Associate Pastors Learn from the Author of “How to Lead from the Second Chair”

Date Posted: 5/22/2014

From Moses and Aaron to Mordecai and Esther, God uses strategic leadership partnerships to maximize ministry effectiveness throughout the Bible. Associate pastors within the Southwest District spent a day this month gleaning fresh insight from author Mike Bonem on the unique aspects of leadership from the secondary position.
Author Mike Bonem makes it his mission in life to remind associate pastors and others that the ‘first chair’ is not the only leader in the organization. In May, he spent a half-day with clergy from the Southwest District discussing the fundamental differences of leading from the second chair, which he defines as “a person in a subordinate role whose influence with others adds value throughout the organization.”
It’s not about titles
Leadership is about influence and relationships. He told attendees that effective second chair leadership…
  • begins with your attitude toward your first chair (serving with humility and gladness);
  • ends with how this relationship is lived out (communicating and demonstrating loyalty);
  • requires confidence that God is using your first chair to accomplish His purposes in your life (Accepting you are not the leader and submitting with by being rooted in a reverence for God);
  • means doing the right thing (issues vs. relationship, short vs. long term, me-focused vs. organization focused); and
  • involves making and taking responsibility for decisions and being integrally involved in visioning.
Throughout the day, 17 associate pastors enjoyed hearing the author’s biblical examples of second chair leadership and learning “how to dream from the first chair, from your own chair, and beyond your chair.
DS Jay Jackson said, “The work of an associate pastor is unique and often thankless. Mike Bonem helped our associate pastors better understand how they can lead in appropriate ways in their “second chair” positions. This helped also bring associate pastors from my district together to form deeper community and accountability with one another. Some of the more experienced associates, like Jim McPhail, offered to be mentors to newer associates. There are also growing efforts to create more regular accountability groups among our associate pastors in the Southwest District. These are important efforts to develop and grow these associate pastors for more fruitful and fulfilling ministry.”
Attendee Rev. Jim McPhail, Memorial Drive UMC, shares that “clergy wear many hats in ministry and therefore fulfill many roles and responsibilities. Our training helped us focus on how associate ministers lead in ways that build up the body and add value to the whole organization. Even in a subordinate position an associate minister can greatly impact a congregation through influence and relationships with the senior minister, other staff people, leaders in the local church and active and inactive members. Leading from the second chair enables an associate pastor to be a part of the big picture of the church’s vision, direction, and goals by being a cheerleader for the church’s future.” He adds, “Associate pastors can provide great leadership even in a subordinate position, in a way that gives them a great sense of identity, influence and contentment.
An ever-changing role
“Realize that a line exists between the first and second chair, defining what you are expected and authorized to do and what is out of bounds,” the author adds. “The line is dynamic; it changes as responsibilities change.”
Rev. Preston Morgan, Christ UMC, Sugar Land, appreciates DS Jay Jackson for hosting this type of continuing education. “This was the launch event for what we hope will be an ongoing peer-mentor group for associate pastors in the district,” he shares. “Personally, I found that Bonem’s deep understanding of being a second chair leader enriched my passion to add value to the life of the whole church. As associate pastors, we must be both leaders and followers, and we all know this comes with many complex and layered moments in the dynamics of an ever-changing church and the relationships between senior and associate pastors. His articulation of the tensions second chair leaders must live into validates the struggles I have felt over the last three years of my career. I am thankful for his framing of these tensions so that I can better identify pivotal moments in my work that will either greatly enhance the ministry of my senior pastor and fellow clergy or slowly erode the trust we need with one another to be supportive in ministry.”
Preston recommends the book to any associate pastor or second chair leader who is seeking to learn strategies to buttress the vision of their senior pastor and accept the responsibilities of also being a strong spiritual leader within their congregation. He adds, “I am thankful to the Southwest District and to Rev. Jay Jackson for hosting this event, and I look forward to further unpacking the conversations with fellow associate pastors and to better supporting our peers. I hope to take lessons from this seminar and Bonem’s work with me along my career so that if, down the road, the Cabinet appoints me to a ‘first chair’ role, I can better support the ‘second chairs’ serving beside me.”