Passing the Mantle

Passing the Mantle. Generational Transitions. Transforming the Church. From Institutional to Missional.

Did you ever wonder about the origin of that phrase? We find it here in 2 Kings 2. Elijah passes the mantle of prophetic spiritual authority to Elisha.

Now, an obvious direction to go with this text would be to address the issue of the need for the former generations to let go of the mantle of authority so the next generation can take it up. I could simply say, “See there, you can’t hold on forever. Eventually you have to let go and allow the next generation to assume the leadership roles.” This is probably true. Well, undoubtedly it is, as eventually the former generation will pass away, either to “rest with their fathers” or to be “taken up by a whirlwind”. In any case, you can’t take it with you, and you can’t stay here.

In the text, we see that more is going on that simply Elijah needing to let go. To fully appreciate it, we need to back up a few chapters into the preceding book, specifically 1 Kings 19. There we find Elijah reach the pinnacle of his prophetic ministry, and then shortly after he begins to struggle with fear and doubt. His work will draw to a close. As John the Baptizer said generations later of Jesus, “I must decrease so that he can increase.” It is like the fade-out / fade-in between songs on the radio or scenes in a movie. For a brief time you can hear or see both – there is a merging and comingling of elements. As one builds in strength and power the other declines until the former is gone and only the new remains. Our text today marks the end of that liminal transition phase between one and the other.

In 1 Kings 19, the LORD directed Elijah to anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor, which he does with no fanfare or ceremony. Elijah simply strides past and tosses his own mantle across Elisha’s shoulders and keeps walking. When Elisha comes to inquire, he is sent packing with the abrupt words, “What have I done to you?” In other words, “Listen, kid. I did what God asked, so now leave me alone. I don’t know what God will do with you, but I have work to do.” Instead, Elisha slaughters his entire plow-pulling team of oxen (the foundation of his secular work), holds a BBQ for the community, and takes up the nomadic journey as assistant to Elisha. That’s it then. No turning back now.

Then, obviously skipping over important stories, we arrive at today’s text. The end is nigh, and everyone knows it. You can just tell sometimes, can’t you? Intuition, or the Spirit? When people are about to die their demeanor changes. This even happens with an animal like a beloved pet.  They may become anxious, but hopefully the reverse – shifting into a posture of deep calm. Resignation, not in terms of giving up the fight, but like a restless child finally sinking into the arms of a loving parent.

Elijah knows his time is short, and so do all the prophets. We see them repeatedly telling Elisha – “your master is leaving.” Each time the curt retort, “I know, shut up!” Why this response? Does he not want to think about it? Is he frustrated because they are stating the obvious? Does he take these pronouncements as an indication that these other prophets doubt Elisha’s ability to truly pick up where Elijah leaves off? We don’t know.

And Elijah for his part seems tense as well. Three times he tells his companion to remain behind while he travels on. Again, why? Does Elijah want to spare his young friend the trauma that may come? Does he simply want some time to himself, to prepare mentally and emotionally and spiritually, to be alone with God before the end?

This exchange between the two men mirrors that at the beginning of their relationship. Elijah is God’s agent, but God is really the actor here. God called Elijah, and chose Elisha to succeed him. God is the one who anoints for ministry, though he uses our hands and voices to accomplish it. And Elisha, for his part, is persistent, resisting the rebuffs and insistent that only one path can he follow.

What if Elijah’s push-back is a thoughtful and strategic move? Perhaps he is doing what we later see Jesus do repeatedly. In the church we often want to sugarcoat discipleship, making it as easy and painless as possible. The result is people who have a low level of commitment and a low threshold for pain. Not so with our two friends. Elijah challenges Elisha to fully commit, as Jesus does with the apostles, the rich young ruler, the Samaritan woman, and so many others.

I think the relationship between these two men does have something meaningful to tell us about the transitions happening in the church today. There is a passing of the mantle that will happen, whether we embrace or resist it.

