Overcoming the Lies of the Second Chair
For my entire ministry, I have served in a second chair leadership position. A “second chair leader” can be defined as “a person in a subordinate role whose influence with others adds value throughout the organization.” From the youth minister to the associate pastor and every role in between—including the church custodian—I have always worked in the shadow of the leader. I have been blessed to serve under some extraordinarily gracious and humble pastors, yet it has never stopped both church members and the enemy from whispering lies about serving in the second chair. Honestly, most of these lies occur from a heart of love; however, If you serve in a second-chair position, affirming these lies can be detrimental to you and your ministry.
Lie #1: “I bet you want to be a real pastor one day.”
This lie often comes right after you complete a significant ministry moment or activity. I understand the sentiment, but when I hear this question, I quickly remind the person that I am a real pastor. I teach real Bible studies, attend real deacon meetings, create real budgets, disciple real Christians, and occasionally preach real sermons—all within the confines of a real, local church. I am not a “backup pastor.” I am a pastor serving out my calling by utilizing the gifts that God has given me. That gift happens to be in a supporting role.
Lie #2: “You’ll be a good preacher one day.”
My first response was, “BUT I WANT TO BE A GOOD PREACHER NOW!” In my first five or six years of ministry, every time I preached on Sunday morning, a cordial senior adult would walk over, shake my hand, and gently declare this sweet, subtle lie. While the sentence itself wasn’t a problem, it was more about what I believed about myself at the moment.
First, I thought my preaching could not be effective until I hit a particular milestone or age. Or, I would dream more about the future than the ministry that God has called me to right now. Either of these misconceptions can derail a second chair leader from an effective ministry in the present.
Lie #3: “You don’t understand the weight of leading a church.”
President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” In many ways, senior pastors carry the same burden that Truman did by holding the responsibility of each decision. As the associate pastor, I often pray for my pastor and the immense weight that he carries in making the final decision, yet I do not want to diminish the weight that other second-chair pastors have in serving the church.
I have experienced overwhelming grief over broken marriages and wayward children on more than one occasion. I have sat by deathbeds and officiated more funerals than I can count. I have rejoiced in the birth of new children and officiated the wedding of excited couples. Though I may not carry the weight of the final decision, I do carry the spiritual and emotional weight of the people God has called me to serve.
Lie #4: “I imagine you and the senior pastor never get along.”
I’ve never heard this phrase candidly stated, but I have heard it implied on more than one occasion. I’m sure there are ministerial staffs that do not get along, but the vast majority (including the one I serve on) function as a team that seeks what’s best for the people we serve. Do me and my pastor occasionally disagree? Sure we do because we both are different people, with different life experiences, with different interests, and different personalities. But, that is the way that it is supposed to be. A church staff that all thinks alike and acts alike will have significant weaknesses that are never addressed. I find it a great joy to serve on a church staff with unique differences because it demonstrates that together we are an even stronger team. Embrace the differences, especially when you trust the heart of your leader and team.
Lie #5: “You’re not actually a leader.”
This is another one of those implied lies. Leadership is about influence, and influence is both given and earned. In my current ministry setting, I have the positional authority to lead Bible study leaders, ministry interns, and other volunteers. But, I have also earned leadership equity with my people. After ten years of being a part of the same church, I have demonstrated consistency in loving and caring for people in the church. Your chair position does not belittle your ministry influence or leadership capacity.
Any “success” that I have managed in ministry is predicated on ignoring the lies and faithfully serving the Lord in the place he has called me. My prayer is that others will similarly embrace their calling.
[i.] Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2020), 19.
Patrick Weaver serves as the associate pastor at Metairie Baptist Church, LA, and a research fellow at the Caskey Center for Church Excellence. Patrick is in the final stages of completing his Ph.D. in evangelism at NOBTS. Patrick has a passion for the local church and equipping both laypeople and future church leaders to fulfill the Great Commission.