I am a bossy firstborn. I decided early on never to serve as an Associate Pastor after an internship that left me feeling like an idiot. (During one-on-ones with The Real Pastor, I sat in a child’s chair because “it was the only extra chair he could find.”) Sadly I was too intimidated to suggest that we look for A Grown Up Chair down the hall. Instead, I stewed and realized that I was a terrible judge of character (“He seemed so supportive in the interview!“) and I vowed never to be an Associate Pastor.
So now I am #2 (or maybe #3 or #4) on a staff of leaders, all of whom have their ideas and their vision for how things should go. The buck doesn’t stop with me – which is lovely. But the buck doesn’t stop with me – which can be frustrating for a bossy person who indeed has A Vision.
When we are leading without formal authority, we need particular skills:
- Knowing when we are free to act and when we need to run something by the #1.
- Reading the room. (When can I speak up? When do I stay silent?)
- Knowing how to collaborate and build coalitions.
- Keeping good boundaries. (What do I report to the supervisor? When do I ask permission?)
- Persevering (when someone insists we sit in the child’s chair.)
- Discerning priorities.
- Understanding our roles. (Am I here to back up the #1? Or Do I have a different mission connected to my own job description?)
- Knowing when to move on (and be the #1 if that’s really our calling.)
We covered this topic in a break out group last week at Kellogg so many of these ideas are not my own.
As well, I’m reminded by my professional coach that it doesn’t matter if “I wouldn’t do it that way.” If we really want to steer, we need to find a different vehicle. We were hired to help navigate and perhaps to suggest respectfully that our tank’s running low if the driver hasn’t noticed yet. We are called to work together in partnerships and it’s important to keep this in mind and not to take it personally when our ideas are not included in the vision.
I talk with frustrated Associate Pastors occasionally who want to be taken seriously, respected, asked their opinion, and set free to do their jobs. If parishioners have connected with them in ways that they haven’t connected with the Senior Pastor, well, Thanks Be To God that connections have been made at all. Staff members who sabotage each other should be pummeled. Seriously. Don’t do that to each other.
Yes, there are totem poles in our spiritual communities.
But increasingly, this is not the best model for 21st Century ministry. Flexible teamwork that builds skills, focuses on the mission, and allows for safe collaboration seems to be a better way. Being #2 is pretty great when these things happen.