Serving the Second Chair

Whether it’s a paid or unpaid position, formal or informal, most churches have a strong leader serving under the lead pastor. In smaller churches, this person can be a prominent lay person. In larger churches, the position is often an executive pastor. Numerous titles describe this position, including associate and administrator. Other church leadership positions can be second chairs as well, such as a worship pastor. In this article, I refer to the position simply as the second chair.

The second chair position is paradoxical for two reasons. First, a second chair involves the tension of submitting as a subordinate to the first chair while at the same time leading with a high level of influence. Second chairs maintain a dependence on the first chair while at the same time managing the significant amounts of freedom found near the top of the chain of command. The second paradox involves being in an ever-changing role that is difficult to define while at the same time trying to add structure to the vision of the first chair. Second chairs often find themselves in the unenviable position of being the Jell-O others are trying to nail to the wall.

While I do not claim to represent all second chairs, I have served in both a first chair role (currently) and a second chair role (at a previous church). This post is about second chairs, but it is directed to first chairs. How can lead pastors serve those whose main job description is to serve them?

Serve first; lead second. All church leaders should take on the posture of serving first and leading second, but a personal example is not enough. First chairs cannot assume second chairs (and other staff members) will follow the example of servant leadership if it is simply lived out and never taught.

First chairs must do more than encourage others to serve; they must teach others how to be servant leaders. First chairs should direct second chairs and staff to be aware of more than just what they should do, but also who they are in Christ. Servant leadership is more than a list of positive and negative traits. Servant leadership is more than a list of helpful or unhelpful actions. Being a servant leader like Jesus is an identity. This identity has a biblical foundation, and it must be taught.

Create a partnership, not a dictatorship. Living servant leadership and teaching servant leadership are important to creating a culture of servant leadership. But this culture is unsustainable (as is just about everything else in the church) without a partnership. Treating second chairs and staff as partners rather than employees will help sustain a transformational environment of servant leadership. A first chair’s goal is to create a partnership and not give directives. This partnership of servant leadership can be fostered in with transparency.

A senior leader must be transparent about the inevitable consistency of being a first chair leader in the church. Senior pastors have two personas: one the church sees and one the staff sees. They will act differently around people they work with for hours each day as compared with the people they are tasked to shepherd. This dichotomy will be especially true of a second chair.

A first chair will likely spend more time with a second chair than anyone else in the church. This inconsistency is not necessarily a sign of poor leadership, but it becomes problematic if first chairs love on the people of the church while mistreating the second chair and staff. Such a scenario places the second chair in the awkward position of detesting the senior leader the church loves.

Balance authority and responsibility. The temptation for a first chair is to seize power and authority from the second chair. In the hierarchy of command, it is easier for a first chair to pull authority from a second chair than it is for a second chair to take it from a first chair. One of the ministry tensions of the second chair is leading and adding value to the church without the positional authority of the senior pastor. A subordinate leader can only influence upward if the senior leader gives him or her the corresponding authority to do so.

One of the first chair’s primary responsibilities is serving the second chair. Nothing invalidates leadership like abandoning a servant’s heart. A first chair’s relationship with a second chair is one of a partnership, not a dictatorship. In this partnership it is the first chair’s obligation to grant a second chair a high level of authority to accomplish the tasks of his or her responsibility.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Rainer Research, and he is the co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. Sam is author of the book, Obstacles in the Established Church, and the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is an editorial advisor/contributor at Church Executive magazine. He has also served as a consulting editor at Outreach magazine. He has written over 150 articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a procurement consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina, an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Mr. Tony Bowick — 10/24/12 1:04 pm

Those are such a great points, Sam. It's a very fine, and challenging line to walk. I think creating a partnership, not a dictatorship gets a lot of mileage. As a second chair guy, I know that it has unlocked more of the gifting that God has deposited in me, and has given me more opportunity to support and edify the senior guy.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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