Richard Hyatt: The threat today

July 2, 2013 

His message was about Elijah and Elisha but Jimmy Elder's sermon was about more than a couple of Old Testament prophets. It was about the Chattahoochee River as much as it was the River Jordan.

Last Sunday, he shared a familiar story about the changing of the guard from Elijah to Elisha and how the mantle of leadership passed from the old to the young.

But by the time he offered his final amen, the pastor of the First Baptist Church was talking to a contemporary generation that needs to answer the call.

As we learned in Sunday School long ago, Elijah's term was ending and he was about to depart in a blaze of glory -- a phrase Elder linked to some old Jon Bon Jovi lyrics.

Elisha was the prophet's protégé, but he didn't know if he wanted to take over.

"He didn't know if he wanted to take on the challenges of the future," Elder said.

At that point, the Baptist preacher shifted gears and applied that story from Second Kings to challenges of today, noting that the Fourth of July was approaching -- a time when we celebrate the whoop de doo of our nation and talk about the wonderful country we live in.

Beyond the fireworks and the waving of the flag, he described our tendencies to talk about how much better things used to be and how we're worried about the path our world is taking.

"But the threat to our country isn't someone without dropping a bomb or someone within doing something foolish," he said. "The greatest threat is a pure lack of leadership.

"That's where the danger is. There is a leadership deficit coming with the next generation," he added.

This affects the church, the community, the state and the nation, Elder said, and it starts with our spoiled attitude and our unwillingness to get involved.

"Instead of waiting for someone else, it is time for me to find my voice. The threat today is when people do not pick up the mantle … It is laying before us and the days of saying, 'Oh, not me,' are over."

His unusual twist from past to present challenged his own congregation, but it was directed at more than the members of First Baptist.

Elder was sharing a conviction that good people can no longer afford to sit on the bench and wait for someone to put them in the game.

"It is time for good people -- really good people -- people who don't see how they'll find the time to serve to assume the responsibility of the future. Unless we have leadership development, all we will do is watch and what happens will be our fault," he said.

"Am I willing to answer the call?"

Good question, Jimmy.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at

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