  • God is the prime mover throughout. Everything we do at its very best is simply our acceptance, response, and participation in God’s unfolding work.
  • There is always someone who came before us. All of us are at some point the recipients of what others have built and passed on to us.
  • The transition takes place over an extended period, during which there is mutual learning, give and take, conversation, community, sharing in life and ministry together. Both are fully committed to the process. Leaving or quitting is not an option.
  • There is tension, on both sides. The ones who came before may become frustrated and resist the process at times. The new ones coming in need to be persistent. Likewise, the new ones may be frustrated with how slow change happens. The elders need to be patient with that youthful exuberance.
  • The old and the young, the Builders and the Millennials , the Elders and the Youth, the Institutionals and the Emergents – they make the journey together or not at all. Elisha walks all the way with Elijah, always honoring and respecting what his elder has done, what he represents and has to teach. Elijah allows Elisha to walk with him to the end, even crossing the river with him.
  • The next generation asks for and receives a blessing from their forebears.

Whatever the church will become in coming generations will be crippled unless we can learn these lessons. We need to find ways to embrace one another, young and old, even with the very real frustrations. The traditional, established and institutional church needs the new, young, creative, emerging and Missional church, and vice versa. The mantle will be passed, eventually. God willing, it will happen in a full embrace by all parties, with celebration and hope. If this happens, rather than a diminished spirit the next manifestations of the church will receive a double portion, will have twice the tangible impact and spiritual influence.

Ministry Training Courses coming

I am excited to join the faculty of the Atlanta Divinity Center’s Equipping for Ministry program. My initial courses will be in the areas of Spiritual Development and Education Leader Development. The target audience for these courses includes lay people who are desiring to deepen their ministry, those on the path toward Commissioning, Licensing or Ordination in their denomination, and clergy seeking continuing ed. We are intentionally seeking a diverse student body from across racial/ethnic, age, gender, and theological/denominational spectrums. The courses will be taught locally in North Texas over a Friday evening and Saturday, followed by four weekly conference calls to discuss how the learning is being integrated into life and ministry.

These courses will satisfy educational requirements for non-seminary trained candidates under the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Apprenticeship Path to Ordination and for those seeking to be Commissioned in The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Note: There is no guarantee that an individual’s Regional Commission on Ministry will accept the course; it is incumbent on each student to clarify with his or her Regional COM the acceptability of the course for Standing. All courses are developed and delivered with the intent of preparing candidates for standing in the area of competency set forth.  The courses will be taught in a way that makes them accessible and valuable to individuals from other Christian traditions as well. Future courses will expand on these themes by narrowing the focus to particular aspects of the field.  All courses utilize the ONLINE Learning Platform of www.TransformingTheChurch.org   More information about the curriculum will be found at www.disciplesdivinitycenter.org.

I will have more information on these courses as they develop. Please check back here, or better yet, subscribe to my blog and receive email updates each time content is added or updated.

Question for Reflection: In what areas are you most in need of (most desiring) growth and development for your life and ministry? What is one step can you take toward those goals?

Finding hope for the future

REFLECTIONS ON 1 KINGS 19:1-15

Before launching into the reflections on our text, pause for a moment and identify/consider these three ideas in your life, ministry, business or organization:

  • Achievement – identify a significant achievement from your past, something that was a defining moment, and preferably one which outsiders also considered significant.
  • Challenge – identify a significant challenge in your present, something that presents a difficulty, obstacle or frustration around or through which you must work.
  • Hope – identify a significant hope for your future, something that you desire or dream to see come to fruition, though you may have no idea how or whether it is possible.

Now let’s return to Elijah – Elijah, perhaps not unlike many of us, has bursts of enthusiasm followed by waves of uncertainty, doubt. We get an idea and launch forward with it, trusting fully that we are taking the right course of action. Then, shortly after, we are confronted by an obstacle, a threat to our plans and goals, and suddenly we cower in fear. We run on and then off, hot and then cold. Now, in our defense, Jesus said he prefers this to a lukewarm response to everything, completely lacking in energy, passion and commitment either way.  (Rev 3:16) Jesus wants us to recognize the weight and import of life, to feel the full burden of this one wild life. In the story that precedes this, Elijah has just been witness to an awesome sign of God’s power – fire from heaven coming to consume the water-soaked offering and even the altar (1 Kings 18:17-39) followed by his slaughtering 450 prophets of Baal – a rival god to the God of Israel, Yahweh – in a fit of glory. That scene reminds me of the riots that occasionally follow the championship basketball game, where the fans of the winning team pour into the streets and destroy their own downtown. Elijah is at the very top of his power, both in terms of how he is viewed by the people and their kings, as well as his ability to participate with God in a dramatic show of singularity – there really are no true rivals. Elijah had a significant achievement from his past.

Elijah’s witness may be a hard pill for some of us to swallow – we tend to not think of the prophets as mighty soldiers or executioners, yet we are told that Elijah, whether personally or through his assistants, killed 450 of his enemies who were leading the king and people of Israel astray. I’m not sure what to do with this, particularly in light of Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies. One thing I do notice is that God has not told him to kill these men – he makes this choice himself out of his great zeal.

Then king Ahab tattles to his wife, Jezebel, that Elijah has killed all the prophets of her gods, and she sends a messenger to say that she is putting a hit out on him – like some scene from a mafia movie. And Elijah runs and hides. And he whines to God that he is a failure and he just wants to die. Elijah now also has a significant challenge in his present.

How does he go so quickly from powerful witness for God to running scared and hiding in a cave? The text does not say. We may be able to draw some inferences from our own life experiences.

When have you felt passionate about something, ready to take a public stand even if you thought it might not be popular at first? Have you been compelled to confront injustice? Do you remember sticking up for someone who was being abused?

And then you lost your nerve because of what it would cost you. Doing the right thing is often difficult, at least at first. We may find ourselves shifting into self-preservation mode, just keeping our head down and trying to survive. People describe feeling this way when they work in a place where some misconduct is going on – perhaps someone is embezzling, or employees are not being treated well. But times are hard, the unemployment rate is up. If I speak up I may lose my job, and then someone will be waiting in line to take my place. How will I feed my family? What if I speak up and I am all alone, with no one to help or defend me?

What about as a church? Have you looked among yourselves and around you to your community and world and gotten a glimpse of what God’s kingdom might bring? Where do you see the mustard seeds of Jesus’ message waiting to sprout and grow? Where is God calling you to speak, and even just to be present? What might it cost you? Many of our churches can look back on days when there was more money, when there were more people. Congregations are finding themselves stretched between paying a pastor, paying for buildings, and investing in mission. Like Elijah, we can look back to a time when God’s work was great among us, when we were thriving, at our peak. But now, Jezebel threatens to destroy us. She represents all those opportunities to worship and serve anyone or anything other than the God we find revealed in Jesus, the Christ.

But following Jesus is not easy. Following Jesus costs us everything. You know the stories. The rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to enter eternal life, and the reply is, “Sell all that you have, give to the poor, take up your cross and follow me.” (Luke 18). Later he says, “They persecuted me, they will persecute you…” (John 15) Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer) This is the very thing that Elijah feared. And at this point he thought his journey was over.

If we are going to take this kind of risk, we want some assurance, some sign that God is with us, and that the course of action we have chosen is the right one. Again, we can look to Elijah hiding there in the cave. We might imagine this to be like his prayer closet. Elijah is there, wondering what has happened to his life. Things were going so well. He has basically given up on doing anything else useful or meaningful for God, or God being able to do anything in or through him. Perhaps he is in what John of the Cross called a “dark night of the soul.” Or what St. Ignatius calls “desolation.” He is at a particularly low place, spiritually. He wants and needs God to show up, to intervene, answer his prayers, do something.

Have you ever wanted that? Every wanted God to give some kind of clear, emphatic direction, something big and dramatic? Perhaps like Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2). Elijah waits, and does have some dramatic experiences – a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire – the three natural disasters we fear most. Throughout the history of Israel these things had been taken as signs of God’s action. Yet somehow Elijah knew that God was not there. It was in the whisper, in the sheer silence, that God was found.

