How To Play Second Fiddle


I smiled when I saw the job description prepared for me and knew I’d been had Upon completion of Bible school, I had answered God’s call to a new position a Elim Gospel Church in Mount Morris New York. The kicker was the very last line, which followed a long list of specifically defined duties: “…and anything else the senior pastor asks to be done.”

Welcome to the world of the associate pastor! I remembered having seen such clause before during my 10-year career with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which had preceded my going into ministry. My assistant staff forester job description ended with “miscellaneous duties as assigned.”

Associate pastors and other church staff-I call them Second fiddles”–may be assigned a wide variety of duties. Some assignment’
require a staff person to do a little of everything including preaching, when the pastor is absent Some are more specific: counselor, worship leader or youth pastor, to name a few.

Second fiddles are men and women who desire to please God in a position of spiritual leadership, submitted to the pastor.
Personalities and gifts of church staff members will often sharply contrast, as do those of married couples, yet God calls pastors and staff associates to work together as teams.


Palpable pressure permeated the room. “I want to be a leader,” Dan solemnly stressed as he sat in the office, discussing a leadership position in the church. “Being a leader” is a worthy desire, but in this case what Dan was really saying was, “I desire a particular position and title.”

Actually, his life was not one that others would want to follow. His finances, marriage, emotional condition and health management all reflected spiritual immaturity. Instead of leading and counseling others, Dan needed counseling.

Leadership is not about titles, position or prestige. Support staff need to understand that. While in / Bible school, I thought
“pastor Jack” would have a nice ring to it, but I have since learned the truth of something my pastor once told me: “Titles are good for making you a target, but they won’t make you a leader.”

Dan had some misunderstandings common to many associate staff. “If I were the senior pastor, then I could lead; then I could do some good; then I could make a difference; then people would follow me; and then I could succeed.” So where is God in that equation?

David’s anointing and leadership were developed, tested and exercised in shepherding sheep, serving his father, playing the harp,
dodging spears and leading a band of outlaw followers. David exemplifies the fulfillment of a principle Dan didn’t understand: “Being a leader” is in the “being,” not in the “position.” It’s who you are, not what title you bear, that matters in fulfilling God’s call.

No leaders above you can prevent you from being a leader, nor can they make you a leader by giving you a position. Who decides if our lives will be lived in a way that influences others to follow Christ? We decide!

Who decides our level of integrity, loyalty, honesty and faithfulness? Who decides how our family and marriage relationships

Who decides our work habits, our financial management, our attention to Biblical principles of relationship, or whether we are
teachable and diligent in personal time with God and His Word? We do! Position and promotion are God’s to give, and only in His time.

When my wife and I were dating, she said to me, “If you’re thinking of some day being a pastor, forget me! I don’t play the piano,
so I can’t be a pastor’s wife.”

A lot of people have an idea what a minister or ministry team is supposed to “look like,” but what matters to God, and what matters for a church or ministry organization to succeed, is not what the leaders “look like,” but how they relate to God and one another. For the associate pastor, there are some important commitments that are necessary:


Commit yourself to a lifelong process of growing personally. When I graduated from Bible school, ending four years of academic stress, and landed in Mount Morris, I wasn’t eager to pick up another book. However, I learned that the challenge of ministry and Christian leadership requires growth. If we are not growing, we’re stagnating and ultimately dying.

John Maxwell, founder of the leadership development organization INJOY says, “When you’re through learning, you’re through.” How can we be leaders or teachers who encourage the qualities of a follower and of a learner in others under us, if we are not enthusiastic followers and learners ourselves?

Paul prayed that we would be “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10, NKJV). 2 Peter 1:8 promises us that, if godly virtues abound in us, we will not be unfruitful.

I served with a senior pastor who himself was committed to personal growth. He continually put resources in my hands to invest in my growth.

I used to think I couldn’t develop new skills without huge blocks of time to devote to study or special classes or reading. In the
ministry, huge blocks of time don’t exist! But you can initiate habits that encourage growth.

Growing personally by exposing yourself to the teaching of others isn’t a complicated thing. I’ve started trying to keep a leadership
tape nearby to listen to in the car when I’m driving. I often keep a book in one of my winter coat pockets, making use of “down time,” such as when an appointment is late or I’m waiting for a child after soccer practice.

A “commitment to personal growth” does not mean a “commitment to move up in position,” that is, accepting a staff position as a stepping stone from which you hope to acquire a more ambitious position (such as a senior pastor appointment). Lead where you are, as an assistant, youth leader or children’s ministry director, with a desire to please God through long-term personal growth and excellent performance in that position.


“Whoever keeps [literally “protects and tends”] the fig tree will eat its fruit; so he who waits on his master will be honored”   (Prov. 27:18).

The senior pastor focuses attention first on the church, then on the staff and key leaders. Some of us who are not the organization’s point leader miss an important distinction here. We need to surrender our agenda to God’s will at work through the leader God has put over us. We must focus on the senior pastor’s desires first, before the needs of the staff “team” and before the overall church.

