If you are a church staffer who is an associate minister, education director/leader, youth minister, executive minister or involvement minister, this article is for you. If you are the pulpit minister, you might want to read this, too.
In human terms we usually think of the pulpit minister as “first chair” and any other minister ‘on staff’ (e.g. associate, youth, education, involvement, etc.) as “second chair. In some congregations, the associate, youth minister, etc. is subordinate to the pulpit minister. Such is either on purpose or assumption on the part of the second chair staff member.   I must quickly add that associates are generally treated well.
When I use the term “second chair” I am using the term to refer to another staff member that works “with” the pulpit minister (first chair).
Depending upon attitudes and actual job descriptions, being “second chair” can be a wonderful experience or it can be less so. However, correct ‘thinking’ will alleviate much anxiety about this arrangement.
My story: For 30 years I was “first chair.” I was the pulpit minister and held many responsibilities. I was located at one congregation for over 22 years. Everyone in town knew me including a university president, doctors, residents, school officials and hundreds of other people. This was a real “heady” thing for me. I was respected, loved and appreciated by my brethren also. My phone rang off the wall. I was in demand as a speaker. However, I took on too much responsibility and burned out in 2003. It would be 2008 when I would go into my present (second chair) position as involvement minister.
I struggled with being second chair because I had always been prominent and an obvious church leader. People recognized me and called me by name and treasured my advice and my ministry. That all changed with when I entered IM. All of this ‘attention’ disappeared and I felt (a feeling without any base) like I had no influence and no part in church leadership. I was sincere about wanting to lead and have a good influence as second chair. My motives were correct and still are to this day.
If you are or have ever struggled with such feelings I want to introduce you to www.secondchairleadership.com and two men who do a great deal of writing about second chair leadership: Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson of the Leadership Network (Publication). Two of Mike’s (see www.MikeBonem.com) books are Thriving in the Second Chair and Leading from the Second Chair (co authored by Roger Patterson).
But back to your and my situations; what do we do to help us get our thinking straight and influence the church for spiritual and numerical growth?
1. Educate yourself. Fall back on the materials that I’ve recommended herein and two more listed below.   The more you educate yourself and clear up your thinking, the better you will feel about your position. In fact, I think you will celebrate it.
2. You are NOT second class. You are fulfilling a necessary place. Also, you may not be “First Chair” material so God has placed you where He needs you now. Revel in your position and calling. Avoid anxiety and frustration by accepting God’s calling. By the way, there are no second class citizens in God’s kingdom.
3. Great benefits are yours. When I was first chair, I was the one who got called out of bed at 3 am to go to ER. Being second chair, I no longer do this. When I was first chair, I had to come up with all the ideas. Today, I share this responsibility. Second chair folks don’t bear many of the types of responsibilities as do first chair folks. We don’t necessarily have all the strains and stresses as do the folks in the first chair. If you are second chair, you still weld great influence and direction, but you don’t have to bear all the weight and responsibilities of the one above you. Be thankful.
4. And remember, it ain’t about you or the pulpit preacher; it’s all about God! It’s not about who is first, second, third or whatever. It’s all about God. Bottom line: you and I serve God where we are doing what we are doing because we love Him and we love His people. I believe in job satisfaction. However, I believe more strongly in pleasing Him and bringing glory to Him.   He will do with me what He pleases to do with me where I am and with my place in the local church.  My pulpit minister and I are good friends as well as good brothers.   We make a great team and we both have influence in the church and in leadership.  We work and worship with elders and a congregation that love and respect us both.

Other good books:   Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Greg Scroggins

Count your many blessings. Look at the positives of your position. I promise you that is what I do every day.
Try one more website: www.sharpeningleaders.com

Note:   in the churches of Christ, we believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and that (earthly) Shepherds (sometimes called bish0ps, shepherds, elders or overseers) lead local congregations.    In this sense, all of us are in the second chair because Jesus sits in the first chair.   In another sense, the elders sit in the first chair and church staff, including the pulpit minister sit in the second chair.    One last scenario is the one I have discussed in the body of the article.  I believe that associate ministers, youth ministers, IMs and church education directors may feel like they are second chair folks and that the pulpit minister holds a more influential position than they.   They may feel like they have no influence.   However, they must assert themselves and their influence for the good of the church.   In most congregations this is allowable and even expected.
Travis Irwin
Athens, TN