if you shy away from the marvelous adventure of godly training and victory that comes with leading alongside a man or woman.  We urge you to go for it and don’t look back!

Discussion Questions

1.  With complementary co-leading, mutual respect is a must.  How would you grade yourself on your level of respect for your co-leader (past or present)?

2. Before you can measure your effectiveness of communication, you need to be speaking and listening to one another regularly.  How often are you meeting with your co-leader?  What topics are you discussing during those meetings?

3. How can you apply “The Andrew Principle” to your co-leading situation?



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