A Fresh Look at the Role of "Number Two"

Do you watch the popular TV series The West Wing? It's a well written, fast paced drama showing the complexities of White House leadership. President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, is clearly the leader. But Leo, the White House Chief of Staff played by John Spencer, does a good job filling his role, as well. Either leader without the other would be far less effective. The power of partnership is strong.

The senior pastor carries a heavy load of responsibility for the church, but in most healthy churches, he or she doesn't carry it alone. In nearly all successful churches, there is a "Number Two" helping to make things happen. In a small church, it may be an administrative assistant or the Chairman of the Elder Board. In a mid-sized church, it might be the Associate Pastor. In a large church, it may be an Executive Pastor. Whatever the configuration, the focus of this article (and the next) is the role of second in command.

If you serve as a Number Two, don't underestimate your value.

Many stories from the Civil War paint a clear picture for you. Go back in history to the early 1860's and study the leadership of the Civil War. If we can set North and South issues aside for a moment and get to the point, Lincoln couldn't have won the war without Grant. Lincoln was "Numero Uno" as Commander and Chief and General Grant was Number Two, but Lincoln was quick to acknowledge Grant's impact on the outcome of the war.

The Union Army was poised for victory early on, but they failed to defeat the Confederate Army quickly. They had far greater resources, such as munitions, manpower, money, and the railroad. The Confederate leadership, however, was strong, tough and committed. Historians even consider General Lee to be a better leader than Grant (obviously, Lee was Number Two for President Jefferson Davis). Some experts speculate that the war would have been over in as little as six months if Lee had been with Lincoln. It wasn't until Grant was added to the mix that Lincoln and the Union Army found victory. (Please, no email on these and other Civil war comments, they are illustrative only. Don't miss the point of the article!)

If you serve as a Number Two, don't overestimate your value.

Being a Number Two isn't the only thing that matters, it's being a good one! The generals that served before Grant didn't get the job done, even with the greater resources. If you are a Number Two serving under a good senior pastor, don't miss the value he or she carries. No matter how much you may do or how much of the load you may carry, remember that the senior pastor's load and level of responsibility are enormous. If you understand that, great. If you don't, just trust me for now. Especially if you don't think he's doing a good job. It is not your job to criticize him or save the church from him. It is your job to serve. If you think your situation is that bad, leave. You are either a supportive partner or not. Neutrality is not the purpose of the role. If you are not supportive, the church will suffer. As long as you are on the team, serve with your whole heart and mind.

This is the first article in a two part series on the role of the second in command in a church, whether the position is formal or not. This is not autobiographical in nature, but it is my desire to combine my years of experience in this role, as well as my relationships with many others called to serve as Number Twos to coach you and add value to your church.

Focus your time, effort and energy on becoming the best Number Two you can be with the aim of serving the senior pastor and building the local church. Grant had at least four leadership qualities that are indispensable. Here they are:

1. Strategic.

Grant was a strategic leader. He created complex battle strategies that were effective. Lincoln had the vision, Grant took the hill. As Number Two, you must possess or develop the same quality. There are many visionary leaders who describe themselves as able to dream the dreams but struggle with designing the road map to navigate from the dream to the results. This is not an option for the second in command. Whether you are the pastor's administrative assistant or Executive Pastor doesn't matter. You must be able to design and deliver plans that make dreams come true and implement those plans according to your level of responsibility.

The quality needed runs deeper than just strategy. Some leaders are myopically strategic. They get lost in their personal biases and lose sight of the big picture. When this happens, they lose their effectiveness. We all have our preferences and passions, but must be able to subjugate them to the larger good. This is tough when dealing with good, altruistic, even noble issues, but nonetheless necessary to be strategic with the big picture in mind.

2. Aggressive.

Grant was an aggressive leader. He was criticized for his personal shortcomings, but when it counted, you could count on Grant. Among Christians, aggressive leadership is often suspect. If the word "aggressive" is inappropriate for you, substitute the word "assertive," but please don't miss the concept: If you are a Number Two you must be able to be tough and strong when necessary. The staff at Crossroads will playfully mimic me at times because I'm a maniac for progress. I do use that word often! I'm even pushy at times because of my passion to move the ball down the field, so to speak. But consider the options. Do you want a leader anywhere near the top of an organization who isn't focused on results? I don't!

Being aggressive is different than being mean. Never be mean. Aggressiveness describes your style, meanness describes your spirit. People will forgive a show of force or a decision they don't like if you help the team win. But treating people harshly or being rude and disrespectful is never justified. I consulted with a pastor who struggled with this and when I confronted him, he replied, "I can't help it. I have a problem with my temper, but it's about the good of the church." Wrong. When you are mean, it's about you and your lack of self-control.

Aggressive leaders take risks. A good second in command will take risks and accept responsibility if they fail. For example, when I hire senior staff at Crossroads, I have Kevin (senior pastor) meet with them briefly before I hire them. However, if they turn out to be a bad hire on my part, I would own up to it personally, rather than say something like, "Well you met him, why didn't you say something?"

3. Creative.

Historians say that Grant was a creative leader and write interesting stories about his resourcefulness. This is a non- negotiable trait for an effective second in command. I personally tire quickly of leaders (or anybody, for that matter) who tell me why something can't be done or why it's so difficult to accomplish. First, it can be done, and secondly, of course it's difficult. If it weren't, it isn't a goal worthy of achieving. The senior pastor needs someone who is able to find creative ways to get things done. This doesn't mean he or she must have all the answers, but it does mean they know where to find them.

If your church is like most, you don't have enough resources to accomplish your goals. Typically, we tend to be just a little short of what we need. Personally, I think this is how God wants it in order to foster dependence, faith and trust. So far, I've never found a church that had enough money, enough good leaders, or enough time to make all of their dreams come true. We have to be creative with what we have, and of course trust God for what we don't have. At Crossroads, we don't have enough leaders for all the small groups we could easily fill today. But that doesn't dampen or lessen the vision, passion and creativity of Randy Boschee, our pastor over small groups. In fact, it fires him up. Randy never makes excuses or says, "It's hard." He just gets up every day and thinks about how to deal with the situation and how to raise up more leaders. (Don't even think about trying to hire him!)

4. Takes Initiative.

No battle, including those of the Civil War, was ever won when the leaders sat around and waited for someone else to make the first move. Can you imagine Grant or Lee sitting in their tents, just hanging out, waiting to see if the other did something?

Initiative is an extremely important quality for any leader and indispensable for the second in command. If you must wait for the senior pastor to prompt your major moves and decisions, you will not be effective. (We'll deal with the issue of the Senior Pastor and Second in Command being in alignment in the next article, but for now let's assume alignment.) A church can have several good staff members who simply execute well what they are asked to do. But senior leadership must know what to do without being told. That quality is at the core of the senior leadership.

Similar to the quality of being strategic, having initiative is not fulfilled merely by the ability to design and deliver things without being prompted, but the ability to design and deliver the right things. Your ability to intuitively "sniff out" issues and decide what needs to be done next is critical.

Now that we've given a general overview, we'll tackle some of the more sensitive issues of serving well as Number Two, such as the calling, ego-management, distribution of power, decision-making, alignment, mutual submission and empowerment in the next issue of The Pastor's Coach.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com. I hope this is helpful to you, the next edition of The Pastor's Coach will cover the topic of ministry values.