The baton—a 12-inch cylinder that can either make you or break you in the track world.
It is the sound no runner wants to hear—the pinging of a baton hitting the track in the midst of a crucial relay race. Just ask past American Olympians. In the 2008 Beijing games, both the men and women’s 4 x 100 relay teams botched exchanges. They went home without medals and a promise from the chief executive of USA Track and Field to review the entire relay program.
But what about passing the baton in ministry? No doubt, many churches need to evaluate how they transfer leadership from one generation to another. Have you observed these awkward baton exchanges of church leadership?
Holding On Too Tightly: Far too often, seasoned church members hold tightly to traditions and simply won’t let go. The result? Younger leaders either wait for the baton to finally drop (um…death?) or they try prying it out of the fingers of those still holding on. There’s no joy watching leaders wrestle over control of the baton of leadership.
Throwing the Baton Down: I’ve also observed leaders who say, “I give up. Let the young ones have it.” In other words, they simply drop the baton without any exchange. The result? Younger leaders have no one mentoring them or guiding them. Sometimes there is no one waiting to pick it up, leaving seasoned leaders scratching their heads wondering why the ministry disintegrated.
Running As Individuals: Putting together the four fastest men on earth doesn’t always equate to success on the relay track. Same with ministry. The result? If you do ministry alone, you are not building the body of Christ or using the spiritual gifts of those God has surrounded you with. Teamwork and practice are essential to a successful leadership exchange.
Running Ahead Too Quickly: Younger leaders may be running so fast that the older leader has no way of catching up and passing the baton successfully. The result? Frustration and exhaustion from the younger leader who wants someone to carefully run beside them.
Grabbing the Baton Too Quickly: Sometimes younger leaders want to grab onto leadership roles too quickly. Their new ideas and attitudes sometimes push over seasoned leaders who can offer wisdom and instruction. The result? Younger leaders can become prideful in their quest to over-take the one who has carried the baton for a long time.
So what’s the solution? How can older leaders pass the baton more successfully?
First, consistent speed of both leaders is important. During a relay race, one runner doesn’t run 20 miles per hour and another 15. The runners must be consistent in their speed so the handoff doesn’t result in a collision. If you’re a young leader, try going the same speed of the older leader. Learn how to pace change and encourage a successful exchange of leadership.
Second, respect the area of ministry that is being passed from one person to another. Ask any runner and they will tell you the baton commands respect. As a young leader, respect the ministry and remind yourself that it is not yours to hold—it is the Lord’s. Respect the history and success from the past. Ask questions and be a learner of those who have run the race longer than you.
Finally, learn the art of transferring leadership from one person to another. One of the greatest examples of leadership exchange can be found in the Old Testament. Moses sought Godly counsel from his father-in-law Jethro. