So the young prophet went to Ramoth Gilead. – 2 Kings 9:4
Elisha was the most influential and significant prophet of his day. After literally taking the mantle of his mentor, Elijah, Elisha lead the renewal movement within Israel known as the company of prophets. Under Elisha’s influence, God worked to bring life and shalom into a land of death and chaos. Elisha’s presence demanded respect and his word had influence even when it was not appreciated, because Elisha spoke the word of the Lord.
Then Elisha does something curious. He gives the task of anointing the next king of Israel, Jehu, to a nameless young prophet. Instead of doing it himself, Elisha calls a young prophet and gives him one of the most significant tasks of Elisha’s life – to anoint the king. Though the most significant and powerful of the prophets, Elisha shares his power and significance with a young man in a meaningful way. Elisha gives this young prophet a challenge and a task worth pursuing.
There is a lot of talk within the church today about ‘raising up young leaders.’ We want young people to be invested in the church and eager to serve. Some of this talk comes from a genuine desire to see people transformed by the gospel. Some of this talk is driven by our anxiety around the decline in membership of many of our churches. I’m guessing a lot of our conversation has both elements.
Whatever the motivation, the quest to develop young leaders is a stated value of many denominations and congregations. But what might this look like?
Do we lead like Elisha?
Do we give our young people responsibility? Do we give them tasks that are important to the life of the church and that will actually cost us if they fail? Do we give them something important enough that we all want them to succeed? Do we risk them failing?
Or are we content to have their energy and vitality but not their voice? Are we willing to draw from their youthful exuberance, but not trust them with anything important until they have lived as long as we have?
Elisha charged this young prophet with anointing the king. Did he do everything exactly as Elisha instructed him? For the most part. It wasn’t perfect, but he did the job well. He went and found Jehu, he got him alone and anointed him king. He embellished a bit in his instructions, but completely in accordance with what God had already decreed. Then he ran back to Elisha.
Elisha trusted this young man and trusted God to work through him. His youth and inexperience were not an obstacle. Elisha didn’t need to do all the ‘important work’ himself.
As our churches continue to seek the development of young leaders, perhaps we can learn from Elisha. Perhaps we, too, can trust our young people with tasks of significance. Perhaps, we, too, can risk them growing and learn to hear their voices.