There has been a renewal in the church over recent years – a return to embracing periods of silence. Elijah’s story tells us that sometimes it is only there that we can hear from God, receive the guidance we need, and the affirmation that God is with us and love us, that we are not alone. In response to increasing challenges and declining numbers and resources, many churches are frantically looking for, and even creating, shaking the earth, and burning hot – we even say, “I’m on fire for Jesus.” Yet in this story God is not in any of that. Only in the silence is God known and peace and assurance found. Perhaps we need to, as someone cleverly put it once, “don’t just do something, sit there.” What if in our business meetings we found more time for prayer? What if in our efforts to reach new people we were less concerned with programs and more focused on listening to the hearts of our neighbors in the midst of a holy silence. In our culture we have the phrase “awkward silence” and people often feel the need to fill it. What if instead we used that time to listen for God in the sheer silence as Elijah did?

When God finally speaks, Elijah again rehearses all his woes, all the things that have gone wrong, as if to implicate both himself and God, as if to put God in the dock, to use C.S. Lewis’ phrase. “Look, God, what has happened, because you didn’t exercise your power and strength sufficiently.” Hear those last verses again: 3When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.

Do you hear how God completely ignores everything that Elijah has just said? Ignores the complaints, the frustrations, the guilt, even the accusations. God simply gives Elijah his next instructions. Elijah has at least demonstrated the ability to recognize God in the silence, and this is sufficient. This is enough for God to use, to send Elijah out on mission, not of his own design, not in his own cleverness or power, but out of the mystery of God’s wisdom. What God directs could not have been guessed, would not have been imagined by Elijah or anyone else. Elijah finds renewed hope for his future.

To develop a Missional imagination, we can do several concrete things:

  • Realize that God has a mission, and that we are a part of it.
  • Recognize that as a part of God’s mission, we are sent out to the world, just as Jesus was sent to us.
  • Wonder if the things we take as signs of success or effectiveness do not necessarily matter to God.
  • Accept that we may not get dramatic confirmations of what God wants for us.
  • Wait on the Lord patiently in silence

By identifying these three themes – Achievement, Challenge, and Hope - we become better equipped to understand how God might be trying to move us forward, not resting on our past, or being overwhelmed by our present, but realizing that life and love are continually calling us forward into God’s unfolding dream for us.

WBECS Coaching Summit

I’m writing this because I know you value life-long learning and sharpening your own leadership and coaching skills.

The World Business and Executive Coach Summit (WBECS) begins on June 12th.  There are very few companies in the world that give away as much complimentary content as WBECS does, they do so because they have a commitment to the development and success of the coaches across the world. You can probably feel their passion.

Now is the time to make a decision on whether you are committed to:
a) Your development as a coach.
b) The development of your clients.

If the answer is yes, then please purchase your early bird ticket here: https://modernmethods.infusionsoft.com/go/2013ticket/kckc
Highest quality of training for all levels
WBECS offers high standards of training for coaches of all levels, with specialist focus on growing your client-base, increasing referrals, improving your coaching skills and transforming your business by delivering significantly better results for your clients.

Specifically, the Summit is designed for coaches that fall into any of these groups:

*The Start-Up Coach: You’ve just begun your coaching journey and are looking to develop your coaching curriculum, method of delivery, and marketing system.  At the Summit, you’ll learn how to reach critical mass fast.

•The Break-Even Coach: You’re at a point in your coaching career where losing a couple of clients means trouble, while gaining a couple of clients means comfort. You’re looking at growing from being a good coach to a great coach. At the summit, you’ll learn how to stop the ‘feast or famine’ cycle by learning how to deliver higher quality coaching, helping you acquire and retain clients more effectively.

* The Next-Level Coach: You’ve already built a successful coaching business, and now you want to leverage your experience and content. You are looking for advanced coaching skills that take your clients to the next level and in the process take your 6 and multi 6 figure income to a high 6 and 7 figure income.

When you register for a Full Event Ticket you gain access to the entire two-week Live Online Event PLUS recordings of every session to watch offline or download and watch offline. You also get all materials for each session that applies: including transcripts, audio, slides and you also will be able to network virtually inside the member portal.

Check out the full lineup and agenda here: https://modernmethods.infusionsoft.com/go/agenda/kckc

This is your last chance as the Early Bird Pricing Expires May 31st Register Now for Priority Access and Save $400

EXTENDED EARLY BIRD RATE BEFORE May 31st $297
REGULAR RATE AFTER May 31st $697

Who is presenting at WBECS?