We grow up in a world that sows seeds of disdain for loyalty. After all, who ever wanted to be called a “brownnoser” in school?
Associate staff face an abundance of opportunity to practice either blatant or subtle disloyalty.

Opportunities to be disloyal are quite subtle, but arise often. My pastor’s ministry required him to travel at times. “Oh, Pastor’s
gone again,” came the remark from one glum-looking saint.

Now, if I had wanted to steal the heart of a church member from the senior pastor, all I would have needed to say to that was, “Yes, I’m afraid so. Why? What’s going on? Can I pray for you?” Such a response would imply: “Don’t worry; I’m here to care for you. I haven’t left you.”

Loyalty responds: “Yes, he is away, but let me tell you the exciting things God is doing through our pastor’s ministry that bless
our church.” Here are some guidelines to follow in maintaining loyalty as a church staff member:

Defend the pastor’s reputation.

Refuse to discuss any disagreements between you and the pastor with other church members.

Don’t speak negatively of the pastor to anyone else, including your spouse.

Talk directly to the pastor about perceived problems in the ministry.

Keep in mind that the ministry of the entire church is more important than the ministry of your particular area.

Tell the senior pastor yourself about confrontations you have with other church members or staff.

Share first with your pastor any desires you have to leave your position.

Take any concerns you have about your pastor first to God in prayer. Any alterations required in your pastor’s life will be handled
by God, in His way and in His timing.


It’s amazing how much our attitudes will improve when we get our eyes off ourselves. Make it your goal to see the pastor succeed. God’s blessings on him will also bless you.

The associate pastors and staff need to embrace the leader’s vision and personally own it. Will God give you direction and wisdom
and vision for your specific area of ministry? Absolutely, but God doesn’t have two different visions for the church.

Make the pastor’s vision your vision. If you cannot do so, it’s time to discuss leaving. Two visions will divide.


I missed this truth for a while. Oh, I gave lip service to the principle, but I enjoyed too much the feeling of being needed and

So when I successfully prepared a terrific lay leader to direct children’s ministry, one of the areas I had overseen for some time, I
struggled with releasing her into ministry My pastor took a pair of scissors out of his desk one day, handed it to me and said, “Cut the strings!” I got the message.

God gave pastors (and associates) to the church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). We can create an environment that encourages lay leaders on their own journey of personal growth by sharing the pastor’s vision with them, putting resources, tools, and tips in their hands, and encouraging them through difficult trials. One of our greatest successes in ministry is the success of others.


Many will say, “I want to help the pastor,” but then they have an agenda in mind of how the pastor needs help. Die to that preconceived idea! Ask the pastor what help is needed and then serve him selflessly and cheerfully.

Support pastors and staff must be committed to God first (devotional relationship and personal growth), others second (the
pastor, others you minister to), and self last. It goes against the grain of human flesh but is necessary for success as an associate in
the kingdom of God to crucify all self (Gal. 2:20).


Many associate pastors have this tempting thought lurking somewhere within the recesses of their minds: “Some day, the pastor
could move on or step down, or something unexpected could happen. Who, then, would be a candidate for his successor? Me?” Are you entertaining such a wishful, seductive thought?

Studying the attitudes of one of David’s sons (see 2 Sam. 15), Absalom, provides some keen lessons on what happens when an associate allows his flesh to rule attitudes toward the senior pastor. Absalom masked his self-centeredness with two deceptions.

Absalom pretended devotion to the people, stealing their hearts. “Look, you have a valid case, but there’s nobody here who cares about you,” he said to those at the king’s gate. “But if I were judge, you’d get justice.” With these statements, he ignited rebellion in the hearts of others.

Absalom deceived his father, pretended to be spiritual and put on the mask of untrue worship of God, garnering permission to go to Hebron. There his plan took shape.

Absalom may have had cause for offense with his father. His dad failed to act when his sister was raped, failed to communicate
affection to him and failed to see him for years. But spiritually speaking, every associate pastor must understand what David knew and Absalom did not: Don’t touch God’s anointed (see 2 Sam. 1:1-16;I Chron. 16:22).

Watch out for the “spirit” that Absalom had! The Absalom spirit:

Is an elite mentality that believes your way is superior to the pastor’s way;

Progresses to your words as you attempt to win others to your side by speaking of your own vision;

Steals the hearts of the people, developing a personal following.

David’s attitude was that he preferred to be destroyed by either Saul or Absalom rather than to become like either. That’s crucifying the flesh!

Take heed, all fellow No. 2s and midlevel leaders: As a tree in God’s garden, bloom where He planted you.

Leadership is not a position to have, take, protect or keep. You can lead now, where you are, by your integrity and lifestyle, and
influence others to godliness by your example as you serve your pastor in humility.

JACK HEMPFLING is a pastor in Mount Morris, New York.