The Challenges of Being Second in Leadership
Reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict
Trust among leaders working together is a garden that needs constant tending. Any gardener will tell you a garden left alone will be a mess eventually: there’s tending, weeding, cultivating, and fertilizing to do. Trust between leaders is the same way: trust will only function with work. I’ve seen pastors working together who grow to resent one another, and I’ve seen pastors working together with trust and mutual respect. An atmosphere of cooperation and respect happens, I believe, only with practices that nurture it.
Benedict uses chapter 65 of his Rule to address the role of the prior in the monastery. A prior is a number two person in leadership, serving under the abbot. Benedict advises against even having someone in this role because he fears the prior usurping the abbot’s authority. He says some priors,”thinking themselves as second abbots, usurp tyrannical power and foster contention and discord in their communities.” He fears the abbot and prior having different agendas which will lead to “envy, quarrels, slander, rivalry, factions and disorders of every kind.”
While Benedict fears a prior with his or her own separate agenda, he doesn’t address when the abbot bullies or dominates the prior. I know in local church leadership often an associate pastor leaves because serving under an authoritarian senior pastor becomes too difficult to endure. A leader who needs to dominate those leading with him or her will eventually lose fellow leaders. My friend, Billy Doidge Kilgore, wrote a useful article on the challenges of associate ministry and what is required to make it work.
Maybe what all this illustrates is a second-in-command position presents challenges. It can be difficult when the person in this position, as Benedict notes, tries to be more authoritarian than the position allows. It can be difficult, too, when the abbot the prior is serving under doesn’t respect and trust the prior. For the relationship to work there must trust, a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, and open communication and practices to encourage these things. When leaders work together with trust and respect, though, they become more than they could be on their own, with the whole truly more than the sum of its parts.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict