2020 VISION – PART 2a: GRASPING THE VISION
ELIJAH AND ELISHA
[THEIR RELATIONSHIP AND THEIR EXAMPLE TO US]
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4: 11-12)
Our 2020 Vision is to see leaders equipping the people of the church through the “3 T’s” of “time, training and tools” so that each member of the church body might reach their full potential for Christ and might enter into the “works of service” to which they have been called. Leaders are to be looking for their successors. Leaders are to be looking to whom they can “pass the baton”.
Our 2020 Vision is to see the people of God earnestly desiring to take hold of leaders – to be “apprenticed” to them, learning from them, serving with them, rather than just sitting back and listening to them. It is to see the people of God rising up to “take up the mantle” of leadership whether it is eldership or putting out the chairs on a Sunday morning, singing in the Worship Team or making tea and coffee, preaching or praying – for ALL acts of service are necessary and of equal worth, and ALL of us are “ministers” of the Good News.
In this session we are looking carefully at how the relationship between Elijah and Elisha should be our example of how our 2020 Vision can be worked out. It is decidedly counter-cultural and so demands a real step of faith and paradigm shift of attitude to bring it about.
BIBLE PASSAGES TO READ
In order to understand, firstly, the way in which Elijah should be our example I encourage you to study the following chapters of the Bible:
1 Kings 17 – 19; 21
2 Kings 1 – 2
Two good family-friendly video clip that might help can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwJMTcCBoLs
- ELIJAH – OUR EXAMPLE FOR LEADERS AND THE 2020 VISION
- WE ARE ALL LEADERS
Don’t sit back now and say “Oh well! I don’t have to listen to this bit because I am not a leader – this part just applies to the elders and deacons”.
No! We are ALL leaders. A leader is someone who shows direction; a leader is someone who takes a responsibility; a leader is someone whom others follow. Yes – elders are leaders. We are saying “follow us in the direction that we are taking the church; listen to us, for we are telling you what is sound doctrine and the Biblical way to live your lives”. Deacons are leaders – showing us all, through example, how to serve God by serving the church. But, those who teach in the Sunday Club, those who help the youth on a Friday, those who lead the worship, those who speak at housegroup, those who make the teas and coffee, those who set out the chairs for a Sunday, those who pray for others – all are leading in one way or another. And those who are mothers and fathers lead their family. Those who go to work lead their colleagues. We can go on and on…we are ALL leaders. So, what I am about to say applies to us ALL.
- LEADERS ARE NOT PERFECT
James 5: 17 tells us something really important about Elijah –
Elijah was a human being just like us
In our last session we saw that Elijah – seen by the Jews to be the greatest prophet of all; the one who (along with Moses) stood and spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration – was NOT perfect. He was prone to depression. He felt that he was all alone (so that God had to remind him that he had 7000 other faithful witnesses in Israel – I Kings 19: 18). He wanted to just give up and die (1 Kings 19: 4). We saw that he probably came from a poor background. We saw that he was not from a powerful family.
Indeed, he was a man just like us!
I am not perfect and you are not perfect…yet, just as God was able to use Elijah, then God should be able to use me – and you.
- LEADERS WILL DO MARVELLOUS THINGS IN SERVICE FOR GOD
Knowing that neither Elijah nor we are perfect should help us in four ways as we go into the new year and seek 2020 Vision:
- It should keep us all humble – let us never think too highly of ourselves. We are called to be who we are and do what we do by the Grace of God and with His mighty power.
- It should encourage us in our leadership responsibilities – we will never be perfect, and we do not have to be perfect in order to be the people of leadership that God has called us ALL to be. Like Elijah we just have to be available. We are the “called” and He will equip us to do the job…just like He equipped Elijah who although “a human just like us” –
prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5: 17-18)
- It should challenge us as to whether we are truly available to serve Him or not as leaders. Elijah was a no-body who had very human failings. Yet, God made him to be the most renowned of all prophets – because he was willing to be available even though serving God as a leader at this time was a hugely risky and costly business. Are YOU going to make yourself available to Him today? To be available means that you have to be OBEDIENT to Him and His calling on your life (whatever the cost); that you are to TRUST Him whatever the situation you find yourself in – at home, in the church, in your work, in the world in which you live; that you are willing to therefore TAKE UP YOUR CROSS because – as Elijah discovered – leading for God (through serving Him) can be pretty costly – to the point of struggling to just live ( 1 Kings 17) or even your life being threatened (1 Kings 19).
