I have always appreciated opportunities to share in ministry with partners. One of my favorite memories is when I was on the road with a district pastor. We made a wide, sweeping tour, and our first appointment was lunch with one of our newer pastors. This new pastor happened to be one of our female pastors, and she simply needed to have a chance to be heard. Two sets of ears made the lunch conversation twice as encouraging.
We then moved northward to meet with a church leadership team that was searching for another ministry leader to join them. We had a lovely meal and a spirited conversation about their needs. The high point of the meeting was when one of the local leaders told us they sensed our heartfelt desire to help them and how they were amazed that we kept track of their individual names and the issues that weighed them down. They were deeply grateful, and together we experienced the reality of Jesus being present and powerful among us. We were pastors ministering to other pastoral leaders, and there was no doubt that working in tandem had a much greater impact than if we had been flying solo.
That experience made me stop and think of Jesus’ example. We know he gave the original followers the promise that as they spread the gospel and made new followers he would be with them, even to the end of the age. He wanted them to know that ministry was a participation in what he is already doing. But have you ever noticed when he sent disciples out to minister, he sent them in twos (Mark 6:7)?
Twice as many villages and people could have been reached if Jesus had sent his disciples out individually. So why did Jesus send them out as ministry partners? I think there are several good reasons.
The first reason comes from the Old Testament tradition of “two witnesses.” No person could be convicted of a crime by the testimony of just one witness: the law stipulated that at least two witnesses were needed in order to convict someone of a crime (Deuteronomy 19:15; see the New Testament application in 1 Corinthians 14:29.)
The disciples were called to be Jesus’ students and companions, but also to be his witnesses. They were called and chosen to give first-person testimonies about Jesus—his ministry, teachings, and miracles. The disciples were more likely to be heard because they came in teams of two—both witnessing about Jesus from their own perspectives.
A second reason is because of the power of shared ministry, the added impact when two or more people work together toward a shared goal. This co-laboring is not only effective, but also reflective of the collegiality that would become the hallmark of the Spirit-filled, New Testament church (see below).
A third reason Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs was simply for encouragement and endurance in ministry. There is a high attrition rate among missionaries, and the most common problems are discouragement and loneliness. Jesus was no stranger to loneliness—think of the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and then think of his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Sending out the future church leaders in groups of two displayed the deep concern that Jesus had for his friends. He didn’t see these disciples as tools to carry out his mission, but rather as dear brothers who were joining him in the joy of broadcasting the good news and ushering in the kingdom of God.
I encourage ministry leaders to not engage in ministry alone, but rather always take another person with them; the witness will be more powerful, the ministry will be more impactful and the reward of relationship will be richer!
Working in pairs: the common practice of the early church
Jesus often sent his disciples in pairs. Two disciples were sent to find the donkey for Palm Sunday (Luke 19:29). He sent Peter and John together to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22:8). Prior to becoming disciples, Peter and John had worked as pairs with their brothers Andrew and James.
Jesus put special effort into teaching them to function as pairs. They went up the mount of transfiguration together (Matthew 17:1). Jesus left them together at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37). Peter and John continued to work together as a pair after Jesus died (John 20:2-3; Acts 3:1, 4:1, 13). The book of Acts continues with the team of Barnabas and Paul, who soon split into Barnabas and John Mark, and Paul and Silas.