August 2019 | Volume 14 | Issue 8|
Beating the Elijah Syndrome
Antidotes for discouragement in church missions leadership
[Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1 Kings 19:10
As you lead missions in your church, do you sometimes feel like Elijah? “Lord, I’m the only one here who cares about Your heart for lost and hurting people around the world! Our church is focused on itself, and our congregation has no global vision!”
Perhaps you wonder if trying so hard to get your church engaged in missions is worth the effort. Welcome to the Elijah syndrome! This Postings offers some antidotes that we hope will encourage you as you launch another ministry year.
What can we learn from Elijah?
Recognize our emotions and talk to God about them. Scripture includes this event in the life of Elijah to remind us that throughout history God’s servants from time to time have struggled with discouragement and bitter feelings. Notice that God doesn’t reprimand Elijah for his angry outbursts, even when he repeats the same tirade the second time (vv. 10, 14). It’s okay to be honest with God about our Elijah-syndrome feelings.
Listen for God’s voice. Was Elijah hoping that God would strike down the Israelites as He had just done with the prophets of Baal? Or was he anticipating that God would at least forcefully call to repentance his sinful countrymen and publicly exonerate him as being the righteous one? Instead, God renewed Elijah physically and quietly gave him new work to do (vv. 5-7). Often the best medicine for Elijah syndrome is asking God for a fresh perspective on our ministry and how we should fulfill it.
Admit that our perception of the situation may be inaccurate. God tells Elijah that he definitely is not the only godly Israelite; there were 7,000 others who were faithfully serving Him (v. 18). These 7,000 weren’t on Mount Carmel challenging Baal worshippers to a whose-deity-is-stronger contest. But God saw that they had hearts devoted to Him. We need to recognize that others around us may be obedient disciples even though they don’t share our passion for global missions. Ask God to help you affirm people in your church who passionately love Jesus and are seeking to follow Him fully even though that currently doesn’t include missions involvement. Appreciate their spiritual journey. It may be different from yours, but truly genuine. Allow Him to grow their global passion in His time.
We need to recognize that others around us may be obedient disciples even though they don’t share our passion for global missions.
Look for younger-generation leaders. God showed Elijah a portion of His longer-range plan that didn’t include the immediate fix that Elijah was probably hoping for. One of God’s antidotes to Elijah’s discouragement was to send him to recruit a young leader who would first be his servant-disciple and eventually his successor (v. 21). This younger leader, Elisha, would enjoy a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kgs. 2:9) and would be the one to challenge Israel’s idolatry. Did Elijah struggle to accept that God was preparing a new leader to take his place? We don’t know.
If you are an older leader, God may not be asking you to step aside now, but He certainly expects humility in your service. Are you looking for younger people to nurture to do the greater work you have been unable to do? Or perhaps you are a younger leader who has been trying to serve alone. Do you need to attach yourself to an older, Elijah-like leader for discipling and encouragement?
What are some practical antidotes to our Elijah syndrome as church missions leaders?
Take time to be renewed spiritually and physically. Before we dive into a new season of ministry, we need to allow God to call us aside for rest and spiritual nurturing. What does that look like for you? If the great prophet Elijah needed it, we must not use the excuse that we are too busy serving to stop and rest.
Ask God to give us a missions soulmate or colleague. It’s renewing to find someone who shares our passion and our ministry struggles. Missions soulmates may live far apart geographically, perhaps even on different continents. But their shared passion for seeing the nations reached makes even long-distance conversations refreshing. Missions colleagues can challenge each other to reject Elijah-syndrome traps and together trust God for great things in the context where He has placed each of them to serve. Praying together regularly and praying for each other daily is a great gift. When we’re tempted to Elijah-syndrome discouragement, it’s helpful to have a brother or sister to encourage us.
Measure our success by the right things. Many church missions leaders get discouraged because they measure their effectiveness by the amount of Sunday morning “airtime” they receive or attendance at missions events. These are factors outside our control. Personal dialog is where lives are changed. Let’s measure our success by the number of one-on-one conversations we have or the small-group discussions we stimulate. Remember that lives always change one by one. Is our personal missions passion infectious?
Attend network meetings. One way to recharge our missions batteries is to attend a gathering of people who have a passion for a particular people group, religious bloc, nation, or a defined ministry focus. The benefits justify the cost and time! We become better missions leaders as a result. For churches that have a specific global focus, a network concentrating on that area is the place to connect. For churches with scattered involvement, leaders can choose a network designed to further outreach in a place or ministry of one of the workers the congregation is most involved with. Linking Global Voices is a great place to find network matches. Or contact Catalyst Services for help. Like Elijah, it’s wise to take a younger person with you to network meetings.
Take or retake the Perspectives course. Beside reigniting our passion for God’s heart for the nations, Perspectives can be the setting for hearing God’s call to a renewed or perhaps an adapted missions role. And being with other missions-passionate people from your region reminds you that you aren’t alone after all.
Connect to national believers. Around the world, a multitude of God’s choice servants work in lonely and discouraging situations. Visiting them will quickly cure our own Elijah syndrome as we realize how much greater their isolation and loneliness is compared to ours. When church leaders commit to providing ongoing encouragement to national brothers and sisters, their own discouragement tends to evaporate!
When church leaders commit to providing ongoing encouragement to national brothers and sisters, their own discouragement tends to evaporate!
Hold each other accountable. All of us are susceptible to bouts of Elijah syndrome. We need to take responsibility for challenging that attitude in other members of our church leadership team, our missionaries, and other missions leaders. We need to give others permission to challenge us if we succumb to a critical spirit or self-pity.
If you are a missionary, proactively encourage church missions leaders. As a field worker, you may have your own Elijah syndrome, but ask God to show you those in churches back home who need your words of appreciation and encouragement. Remember that they faithfully serve on your behalf in contexts where they may receive limited affirmation. Be God’s voice of encouragement to them.
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