The online coaching event of the year will be bring together the world’s best coaching specialists and thought leaders to help drive the coaching industry forward, raise ethics and standards and improve the success rates of coaches both in your country and across the world.

Experts include:

Jay Abraham,                Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
John C. Maxwell          Frances Hesselbein
Daniel H. Pink               Pam McLean
Brendon Burchard      Verne Harnish
Katherine Tulpa           Karen Kimsey-House
Mary Beth O’Neill        Damian Goldvarg
Ago Cluytens               Susan Meyer
Aileen Gibb                  Hendre D. Coetzee
Andrea Lages              Howard Morgan
Andrew Neitlich          John Leary Joyce
Ann Betz                      Joseph O’Connor
Barry Posner               Krishna Kumar
Brian Underhill            Marvin Oka
Darren Robson           Myles Downey
Drayton Boyleston      Michael Bungay Stanier
Donna Steinhorn        Natalie Tucker Miller
Gary Henson               Patrick Williams
Grant Soosalu             Renee Freedman
Taki Moore

*CCE units for International Coaching Federation members

56.5 Hours CCE Units  =  30.5 Core Competencies and 26 Resource Development.

Available for pre-summit and Full Summit sessions. CCEUs can be earned through recordings although Any Core Competency session watched as a recording earns a Resource Development unit. Watched live it earns a core competency unit.

Complimentary Pre-Summit Final Week of May 2013

There is still a final last week of sessions from May 27- 30, which are all complimentary. These free sessions are perfect for you to get a taste of the high level of thought leadership from our industry.  There are five free sessions to attend this last week of May. Attend them here https://modernmethods.infusionsoft.com/go/presummit/kckc

We have a commitment to your development as a coach. Be sure to have a commitment to yourself too and join us for the Full Summit in June

Purchase your early bird ticket here: https://modernmethods.infusionsoft.com/go/2013ticket/kckc

If you have any questions at all WBECS team is on standby for you. Email ben@wbecs.com, sherrie@wbecs.com or nina@wbecs.com with any queries you have.

The team at WBECS has an absolute commitment to having a profound impact on the success of Business and Executive Coaches the world over. Please give them the opportunity to have a profound impact on your coaching success through their summit, if they don’t you can ask for your money back.

Kind regards,

Ken Crawford
214-288-1663
http://www.SynchronousLife.com
LinkedIn: kengcrawford
Twitter: @KenGCrawford
Facebook: KenGCrawfordCoaching

First sermon in 4 months

I know how to preach to the people beside whom I worship, pray, study and serve. The people God has called me to equip for ministry. I’m not sure I know to prepare a message for strangers who are also sisters and brothers in Christ. Obviously relying heavily on the guidance of the Holy Spirit (and the local pastor) in a way that is different from my past decades of preaching.

My last sermon was at Forest Grove Christian Church (DoC) on Feb 2, 2013, the final day of my 10.5 year ministry there. Now, exactly 4 months later, I will be preaching supply for Deb Chisolm @ Central Christian Church, Dallas. I’m grateful, excited, and nervous. I’ve not preached for a congregation where I was not also the pastor in almost 20 years. Also scheduled to preach @ Ridgelea Christian in Ft. Worth on July 21.

This has got me thinking about the responsibility and authority of a guest preacher, particularly when the home pastor is not present in worship for whatever reason. I have chosen to stick with the lectionary text for 6/2 (7/21 is TBD) as it takes some of the control out of my hands, rather like drawing lots or casting the Urim and Thummin. It also saves such a great deal of time wondering and wandering about the scriptures in search of the “right” text. This narrows it down to 4 (or in the case of this Sunday 9) upon which to meditate and pray and seek guidance.

For Sunday 6/2 I have selected 1 Kings 8:22-30;  Psalm 96Galatians 1:1-12& Luke 7:1-10. I know that Central has some big decisions ahead, so I am mindful of those and at the same time wary of stepping into a conversation that is not mine. These texts have some interesting things to say about where, why, who and how we worship.

What experience do you have with these texts that you want to share?