Thoughts from Leading from the Second Chair

Everybody wants to lead; but nobody wants to follow.

I’ve owned the book Leading from the Second Chair by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson for almost 10 years. I finally read it!

And now is the right season for this book. I’ve read books about leading when your not in charge, like John Maxwell’s 360 Leadership and have always appreciated its insights. But now, as I’m stepping into a new season of supporting my lead pastor, I wanted to better equipped to serve him and our church. The fundamental learning from this books is this; you can fulfill God’s dream for your life and NOT be in charge.

Attitude over Aptitude

A Second Chair leader is someone who is in a subordinate position but excercises influence over a large group of people. For most second chair leaders, this can be a paradoxical place. While they exist to care for the lead pastor and the organization, they also have their own dreams, ideas and vision for the organization and even beyond. One of the takeaways from this book, which I’ve found true while working as a second chair is this:

Attitude beats aptitude hand down!

What do I mean by that? There are lots of talented people. There are people out there in the world that are more talented than you are. In my position as Teaching Pastor I KNOW there are more people more talented, gifted and natural than I am. While I believe I’m gifted for the role I’m in attitude is more important than how skilled I am.

Ministry can be cut throat. Senior leaders struggle with who they can trust. They need to trust second chair leaders to pass down the vision, to support the churches’ initiatives and to help others see the big picture and the why. Often, I’ve been in positions where I’ve disagreed with senior leadership…and had no problem letting people know that I felt that way. That bad attitude can be costly. But a better attitude is asking how you can serve your senior leader and help them grow and develop. It means helping them make their bad ideas better, or even seeing them differently. It’s also learning to champion the things you may not love or fully support.

You can be talented and gifted, but if you don’t have an attitude of serving your leader and organization…God won’t trust you with more.

Don’t Talk about it…Be about it.

During my review, I told my senior leader that I wish I took more initiative this year. More initiative in teaching outside of the Sunday morning venue. I wish instead of waiting for it to be ok, I just went and did it. It wouldn’t have taken anything away from our church’s vision and mission, but added to it and supported it. By helping our staff and volunteer grow in their understanding of Scripture and God’s heart for hurting people.

I made the classic mistake of many second chair leaders…I waited for formal permission and formal authority. I would talk about what I’d like to do, and think about it…but I never took the risk to just do it. Second Chair leaders need to be reminded that they don’t need permission to lead and influence…they can just do it! My lead pastor reminded me that anything I can do to support and encourage those in our church is a win for our organization and him.

Dream on….

A new idea from this book was this, “What if you could fulfill God’s dream for your life as a second chair?” My current role was a dream position. I love what I do, I wake up in the morning excited to see how God will use me; but also how I get to see Him at work. While I’m living the dream, I had another realization…I could outgrow this dream. A friend of mine asked me this question, “What’s your new dream?”

I always thought that you have the BIG DREAM, and after that…that’s it. But I’m a dreamer. I love to dream and I know, and have permission to dream about what the next season of life and ministry will look like and I’m excited about it! The book lays out some great wisdom in how to bring your dream and your senior leaders dream together (walk before you talk, investigate before you initiate).

Are you a Second Chair Leader? God has a role for you!!

Some more on this topic

Clay Scroggins How to Lead When Your not in Charge

Unseminary Interview with the authors


About Nithin 106 Articles
Nithin is a follower of Jesus, husband, father, and pastor. I want to see Christians humbly and compassionately engage culture with the gospel of Jesus to see personal and cultural transformation.

1 Comment

  1. Great insight! So much to process and allow to work in my life. Through the years I got the impression that second chairs were a problem and it was frustrating. I enjoy being a support person and help the leader. Thank you.

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