Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie was asked what his mentor Louis Armstrong meant to him and Dizzy said, “without him, there is no me.”
Generally speaking there are two ways to learn: through mistakes or through a mentor. I highly advise learning through a mentor rather than learning through mistakes. It’s much more fun and much less painful for you and for those who live in your wake.
I became the point person preacher in a church when I was 23 and quickly realized I was in way over my head when dealing with the day to day, week in and week out life cycle of a church. I had this idea that I wanted to be a church builder pioneer but soon found out that ambition without skills only goes so far.
Thankfully, I was a fairly well-traveled 23 year old and had several older ministers who were incredibly helpful to me. Wayne Kilpatrick and James Moore are just two of the Elijah’s in my life but when I was in my early 20’s they were invaluable. They went way out of their way for me and I’m grateful to this day.
I’ve recently taught through the Old Testament story of Elijah and one of the more fascinating features of his life was his relationship with his protégé Elisha and, equally important, Elisha’s relationship with him. Elijah passed along the mantle of responsibility both figuratively and literally to Elisha. Their story is recorded primarily in the early part of the book of 2 Kings and you can read about these following points in 2 Kings chapter 2.
Elijah went to heaven. Elisha carried on his work. God’s work goes on because God goes on.
Here are some key points of their relationship:
- Elisha specifically asked for a double portion of whatever it was that made Elijah, Elijah. He said, “I want to be you to the second power. I want to be you squared.” I think Elisha was saying, “Look, I’ve watched the way God worked through you in your day and I want God to work through me in my day but I don’t think I have the natural gifts you do, therefore I need even more of God’s power to work through me.” God loves available, eager humility.
- Elisha was devoted to Elijah. Several times Elijah tested Elisha by telling him to “go solo” but Elisha said, “no dice, I’m staying with you and where you go I will go and what you face I will face. We are in this together.” Elisha would eventually and in due time receive the mantle of prophetic leadership but there was no coup and no disrespect. Elisha carried on the ministry of Elijah, he didn’t intercept it.
- Elisha didn’t just seek Elijah’s mantle in terms of title, he was willing to accept the responsibility and full accountability over the long haul. I emphasize the words “responsibility” and “long haul” because this is no honeymoon assignment. And the beautiful thing is, when you look at the grand sweep of Elisha’s ministry, it was in many ways grander than Elijah’s (more miracles) and was full of steady compassion. Elisha was the real deal and his ministry was no second rate ministry – to the contrary.
- Elijah intentionally selected a successor and passed along the mantle of leadership. And along with this, it was Elisha who received, but who didn’t seize, that mantle.
What does all this have to say to you?
First, be grateful for those who have invested in your life along the way. You are who you are because at some point the ball was not dropped. The torch of faith has been passed to you. Someone believed in you. Someone taught you. Someone cheered you along. You have been the recipient of both public and private mentoring. Be grateful.
Second, because mantles do not get passed along accidentally, pay attention to those coming after you. Cheer them on. Be involved in their lives. Give them responsibilities. Show them the way and make room for them to serve. Passing the mantle is not a momentary event, it occurs over time as we invest in the next generation of those who follow in the footsteps of Elisha.
Without you, there is no next.