- It should show us that God can use imperfect, “nobodies”, like you and me to do incredible things. Because Elijah was available (he trusted and obeyed), he was the one who challenged the corrupt monarch of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and who stood against the false god of Baal in whom the Israelites had put their trust. In the Name of the LORD he pronounced that there would be a long-term drought on the land. In the Name of the LORD he stood up to the political power of the time. And in the Name of the LORD he challenged the priests of Baal to a challenge on Mount Carmel – to prove to all the people who was God – Baal or Yahweh (see 1 Kings 18).
Now, just like me, you will declare that “I am no Elijah. I could not do what Elijah did on Mount Carmel”. Well, remember that Elijah was a human being just like us. HE did not do this incredible thing on Mount Carmel. He called, in obedience to, and trust in, God – but it was the LORD who sent the fire down from Heaven to consume the sacrificed bull that was sitting in gallons of water.
So, all things ARE possible to those who believe – and trust and obey. Sometimes they will be incredible things: we shall lead and in His Name the blind shall see, the deaf shall hear and the dead shall rise. Sometimes they will be simple and mundane things: the chairs shall be put out well, the coffee will taste just right, and the pictures and texts on the walls shall be just perfect.
We WILL lead well when we are AVAILABLE to serve.
- IT IS NOT GOOD FOR LEADERS TO TRY AND DO IT ALL ON THEIR OWN
Two significant facts about Elijah are that
- At first he did ministry on his own:
- Alone he came to King Ahab to pronounce a drought on the land because of the sin of the people (1 Kings 17: 1)
- Alone he hid by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17: 3)
- Alone he faced Ahab, Jezebel and the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18)
- At first he felt very alone in his ministry:
- He complained to God – when he had fled from the threat of death by Jezebel, and had now come to Mount Horeb – that he was all alone and the only one to stand for God (1 Kings 19: 10).
And what is clear is that it was not good for him to try and do the work all on his own. And it was not good for him to feel that he was all alone in his service.
This is made clear in that it was very much a cause of his having a spiritual collapse after all the effort that he put into serving God on Mount Carmel. He was exhausted, he was spent, he became depressed and he wanted to die.
How true this is with all of us as well! What are the causes of our trying to do the work all on our own?
- WHY DO LEADERS FEEL THEY NEED TO DO THINGS ON THEIR OWN?
- “It is my calling”: often we do things on our own simply because “it’s my job and I just have to get on with it” – nothing wrong with that…but no-one says that we have to do that job all on our own.
- “I can do it better than anyone else”: there is nothing more frustrating than knowing how something ought to be done and seeing others doing it in a different way. And even more frustrating is knowing that you can do it BETTER than another can do it; or QUICKER than another can do it – and so you do it yourself and you do it alone.
- LEADERS NEED SUCCESSION PLANNING
God told Elijah that to make things right he had to:
“anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet” (1 Kings 19: 16)
Elijah was obedient to the command of God and –
So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him (1 Kings 19: 19)
Now, we have to understand that in the culture of the time this throwing of the cloak around Elisha clearly was a public, visible, symbol of a call upon another to be your successor and your follower.
The key message for all of us here – for all of us are leaders in some form or the other – is this:
- It is not good for us to try to do all the work on our own
- We are not going to be around forever to do our leadership role
- So, for both these reasons we should be looking for the one who shall succeed us in the work
- We should seek God’s guidance on who that someone should be.
From the moment that we are in a position of leadership we should be looking and preparing for our successor – for the one to whom we are called to “pass the baton”.
- SUCCESSION PLANNING IS COUNTER-CULTURAL
When I look back at the history of my family, I discover that in both name and occupation there is a long succession of similarity. My forebears’ names seem to always be either Edward or George – showing a continuity of succession – that each son was seen to be the successor of their namesake. And, in occupation, generation after generation of Hobbs’ worked as sign-writers. Now, I, who cannot draw or paint to save my life could not possibly see myself in that employment! But there it is. One George was followed by an Edward and the son would learn his trade from his father and would then succeed to his role after a good period of apprenticeship.
Such a process of succession-planning is now long gone. We all seek to find our own way, unfettered by the expectations of the apprenticeship from father to son.
When I first went into teaching there was still a hint of this – it was still somewhat normal in a school for a young teacher to help an older one and to pick up their expertise and to take on their role once the older teacher retired. In such a way I worked alongside a teacher called Bert (now long gone I would guess) in the supply chain of the school. A teacher would often stay at the same school for the whole of their career – gradually moving up the “ladder” of promotion. All that has now gone. A teacher finds their own way and promotion is gained fastest by moving from school to school.
