I have had the privilege of serving churches and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) for over 60 years. Outside of being an interim pastor in several churches, I have never been the number one leader in churches I served. The same is true for my work at the ABSC.
Since graduating from the seminary, I have served churches in what might be called the number two leader. For almost eighteen years, I served as the Associate Executive Director of the ABSC as the number two leader. In churches, the pastor was the number one leader, and in the ABSC, the Executive Director was the number one leader.
I learned many important lessons serving as the number two leader that I want to share with the hope that they will be helpful to many who serve in a similar position today. I would add that I believe these lessons and principles of being a number two leader also apply to other staff leaders even if they are not considered to be the number two leader. Also, I will hasten to say that this not an inclusive listing of lessons I learned, but they do represent some of the most important things.
First of all, if you are going to be successful as a number two leader, you must know who you are in Christ and what God has called you to do. One must be secure in the fact that you are a person of worth, created by God to do good works (Eph. 2:10) You must also be secure in the fact that God has called you to be a leader. If you are not sure that God has called you to the position you hold as a number two leader, you will be miserable, and you will not feel fulfilled.
The second thing I learned is that you must recognize that you are not THE leader. The pastor is THE leader. Hopefully, the pastor will recognize the gifts that God has given you, and he will allow you to utilize those gifts to the fullest. But he is the pastor and that makes him the number one leader. This in no way diminishes your role as a number two leader, but you will not be happy if you do not accept the fact that he is THE leader.
Another thing I learned is that I had to be a servant to the number one leader. Many years ago, I came to the conclusion, under God’s leadership, that my job as a leader in churches was to help the pastor succeed. I wanted to take as many of the administrative responsibilities off the pastor as possible. I wanted him to be free to study, cast vision for the church, and minister to people.
As the number two leader in the ABSC, I saw my job as helping the Executive Director by taking care of many administrative matters. I saw myself as a servant to the Executive Director.
In order to be this kind of servant, I learned that I had to make myself available to the number one leader. I was constantly asking what I could do to help him. I watched for opportunities to serve him. I also was willing to do the nitty-gritty things that are involved in leadership.
In addition, I learned another important lesson. If I was going to be a respectable number two leader, I had to do the work assigned to me in a very competent matter. I couldn’t just do the work halfway. In order to be competent, I had to develop some skills that I didn’t really have. For example, I had to learn how to really develop relationships. I was weak at this point. As a result of being competent, I also learned that if you do your work well, the church leadership will recognize this quality in you.
When this happens, they will trust you more. Trust is an especially crucial factor in serving as a number two leader. If the leader does not trust you, there will be major problems. If the lay leaders do not trust you, you will not be successful in your role.
Finally, I must be honest. All of us, including myself, like to be recognized for the work we do. If you are the number two man, the pastor (Executive Director in my case) will get most of the praise. If you are truly called to be the number two leader, this will give you the satisfaction of a job well done. If you are utterly secure in who you are and what God has called you to do, you will be a happy number two leader.
Hopefully, the lessons I learned will encourage you. When we number two leaders serve as God directs, God will be honored, and Kingdom work will be advanced for His glory.