If you are not the lead dog, your view never changes.
This maxim has been around for a long time and may ring true, but it disregards the importance of a second-chair leader. The person in the second chair should understand his role and position, and he must understand that God put him in that position to utilize his specific spiritual gifts to further God’s kingdom and to accomplish God’s vision for Christ’s church.
The senior pastor and the second-chair leader should respect each other and their decisions. Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” When there is trust and respect, the senior pastor and the second-chair leader can focus on their primary ministries.
Autonomy and Authority
The second-chair leader should also be granted authority and autonomy. A leader who is hamstrung by red tape can burn out and become ineffective. Without authority, words and directions are nothing more than suggestions. It is easy to forget that Darth Vader was a second-chair leader, but his authority and autonomy were unquestioned.
Feedback and Feed-Up
A second-chair leader should not only give feedback to people involved in his direct ministry, he should also give feedback (or “feed-up”) to the senior pastor. In the beginning, over-communication is the key. Building a knowledge of what to pass on and what to sit on takes time, trust and a lot of talking. The second-chair leader has to learn what information the senior pastor wants, as well as what information does not need his attention. This upward communication is a vital skill for the leadership relationship to be healthy.
Knowing Your Place
Second-chair leaders must understand their place. Regardless of the newest trends, methodologies or worship styles, the senior pastor has the final say. The understanding that the senior pastor is there by God’s appointment helps clarify the role and position of the second-chair leader. Sometimes the leadership team must agree to disagree, but only in private, and with the understanding that all second-chair leaders will fully support directives. This is like the difference between a wingman and a backseat driver. A backseat driver is annoying and offers unsolicited opinions. A wingman silently protects his leader so that the leader can focus on the target. If asked, the wingman is ready to give his input, but the wingman’s job is to protect the leader’s six o’clock position.
Effective Leadership Teams
An effective leadership team also ensures that responsibility never exceeds authority. If a second-chair leader is given the responsibility of a certain task or ministry, the senior pastor should give that second-chair pastor all the authority he needs to accomplish that task. A second-chair leader cannot be expected to do work and not have the authority to effect necessary change. A second-chair leader must also stay emotionally healthy. For those individuals called to leadership in the second chair, it can feel very lonely. To combat the feeling of being isolated on an island, seeking out peers with whom to commiserate helps.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote: “It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead — and find no one there.” Second-chair leaders are essential to the team. If the lead dog were the only dog, the sled would be awfully hard to pull. For a second-chair leader to be effective in ministry, there must be a trusting relationship and mutual respect between that leader and the senior pastor. Most of all, there must be a singular focus on the will and urging of the Holy Spirit.
— Kevin Hampton is discipleship pastor at Boiling Springs (S.C.) First Baptist Church. Read the full version of this article.