I see this in the church of this land. A pastor, vicar or priest leads a church and then moves on. They are replaced not by the one they have trained up “in house” but by a one who has been brought in from outside through a long process of search and interview.
This is the culture of today. But it is not how it has been for millennia. And it is not the Biblical approach to succession planning.
Biblically: Moses had his Joshua, David had his Solomon, Elijah had his Elisha, Jesus had His disciples, Paul had his Timothy.
It was the Biblical norm – and indeed, until recent years, the cultural norm – for a leader to have their apprentice, their disciple, their servant who was “learning the trade” in order to take over from them at the right time.
And some would argue that the Bible hints that where there is no clear succession planning things begin to go badly wrong. Joshua is not said to have had a specific successor and Israel fell quickly into following the gods of the peoples amongst whom they lived (just read a little bit of the Book of Judges to see this).
We have to be counter-cultural if we are going to see the church – our church – growing strong. Let our 2020 Vision be this: that the church will not have to look for “outsiders” to replace either pastor or elders or deacons or Youth workers or coffee makers because we have all prepared for our Elisha’s to take over from us.
- HOW SHOULD WE EQUIP OUR SUCCESSOR?
When Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha did he say “well son, it’s over to you now – I’m retiring”? No! In 1 Kings 19 Elijah called Elisha but in 1 Kings 21 we see Elijah rebuking King Ahab again over his complicity in the murder of Naboth; in 2 Kings 1 we see Elijah warning the godless King Ahaziah that he was going to die; and in 2 Kings 2 we understand that Elijah has been leading a “school of prophets”.
Some scholars estimate that Elijah lived 8 years at least after his call on Elisha to be his successor.
So, what has been the relationship between Elijah and Elisha during all this time?
It has been the Biblical one of master-apprentice. Elisha has been Elijah’s follower – literally his servant (1 Kings 19: 21).
And what has Elijah been doing? Training Elisha. Preparing Elisha. Teaching Elisha through example.
I believe that Elijah has been our clear example of how we should “equip” people for works of service:
- He has spent Time with Elisha – teaching him everything that he knows
- He has TRAINED Elisha – through being his example
- He has given Elisha the TOOLS to do the job as his successor – through the school of prophets.
- THE CHALLENGE TO LEADERS
Have 2020 Vision and see what God is saying to you:
- Judge yourself – are you trying to do the work on your own? This is not good, if you are.
- Have you sought God’s guidance on who should be your successor in the work?
- Are you working hard as the “master” to your “apprentice”?
- Are you following the 2020 Vision of the “3 T’s” with your successor? Are you investing your time in them? Are you giving them sound training? Are you equipping them with the tools that they will need to do the job when you finally pass the baton to them?
Let us learn from the example of Elijah.
FOR FURTHER STUDY ON YOUR OWN OR IN HOUSEGROUPS
Like Elijah, Moses too had to learn the lesson of succession planning: called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to bring them the 10 Commandments and the whole Law of God, he felt that he alone could deal with all their problems, disputes and difficulties. And the result? Just like Elijah he became overwhelmed and exhausted and would have soon “burnt out” and been no use to anyone. It took his father-in-law, Jethro, to point this out to him in this well-known episode –
Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood round him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand round you from morning till evening?’
15 Moses answered him, ‘Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.’
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone (Exodus 18: 13-18)
It is not good for leaders to do the work alone. It is not right for leaders to try to do the work all alone. Jethro advised Moses to “select capable men” who would share the load with Moses (Exodus 18: 19-23).
In the same way God tells Elijah that he is not alone and that he must go and anoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet.
And if this is the command to Moses and Elijah as leaders then it is the command to us.
Ask yourselves the following questions:
- Why was Moses doing the work all on his own?
- How effective was Moses’ work?
- Did God, do you think, have anything to do with the intervention of Jethro?
- What would have happened to Moses if he continued? What would happen to us?
- What do you think Jethro meant about choosing “capable men”?
- Although we are not told anything more – do you think that these “capable men” were just let to get on with the job – or would they have needed training?
- What did Moses do afterwards – or did he just “retire”?
- But, we are no Moses’…or are we? Are there any similarities that make Moses a “man just like us”
- What did Moses learn from this episode and what can we learn?
- Who was helped by this intervention, and how were they helped?