When I was just coming out of seminary and fielding job offers for my second pastoral position, I was sharing some of my options with my grandfather. He listened to all my options – some of which were “senior” pastor positions and some of which were “worship” or “executive” pastor positions and said, quite simply:
“Don’t take a position underneath anybody – you don’t want to be anybody’s #2.”
And I knew exactly what he meant. I don’t want to be anybody’s #2! I a red-blooded American male from a small town and ain’t nobody going to tell me I can’t be the President! Everything within me wants to pull myself up by my bootstraps, prove people wrong with my accomplishments and rise from who I was to who I can be. I think that’s something that finds itself in every leader’s heart – whether innocently or maliciously.
But surely there have to be leaders who don’t think that way, right?
Every church has to have leaders that are #2, #3, #4 and so on, right? Otherwise, where are these churches getting staffs from? Last week, I had the chance to reflect about how some of the best large churches that I know are often led not just by a gifted lead pastor, but often also by a powerful #2 pastor who really gets things done. Here in Austin, I’ve been able to watch Michael Stewart really take The Austin Stone from a small-ish church plant to a movement-leading, multi-site behemoth, replicating their culture across Austin and the world.
Two weeks ago, I got to meet the man-behind-the-man (or the man-next-to-the-man) at Forest City Church in London, ON – Ron Baker. We had a one-hour ride in the car to talk about ministry and I was fascinated. Ron came into our denomination from another tradition and, whether it was because of that or simply because of how he is wired, not being known as the “frontman” wasn’t really a big deal to him, for almost 20 years. And I thought to myself: could I pull that off long-term? Could any of the pastors I’m friends with pull that off? And is that a problem? I know, I know – we’re all parts of the Body and some are eyeballs and ears and bellybuttons, but let’s be honest: possessing the willingness to allow someone else to receive “upfront” glory at a church when you know you could do just as good or almost as good a job at a church of your own is a rare gift. And maybe especially rare in our tradition, where pastors are expected to be one-man Swiss army knives.
It occurs to me that maybe we’ve too often emphasized independence in our pastoral training. That combined with an insecure, male-centric leadership style based in rural culture has really plagued my denomination. And I’m not immune – I didn’t disagree with my grandfather’s opening statement. I told Ron just last week that I’m not sure I could ever do what he does for a long period of time. While I’ve done it for 2-3 year stints before, I’m not sure I could do it long-term. And that’s just my own brokenness. But I also don’t think I was trained for humbly serving under others, humbly deferring to others and humbly coming on board with the vision of others – all necessary for #2 ministry, whether it’s in a staff position, multi-site or whatever.