After almost three years, I finally finished teaching through the book of Romans in my adult Sunday School class. It was a massive undertaking which I thoroughly enjoyed. Before I jump into my next major undertaking (the Gospel of John), I am taking out a few weeks to study the life and ministry of Elisha, one of the Old Testament’s great prophets. As I’ve been studying this week, I found that there is much about Elisha’s call to ministry that is important for all believers to understand.
Elisha’s call to the prophetic ministry is found in 1 Kings 19:15-21. The text reads as follows:
The Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.
Now notice that here, as always, God takes the initiative. Elisha was not seeking Him, but the Lord through Elijah sought out him. It wasn’t because Elisha was already prepared to be a prophet, but because God in His sovereignty chose him and called him. God would take care of the preparation after he called him. But once again, we see the doctrine of the sovereignty of God coming into play here. God is the one who selected Elisha and set him apart for ministry. And He continues to do the same thing today. He selects men and sets them apart to do his work.
In this passage, we see two misconceptions which overtake many people in ministry: (1) the feeling that they are the only person who is standing for the truth and (2) that they are indispensible. Elijah was no different. Earlier in this chapter, he had fled from Jezebel who was out to kill him, and he lays down under a juniper tree and pleads with God to take his life (19:4). But instead God provides an angel to cook him some food and Elijah goes on for 40 days on the strength that the food provided him. But when God questions him as to why he is hiding out in the mountains, Elijah says in verse 10, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” He had concluded that he was the only person who was still faithful to God. But God reveals Himself to Elijah in a gentle breeze and basically says, “Elijah, it’s time to get to work. You’re not the only one left—there are 7,000 people who haven’t bowed the knee to Baal. And another thing, Elijah, you’re not indispensible. In fact, I’m going to have you appoint your replacement.” So many times men in ministry begin to listen to and believe all the accolades that come their way as they preach and teach. And when they see all the moral failures and false teachers that are assaulting the church around them, they begin to think that they are the only people who are standing for the truth.
Another problem many pastors experience is never planning for their replacement. By that, I don’t mean that they need to handpick their successor. But I do mean that they need to be discipling men and teaching men what to look for in a pastor, so that if they suddenly die or become gravely ill, there are other men who are able to step in and take over the teaching and leadership responsibilities. But many pastors believe they are indispensible and that the church simply can’t get along without them. Well, that may be true of their specific church, if they haven’t trained and developed other leaders who are capable of teaching the Word. But in terms of the church universal, Jesus said that such will never be the case. No one person is so crucial to God’s work that the church will collapse if they are not there. The church, the body of Christ, will continue and even the gates of hell cannot overwhelm it.
But this does raise the point that every local church ought to be developing leaders for the future. Men who meet the biblical qualifications for elder should be identified and then trained. Training does not have to include Bible college or seminary, although those are beneficial. But a man who has a heart and passion to learn and teach the Word should be taught and exposed to the ministry in such a way that he learns what is involved and what is expected of a pastor as a teacher and shepherd of the flock. He needs to be placed in a position of exposure to the ministry in which he spends time learning how to respond biblically to crisis situations so that the elders can observe whether his approach to problems is biblical or not. He should be given teaching opportunities so the elders can listen and confirm whether or not he is sound in the faith and able to communicate truth clearly. He should be required to write and defend his doctrinal position in every major area of theology. This process is so crucial because the protection of the flock is at stake. Pick a man who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the church can be divided and destroyed.
Well, that’s just a little bit of what I will be teaching this next Sunday on the calling of Elisha. As I dig into the Old Testament narrative about him, I am amazed at how much our great God communicates to us through Elisha’s life. I’m looking forward to what God has to teach me over the next several weeks.