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Larry Perkins Ph.D.

MinistryTalk: “Leading From the Second Chair”

In their book Leading from the Second Chair Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson have provided an excellent discussion of the challenges and opportunities people in associate ministry leadership roles face on a daily basis. Their goal is to help such individuals thrive and discern good, creative ways to cope with tensions that inevitably define this role. They express their thesis in these terms:

"Being in the second chair is the ultimate leadership paradox. It is the paradox of being a leader and a subordinate, having a deep role and a wide one, and being content with the present while continuing to dream about the future." (page xiii)

Each of the three major sections in the book considers the implications of one of these paradoxes. As well, at the end of each section they also include a word to the lead pastor, intending to help such individuals understand more clearly how to help the second chair flourish in his or her role.

They forcefully address the issue of learning to work productively within the limitations of the role. For example, they stress the importance of keeping the lead pastor informed, lest a hint of insubordination emerge and disrupt the ministry of the church. The priority of the church’s ministry over and above individual wants and desires gets due attention. They also urge second chair leaders to take full advantage of the learning opportunities they have in such roles. And then, they deal frankly with the question of future ministry leadership roles. A second chair leader must learn to give 100% in the current role, even while he or she may be waiting on God’s timing for an opportunity to be a lead pastor.

Two questions were raised as I considered their ideas. First, I am not convinced that the paradoxes they proposed and described are unique to second chair leaders. It seems to me that lead pastors or ‘first chair leaders’ have to struggle equally with these three paradoxes. In some senses the role of lead pastor is more restricted than that of the second chair. Greater responsibility requires greater commitment to serving others. Perhaps that is why second chair leaders need to learn how to thrive in the midst of these paradoxes, if they are going to fill the role of lead pastor.

Second, the authors use the example of Joseph to provide biblical foundation for their advice to second chair leaders. But does Joseph really function in this capacity? He undoubtedly served as a subordinate leader in some periods of his life, particularly when he was the slave in Potiphar’s house. However, when he was the first minister of Egypt under Pharoah, he had all the authority of Pharoah and was not a second chair leader. Perhaps a more pertinent example might be someone such as Timothy or Mark in relation to Paul or Joshua in his relationship to Moses.

However, these are relatively minor issues perhaps. If you are looking for a resource that might strengthen the understanding of the dynamics involved in team ministry and provide opportunity for candid discussion about relationships and roles in such contexts, Bonem and Patterson’s book would be a provocative tool to use.

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