WITHIN THE STORY OF ELISHA AND THE FLOATING AXE HEAD ARE SEVEN TIMELESS PRINCIPLES FOR EFFECTIVE MENTORING ACROSS THE GENERATIONS.
Imagine that the local conference/ mission president asks you to start a lay-training program. This is to be a live-in program that lasts for a few months, but more people participate than expected. The meeting room is cramped, and the participants start talking among themselves. What will they do? Complain? Accept the situation as unchangeable? Do something else?
In a few short verses (2 Kings 6:1-7), a lay-training leader models kingdom principles in everyday life. The next generation is impacted not by preaching but by watching how a leader handles challenging situations. They see a leader who is committed to a caring, supportive relationship with his students. The leader himself is humble, teachable, and approachable, and his students feel comfortable enough to share their concerns and ideas with him.
“At a time of widespread corruption from the surrounding nations and the breakdown of positive educative influences at home, the schools of the prophets were established to serve as a barrier against the spreading corruption, to provide for the mental and spiritual welfare of the youth, and to promote prosperity of the nation by qualifying young people to act in the fear of God as leaders and counsellors.”1
At this school of the prophets, individual thinking was valued, and problem-solving was encouraged. The young men had a solution to the problem of overcrowding: a cooperative plan to which each would contribute his own time and energies. The students were comfortable enough to approach the leader and make suggestions, and the perceptive leader was wise enough to listen.
Although he was the CEO of the institution, Elisha was seen as accessible and respectful of new ideas and suggestions. He was a good listener and was able to take advice from his subordinates. The students’ plan was sound, and the prophet gave them his blessing. But the students wanted more than their teacher’s permission; they wanted his presence. So they pleaded, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” (2 Kings 6:3, NIV).
Well-mentored students like to have their teacher with them because there is so much to learn from the teacher’s approach to life, God, and people. And because effective mentors enjoy the company of their students and seize every teachable moment, Elisha agreed to accompany them. He could have enjoyed a well-earned day off while his students were away chopping trees. But this leader revealed his greatness by his willingness to serve, choosing to work with his students, to get his hands calloused and his back bent.
When tragedy struck and the borrowed axe head sank in the murky water, the students again approached their teacher/mentor/prophet. Elisha’s response in 2 Kings 6:6, 7 is both impressive and efficient, concentrating on the solution (“Where did it fall?”) rather than investigating the problem (“Why did you borrow the axe, and why didn’t you check the axe head?”). In describing the sequence of events, Elisha was referred to as “the man of God,” perhaps because his methodologies mirrored God’s. When God gets involved with problem-solving, His focus is forward-looking; He looks to the future potential rather than concentrating on the past and its failures. Notice that God’s solutions often include readily-available resources (“Cut a stick”), and God often includes the troubled ones as part of the solution (“Lift it out,” Elisha said, and the man reached out his hand and took it).
The exciting part of the story is not the floating axe head, miraculous though it is, but rather the ebb and flow of teachable moments between teacher and students. We see:
• A good relationship where the opinions and ideas of both parties are respected and valued
• An elder who is not threatened by bright ideas from the younger generation
• A leader who is willing to join his students in physical labor
• A mentor whose personal presence is valued by his students
• A dependable and supportive person who is both available and approachable in difficult times
• A problem-solver who concentrates on the solution, not on the causes
• A leader who seeks to empower those in his sphere of influence even in times of crisis
And the underlying secret for this success story? A double portion of God’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9) to guide, direct, motivate, teach, enrich, and enable. Research shows that for young people to maintain their faith, three factors are of critical importance: (1) an ongoing, caring, mentoring-type relationship with (2) someone with a shared worldview (3) in the context of community.2 But there is more. A feeling of connectedness at school and at home are key factors for student success,3 and the incidence of at-risk behaviors in young people greatly diminishes when there are significant adults who take a personal interest in their lives (see sidebar).4
Adventist young people are looking to pastors and church leaders to model lives lived in relationship with God.5 A study of 13,000 Adventist youth in North America revealed that they want a deeper personal relationship with God and feel that undue importance is placed on the peripherals of religion.6 On the basis of these findings, Roger Dudley makes three recommendations to church leaders which directly relate to the issue of spiritual nurture.7 Pastors and church leaders need to:
1. Consistently model lives lived in relationship with God
2. Preach and teach that religion is basically a matter of relationships with God and fellow humans, not a system of beliefs or a code of behavior
3. Give new emphasis to practices that make a rich devotional life
When young people were presented with a list of topics and asked how interested they would be in learning more about each one either at school or in church, the topic “gaining a deeper relationship with God” attracted the highest interest, with figures of 74 percent for the school setting and 77 percent for church.8 Young people want to learn more about nurturing their spiritual lives, and they are looking to pastors and elders to show them how.
Becoming significant to a young person has the potential of becoming a miracle story with far broader results than merely causing an iron axe head to float.
1 Ellen G. White, Education, 46.
2 Steve Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007).
3 Gary L. Hopkins and Tim Gillespie, “Connectedness: The Key to Student Success,” in Journal of Adventist Education, vol. 65:3, 31- 33.
4 Jonathan Duffy and Gary D. Hopkins.
5 Roger L. Dudley and V. Bailey Gillespie, Valuegenesis: Faith in the Balance (Riverside, CA: La Sierra University Press, 1992), 270-272.
6 Jimmy Kijai, “A Synopsis of the Valuegenesis Study of Faith Maturity and Denominational Commitment,” in Journal of Research on Christian Education, 2, No.1 (1993), 81-84.
7 Dudley and Gillespie, Valuegenesis, 270-272.
8 Ibid., 23, 24.
Carol Tasker is the Shepherdess coordinator for the South Pacific Division.
NOTE TO ELDERS
You may want to use this passage as a small-group teaching activity for a group of church leaders/officers who would like to explore together some biblical principles on mentoring youth. Possible answers have been put in italics, but these are not the only possible answers; they are just examples.
Read 2 Kings 6:1-7. Then read each verse carefully, identifying the characteristics of this faith-building discipler and mentor.
Verse 1: Not every leader likes to be told when there is a problem. What sort of a leader encourages people to share their thoughts?
Humble, teachable, approachable, doesn’t believe that he or she has all the answers.
Verse 2: What kind of a leader allows other people to suggest solutions to problems?
Someone who is open, respectful of other people’s views, willing to learn from others, and accepting of other people’s ideas.
Verse 3: Why do you think the students begged Elisha to accompany them?
They enjoyed his company; he was fun to be around; they wanted to learn as much as they could from him.
Verse 4: Why do you think Elisha chose to go with his students when he could have had a day off from school while they went by themselves?
He wanted to make the most of every teachable moment and was happy to work with his students; he was not afraid of hard work.
Verse 5: Why do you think the student turned to his leader when he was in trouble?
His leader was approachable and could be trusted in difficult circumstances.
Verse 6: How did the man of God respond to the problem?
He focused not on the cause of the problem but on the solution.
Verse 7: Why didn’t the prophet provide the entire solution by himself?
He was an empowering leader who wanted the student to learn and grow from this experience.