Sometimes the best way to mentor someone is just to get out of the way.
You can retire. You can move away. You can resign from that position. You can sit in the back row instead of behind the pulpit.
Or, you can ascend into Heaven via a whirlwind.
That’s what Elijah did. He is perhaps one of the greatest examples of a mentor in all of Scripture. We’re going to take the time on this blog to look at a number of mentor/mentee relationships in Scripture, and we’ll start with Elijah and Elisha, the two often-confused prophets to Northern Israel in the reign of Ahab and his sons.
I love Elijah. He’s a raw, gritty guy – hairy with a leather belt, he is described. He’s the kind of guy who grew up in a rough part of Israel and was probably used to a solitary life, especially as the unpopular prophet of Yahweh in an era of Baal.
But even Elijah gets lonely. Following his success on Mt. Carmel, he’s threatened by Queen Jezebel and runs into Sinai. There, the prophet of God complains that he’s the only halfway-decent fellow in the whole kingdom. God corrects him by pointing out that there are seven thousand others who haven’t given into Baal worship yet. Elijah was never that good at math…
But notice what else God tells Elijah in his moment of depression – He commanded him to go anoint three people: Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as his replacement. God said these three guys would wipe out Baalism.
How many of those guys did Elijah anoint to their positions? Well, look a few verses later in 1 Kings 19 and you’ll see he at least did the last one – his own replacement, a young man named Elisha.
But what about Jehu and Hazael? It seems Elijah never got around to them. Elisha, his mentee, anoints Hazael in 2 Kings 8 and sends a “son of the prophets” to anoint Jehu in 2 Kings 9. This is all after Elijah’s death – er, his assumption into Heaven.
What’s up with that? Was Elijah slacking off? Was he sipping lemonade in Jezreel, confronting Ahab about Naboth’s vineyard when he should’ve been on a flight to Damascus to have words with Hazael?
We can’t be certain. Maybe Elijah disobeyed. Or maybe he never had the opportunity to do so. Maybe God’s plan was for Elijah to train Elisha so he could do it. And then Elisha could train an assistant who could finish it with anointing Jehu. Three generations.
We see in this overlooked account a principle for mentoring – sometimes, those you mentor will be more successful and do greater things than you do.
And that sometimes hurts. But it shouldn’t – it should be cause for rejoicing!
Elijah never got to see the overthrow of the worship of Baal. He never got to see the death of Jezebel. In fact, he never even got to anoint the guy who would run over Jezebel with his chariot (Jehu)!
Instead, he got to train his replacement. His replacement got to see Baal blown to bits out of Israel. His mentee got to do greater works than he did – multiply food, summon she-bears, heal leprosy, etc.
Do you think Elijah was up in Heaven pouting that he never got to do that cool stuff? That he never got to see his work come to fruition? No, I’m sure he rejoiced even more that Elisha had found that the “Yahweh, the God of Elijah” was present with him as well – and powerful!
Recently, a lot of guys I’ve spent time with have “grown-up.” They’ve taken positions that I once held. They’ve gone beyond anything I did. And what sometimes hurts the most, they’ve made all those things way better and been more successful than I ever could have done.
And that hurts my pride. But at the same time makes me proud.
Because it was never about me to begin with! When I go up to Heaven (hopefully by a whirlwind!), I want people to speak more of the “God of Matthew” than about me. Because anything I do, anything those I mentor do, can only ultimately be done by Yahweh.
So I’m going to get out of the way. I’m not going to try to maintain power. I’m going to train a replacement and let him take over. I’m going to let him become more awesome and more popular than I. Rather, I’m going to let God receive even more of the credit as He uses the next generation. I’m going to praise Him more for working in their lives than complain about how He never did that for me. That’s the way the church should work.
May I be the kind of mentor who knows how to get out of the way and watch God do even greater things with the next generation.