Leonard Bernstein, late conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked what he thought was the most difficult instrument to play. He replied without hesitation, “The second fiddle.  I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm, that’s a problem.” Bernstein added, “And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.”

Our culture exalts the spotlight, but a great deal of what is accomplished in boardrooms and family rooms happens because of those who are willing to perform in the shadows.  


The prototype second fiddle in the Bible is John the Baptist. The crowds were drawn to his ministry asking, “was he the Messiah?” John made it clear that he was just the warm-up act for Jesus. As pastor Phillip de Courcy puts it, his job was to “clear the way, prepare the way, and then get out of the way.”

The Baptist himself makes this insightful statement about his status as the number two man: “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” (John 3:27) In other words, we cannot do more than we are gifted and called to do. And that is not a tragedy. A tragedy would be wasting years trying to play first violin, when in fact our second fiddling has always been designed to help everyone else play better.   

The word “leader” appears only three times in the King James Version of the Bible. The word “servant,” on the other hand, occurs 885 times. We must never diminish the role of leadership in healthy communities. God’s people, overwhelmingly, are called to faithful, persistent, and gracious  servanthood. Even if it is unrecognized and unrewarded in this world, it will make all the difference wherever we are planted.


Where do we see such service on display? Think of nurses who quietly enable the miracle of healing. Teachers who plant seeds they may never see grow. Scientists who leave a body of research that someone else will build upon. Caregivers who tend memory-challenged adults who are unable to say “thank-you.” Pastors whose efforts are bringing about revival – but only for those who will come after them.

Pick up the second fiddle this week. The harmony will sound so much richer, and it will be music to God’s ears.  

-Rev Dr William Lewis