I think we all know what senior-itis is: the arrogance/impatience/excitement of the high school senior who feels like she’s: (a) an adult, trapped in a child’s existence (b) so much smarter than her parents (c) a college student on the inside who is suffering terribly by having to attend high school and live with her parents and younger siblings.
I’ve always considered senior pastor-itis to be a dangerous disease. The pride that causes it can lead to a Saul-like loss of God’s favor (see I Samuel 15:17-35 and Proverbs 16:18). It can also lead to dangerous Absalom-like behaviors in the church (II Samuel 15:1-6). Finally, senior pastor-itis can result in God Providentially arranging a painfully humbling, first senior pastorate for the young know-it-all. These are a lose-lose-lose situation: the pastor loses, his family loses and the church loses.
Sadly, this third result is sometimes the only treatment available to a loving God who sees His servant refusing to face his “without me you can do nothing” impotence in any other way.
If you are a senior pastor-itis sufferer and someone has actually persuaded you to read this, let me offer you these suggestions:
- Listen well to anyone who suggests that you have this illness. If someone cares enough to mention it to you (like halitosis) you probably have it.
- Do not listen to flatterers who tell you how great you are. They might be right, or not. They don’t know how easy it is to come up with a great sermon every few months or how hard it is to come up with a good sermon every week.
- Humble yourself, before God has to do it to you.
- You have no idea how much energy it takes to actually be a senior pastor, year after year. You have no idea what kind of enthusiasm level you are going to have when you are the age of your senior pastor.
- Bide your time, learn everything you can and grow in every good way that you can. God is giving you a great opportunity to grow up before being thrust into a painfully difficult role. If you are working with a senior pastor who makes many mistakes, you can learn from every one of them. The longer you serve as an associate, the better you will do when you begin a senior pastor position. I wish someone had told me this when I was 28.
- Pay attention to anyone who tries to tell you how hard it actually is to be a senior pastor. It’s immeasurably harder than any type of associate position. It’s kind of like parenting; you never know what it’s really like until you bring that first baby home from the hospital.
- Sow good things for your own future. If you are loyal and respectful to your pastor, this will likely come back to you in time. Galatians 6:6,7
If you are a senior pastor with a young associate or youth pastor there are some things you can do about this problem as well:
- Most importantly, dig down deep into your wonderful position in Christ and come back up with an unusual degree of security. You will need this in order to follow my next two suggestions.
- Lovingly challenge (as a father with a son) your young senior pastor-itis sufferer when his arrogance or disrespect is revealed by his behavior. Don’t store up your frustration and “dump it” on him all at once – as I’m sorry to say I did once. Mention the signs of senior pastor-itis earlier, rather than later. Challenge it early and often, if necessary, while simultaneously demonstrating your love.
- Give him opportunities to peach and lead. If you don’t let the young eagle fly in your neck of the woods he will surely fly away. Is that what you want?
- Lovingly disciple, mentor, coach and train your young senior pastor-itis sufferer. Teach him every good thing which he will let you teach him. Meet with him often and for significant periods of time – like lunch together, once a week. Use coaching questions to help him stay on track with his own goals, including his own personal growth goals. In time, God may cure him of his hubris and use him greatly. If He does, everything this man accomplishes will, in part, be due to your loving development of him.