Saturday, October 04, 2008

Miserable in the Second Chair?

Not long after the release of Leading from the Second Chair, I found myself deep in a conversation with a struggling executive pastor. Even though he wasn’t failing, he felt like a failure. He had been very successful in other church staff roles, but he wasn’t sure what success looked like in his new role. When I read Patrick Lencioni’s Three Signs of a Miserable Job, I thought back to this executive pastor and many of the other second chair leaders I have met over the last several years.

Lencioni’s three signs – anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement – are often experienced by executive pastors. Furthermore, for those who have served in other roles in ministry or in business, the trajectory may point in the wrong direction as they make the transition to the second chair. Consider someone who has spent several years as a youth minister. He or she has deep relationships with students and parents, experiences the joy of being part of the students growing in their faith, and can see progress in the ministry over time. In other words, they may suffer from none of the signs of a miserable job.

Fast forward a few years and the same person is serving in an executive pastor role. Because the work is behind the scenes, the opportunities for meaningful relationships are more limited. And because much of their job is managing others, there is little they can point to as the direct result of their ministry. While other staff members are celebrating the success of a program or transformation in someone’s life, this second chair sits in silence. It’s a position that lends itself to anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.

So what should you do if you’re an executive pastor or church business administrator or anyone else who struggles with these circumstances? For starters, realize the ways that you contribute to the overall success of the organization. You may not be able to specifically point to the six teens that were baptized this summer, but you helped hire that youth minister, coached him to succeed, and marshaled the needed resource for his program. And that was just one of the people you managed.

You can also look for new ways to define and measure success. Lencioini’s fable highlights several jobs that would seem to be textbook examples of irrelevance and immeasurement, and he shows that even these roles don’t have to be miserable. The key is to find the right indicators. In your second chair role, what are your unique contributions? How can you track your effectiveness along these dimensions?

Of course, the most powerful solution is to find our reward in the Lord (see my earlier post). But given our human nature, it won’t hurt to acknowledge and address some of the underlying causes of misery.

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