Second Fiddle

I am currently preparing a video series on Boundaries as found in the Bible. I am using the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life, by Larry Crab and John Townsend, as supporting material. As I was browsing through to refresh my memory, I was reminded of the condition of: “playing second fiddle”. This is not a term that is used very often these days, and when it is, it is sometimes misused.

Many people use it to indicate that they, the second fiddler, have been left out of the performance because of the first fiddler. Of course, I am not writing about orchestra participation today, but about relationships. If we use this term in the way I described, it might suggest that a person is being left out of a relationship because another person, the first fiddler, has replaced them. This would not be a proper use of this term. The second fiddler is indeed active in the performance, but it is the first fiddler who has
the most valuable role.

In an orchestra, there are often two sections of violins. These sections are led by the first violin and the second violin. The section led by the first violin is the primary one and it is led by the violinist who is considered the most valuable player. This violinist often fills the role of concertmaster, a position just under the conductor. The rest of the orchestra is subordinate to the concertmaster and looks to him or her to know when it is their time to come in (as they say).

So it follows that the second violin, or second fiddle, is also subordinate to, and takes its cues from the first violinist. The second fiddle does not have a primary role and is not considered to be valuable like the first fiddler. He or she is not one who functions in a position of importance in the eyes of the conductor. In fact, the role of the second section of fiddles is simply to be a backup to the primary – when more sound is needed.

What might this second fiddle concept look like in a ministry or missionary family?

  • Spouse One
  • The Ministry
    -first violin
    -most valuable
  • Spouse Two
    second fiddle

In this model, Spouse Two is indeed active in the orchestra, but is also subordinate to the ministry. He or she is present, but has little or nothing to do with the ministry, minimal access to the conductor, and nearly no authority. Spouse Two, our second fiddle, must watch for signs that the ministry can allow him or her an opportunity to join in. If joining in does happen, Spouse Two must be ready to give way to the needs of the ministry at a moments notice. In this model, the ministry has authority and priority over Spouse Two – as granted by the conductor (Spouse One). This is problematic as it can cause Spouse Two to feel ineffective in the relationship and the ministry, cause resentment toward Spouse One, and even worse, kill Spouse Two’s appreciation of ministry in general. Ultimately, an established place of independence can lead Spouse Two away from the ministry and the marriage. If there are children involved in this model, they will likely follow Spouse Two, but the damage may be worse. They may never learn to trust the ministry or Who it represents – effecting or even inhibiting their faith.

This situation represents a common lack of boundaries in marriages in the world today, and those involved in ministry are not immune to the effects of these weak marital/ministry boundaries. Genesis 2:24 makes it clear that husband and wife are to become one flesh, and if this is to be true, neither
spouse can be independently focused on something outside of their marriage and family. This includes ministry.

I am sure some of the folks reading this can provide many good reasons why ministry must trump everything else, and I am sure I would not disagree with any supporting information you might provide. After all, our primary responsibility is to stand firm in the faith and fully give ourselves for the works of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). As missionaries, we are strongly connected to Acts 1:8 which identifies that the power of the Holy Spirit is given to us in such a way that we become driven to witness in Jerusalem,
Judaea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts. This seems to put ministry and missionary work out front, because – let’s face it – this is what the Lord expects us to do with the power He provides.

But let me offer that a part of every pastor, missionary, or other servant’s Jerusalem is their family. As we get back to our orchestra analogy, we need to figure out where our spouse and family fit. Someone told me just yesterday that in many cases Spouse Two (and the family) is not even considered to be in the orchestra by some ministry leaders. I suppose that in such a case, they are simply spectators. At any rate, they are not in the place where the Lord expects them to be. At best they are second fiddle.

In many of these scenarios, the spouse and family are indeed in the orchestra, but they are only engaged when absolutely necessary. Most ministries want pastors, missionaries, and other leaders to have a family, and I have spoken to a few who married only to satisfy that requirement. Most of the time, those families are just sitting in the background for effect and waiting to be activated by the conductor as needed. Ultimately, a family structured this way will fail – and therefore, so will the associated ministry.

To avoid this second fiddle condition, couples should work together to set boundaries that identify the family as the most important aspect of their life in Christ. Next, there must be a clear definition of where the family starts and ends, that the whole family is the most valuable player in the orchestra, and that the ministry of priority is that of the family. Next, the extended ministry should be understood as the families ministry; each member having a strong and intentional purpose in it. Remember, the family that
serves together stays together.

Here 2 There Ministries teaches that the church and all of its member ministries (missionaries) function best when they are fully engaged together as supportive partners. It is also true that those who serve in ministry will function best when fully engaged with and supported by their family. Eliminate the second fiddle position, move your family to a partnership level, and let the ministry flourish in the wake of a family strongly connected to the word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

By: Mark Painter, MA

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