Leading From The Second Chair by Mike Bonem & Roger Patterson

037792LTrue leadership is best understood as a demonstration of influence beyond authority.  In Leading From the Second Chair, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson have combined their perspectives from church and corporate life, the former having worked as a management consultant to churches, judicatories and businesses for over twenty years, and the later as the associate pastor of West University Baptist Church for more than a decade.  Their book presents the opportunities and challenges of exercising leadership in the context of subordination to senior management.  The principles of the book applied most directly to church governance and polity, though an attempt was made for extensibility to all managerial operating models.

Subordination by definition requires deferential submission to another person, and in the church context, that usually describes the relationship between an associate and senior pastor.  The dynamic holds true for other staff members as well (and in some cases lay leaders), but for the purpose of this brief review, this writer has limited his examples accordingly. The book explores the challenges and opportunities through a discussion of three paradoxes; Subordinate-Leader, Deep-Wide and Contentment-Dreaming.  Each paradox represents a counterbalanced paradigm through which the associate can realize leadership opportunity.  The authors framed their argument for an enhanced (if not optimized) operating model for associate pastors to effectively provide strong congregational leadership on a mixture of Christian character traits and commercial best practices.  While the book lacks scientific, empirical research, the anecdotal presentation of representative examples were marginally helpful.

Summary of Contents

This slim book was presented in ten chapters which (with the exception of the first two) were structured to elaborate on the aforementioned paradoxes.  The authors used the first chapter to set the premise of driving subordinate influential leadership through an understanding and operationalization of the Subordinate-Leader, Deep-Wide and Contentment-Dreaming paradoxes.  The discussion argued for the reader’s assimilation of these paradoxes specifically as a matter of perspective applicable to relationships, work habits and emotions. Critically, the authors cautioned that second chair employment should not be viewed as a tolerated temporary role, but that significant point was pragmatically abandoned.

Building on this premise, the second chapter described the empowerment of leadership as derived more from influence than positional authority.  While positional power is attained by appointment, influence is built over time through the growth of strong relationships and progressively wise decisions.  The authors cautioned for patience as influential credibility is created largely through consistency and persistence.

Chapters three and four addressed the first paradox, Subordinate-Leader.  Appropriately, the discussion of relationship was set as foundational and over-weighted in importance. Good will between a senior pastor and his associate is essential to the cultivation of complementary leadership and the absence of such will derail any technique, regardless of its elegance.  Second chair leaders must first embrace their subordination in a spirit of Godly submission.  Herein grows the essence of trust through which goodwill and empowerment can flourish.

Chapter four addresses the relational line separating the senior from the associate, with a variety of scenarios through which it may be moved or crossed.  Specifically, the line must be recognized, yet likewise understood to be situationally shifted but only rarely crossed.  The line between senior and associate begins with the job description, but it is always, to some degree ambiguous.  Ambiguity necessitates clarification, which should frequently be sough because crossing the line is insubordination, whether intentional or not.

The Deep-Wide paradox was presented in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapter.  All leaders must have a strong sense of context, but chapter five presented this as an essential requirement for second chair leaders.  Though much of the associate’s work involves task level detail, a holistic perspective is required to affect total organizational improvement.  Specifically, the most effective second chair leader continually views church life as organic, with a heightened sense of cause and effect across departmental decisions.  Once internalized, this interrelational perspective both informs the associate’s decisions and increases his effectiveness.

Regardless of a leader’s individual gifts, his potential can only be fully realized through the utilization of teams.  Chapter six presented a number of scenarios which were conducive to team leadership with encouragement to the associate to act with initiative.  Powerful organizational groups were shown to be affinity based and independent of mandated structure.  The most impactful method of realizing results were demonstrated to be consensus driven through leadership of common vision based teams.

Chapter seven provided techniques for operationalizing the Deep-Wide paradox.  First, the leader must able to maintain close insight to the congregation’s pulse.  This factor affords extra capability to the associate as the senior pastor is frequently insulated from the member’s thoughts and feelings.  Second, the leader must be a cheerleader to the senior leader’s vision in motivating the people.  Third, the leader must foster and replicate new leadership among the congregation and finally, the leader must be able to serve as a utility player where leadership is lacking in the organization.

The third paradox, Contentment-Dreaming was addressed in chapters eight through ten.  Chapter eight described contentment foremost as attributable to the associate’s deliberate choice.  While second chair roles are often considered temporary as upward progressional to senior positions to come, such attitudes undermine the leader’s peace of mind and ultimately his effectiveness.  The leader is encouraged to see the potential good which may be realized in his current role and to view his service as first to Christ, to whom he is eternally subordinate.

Though contentment is essential, the second chair leader must always consider his desires.  Chapter nine presented dreaming as the pursuit of that which God has placed in the leader’s heart.  The discussion is cautionary as often one’s dreams take self-serving turns.  The chapter urges frugality of the dream’s discussion with others, a steady watch for arrogance and overconfidence and, above all, thrust in God for the timing of fulfillment.

The book’s final chapter discussed transitioning away from the second chair.  Importantly, the leadership of the Holy Spirit is paramount.  Whether the exit is voluntary or sometimes otherwise, the leader must understand his first responsibility as unto the Lord in His service.  Once understood, his final responsibility is to leave with grace.

Critical Evaluation

In the book’s Preface, the authors’ stated purpose was “to be a practical and encouraging book for those who serve in a variety of second chair roles in churches, judicatories and businesses.”[1]  They specifically state that their intention was not to produce “another how to be a leader book” but rather to provide stories for encouragement and affirmation.[2]  While this reviewer was appreciative of the sentiment, it was nonetheless incongruent to the book’s title and structural framework.  The aforementioned paradoxes were presented as role based tensions which must be acknowledged and understood and to that end, the book was anecdotally effective, but the larger missed opportunity was in providing actionable techniques for navigating through the enigma.  The paradox motif was expertly exploited by Jim Collins in Built to Last, and though that masterful work was given a passing nod by the authors, they would have done better by further leveraging its robust actionable content.[3]

Leading From the Second Chair also failed to adequately address its stated scope that the discussed dynamics would be extensible from church to business life.  The paradigm was church based by default with an occasional reference to parachurch judicatories.  Secular business was essentially untouched by example and the reader was left to draw any requisite mental lines for application applicability.  There is nothing wrong with writing a book specifically for church leaders but the overreach of its stated scope was at least unprofessional if not misleading.

Given the preponderance of the book’s content, this review likewise focuses on the dynamics between a senior pastor and his subordinates.  It is important to first understand that the Bible has no specific guidance nor did it envision the vocational role of associate pastor.  Though various stripes of Christian churches have operationalized ecclesiological models inclusive of hierarchy (Monarchial, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian) none were based on scriptural doctrine.  Most Baptist churches prescribe to Congregational polity prescribing authority to the local church which places or “calls” a pastor – the only biblically established officer.[4]  While guidance for hierarchical staffing for local congregations was not addressed by scripture, it has evolved by necessity as congregations have grown in size and complexity.  All staff positions subordinate to the senior pastor may therefore be considered “second chair” and Charles Tidwell does not recommend a titled “associate pastor” until congregations reach a minimum of 1,500 members or more – a small percentage of all churches.[5]

Given the above, Leading From the Second Chair would have found broader applicability had it expanded the complexities of the associate’s work dynamic horizontally as well as vertically since he is most likely to be engaged with a number of other second chairs in conjunction with a senior pastor.  This nuance is lost on the book and was a significant miss.  The described paradoxes were therefore overly simplistic and two dimensional.

The book was not without merit.  It achieved and exceed the stated desire to encourage and numerous case studies were presented to illumine hopeful outcomes.  The tone was consistently helpful and the vocabulary accessible if somewhat banal.  The target readership was professional clergy, yet little jargon or insider shorthand was utilized and the prose was cheerful and general.  The slim volume was easily read in two sittings and the modest lack of structural efficiency was forgivable.  Most importantly, the material introduced the opportunity to leverage secular workplace best practices into church staffing dynamics, and while it was only marginally successful, the gap in literature therein is pronounced and this contribution was useful in encouraging the reader to further research.


Any proper analysis of validating a church operating model must begin with God.  The Bible says “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12).  The initiative is therefore always with God.  The most serious mistake an individual can make is to resist God’s direction.  This is especially true in vocational ministry where every person must first ask themselves “Am I in the role God wants for me?” The associate who sees himself as positionally sub-optimized is in the wrong job, and no amount of mollification can better the situation.  Real leadership from the second chair begins and ends with God’s mandate.  Leading From the Second Chair misses on too many fundamental points to be recommendable, not the least of which is a general tone of “try to make the best of it.”  The topic was better handled by Martin Hawkins’ The Associate Pastor: Second Chair, Not Second Best in providing a perspective based on calling, including actionable ways to operationalize the organizational dynamics.[6]  Bonem and Patterson have approximated the excellent business book Built to Last thematically, but failed to fully leverage its practical tactics or transition its principles to the church operating model.  F. Scott Fitzgerald said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”[7]  Though tips and anecdotes are helpful to the intelligent man in an often ambiguous role, there is no substitute for working under the mandate of God.




Bonem, Mike, and Roger Patterson. Leading from the Second Chair : Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Collins, James C., and Jerry I. Porras. Built to Last : Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. 1st ed. New York: HarperBusiness, 1994.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Crack-up, with Other Uncollected Pieces, Note-Books and Unpublished Letters; Together with Letters to Fitzgerald from Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Wolfe, and John Dos Passos; and Essays and Poems. A New Directions Paperbook,, no 54. New York,: J. Laughlin, 1956.

Hawkins, Martin E., and Kelli Sallman. The Associate Pastor : Second Chair, Not Second Best. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005.

Norman, R. Stanton. The Baptist Way : Distinctives of a Baptist Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Tidwell, Charles A. Church Administration : Effective Leadership for Ministry. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1985.


[1]Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, Leading from the Second Chair : Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), xi.


[3]James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last : Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, 1st ed. (New York: HarperBusiness, 1994).

[4]R. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way : Distinctives of a Baptist Church (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 118.

[5]Charles A. Tidwell, Church Administration : Effective Leadership for Ministry (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1985), 114.

[6]Martin E. Hawkins and Kelli Sallman, The Associate Pastor : Second Chair, Not Second Best (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005).

[7]F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-up, with Other Uncollected Pieces, Note-Books and Unpublished Letters; Together with Letters to Fitzgerald from Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Wolfe, and John Dos Passos; and Essays and Poems, A New Directions Paperbook,, no 54 (New York,: J. Laughlin, 1956), 54.