This article is archived. Some links and details throughout the article may no longer be active or accurate.

I have been what is termed a “first-chair leader” (as a Foursquare lead pastor for 18 years) and a “second-chair leader” (as an executive pastor for 13 years). Both roles have unique challenges and pressures. Although I do not want to minimize the crucial responsibility of first-chair leaders and the immense pressure they face, in my personal experience and that of second-chair colleagues, being a second-chair (support) leader is often the more challenging role.

Among the top challenges I have found in discussions and research are the following: understanding the ever-changing, fluid ministry description; serving under an unhealthy first-chair leader with no recourse to address it for fear of being fired; and facing the dual challenge of needing to simultaneously be both a leader and a follower.

Support leaders must take initiative and lead, but they also must intuitively know their boundaries for leading, as set by the leadership style and directives of the first chair. Their responsibility is to know the first chair’s vision, leadership style, spiritual gifting and temperament, so as to relieve him or her of angst—not create more.

Practical Advice

  • Treat the first chair like you’d want to be treated in that position. 
  • Take initiative to establish—as much as is permitted—an open working relationship with the first chair.
  • Keep a “short list” when matters get strained between you and the first chair.
  • Let the first chair know you’re “safe”—that you can be trusted with the staff/church and that you are there to lend support.

 Spiritual Advice

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6, NIV). Support leaders must be humble and handle their roles with dignity, remembering that respect and authority flow from our personhood, and not our position. God has placed you in your support role to serve the first chair for as long as He has you in that position; you are not there to seize the reins and be in charge.

As noted, you must lead—but always in full submission to both God and the first chair. When you sense you’re chomping at the bit to be first chair, find a first-chair position, but don’t get on the “Diotrephes continuum” to satisfy your own ego (see 3 John 1:9-11).

And remember, if you are a support leader, you are not second class in God’s eyes. You are an invaluable asset to the ministry. He knows your gifting, potential, aspirations and dreams, and He desires to use you significantly for His kingdom purposes.

By: Gary Matsdorf, director of support services and missions at New Hope Christian College in Eugene, Ore. 

is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Orlando, Fla.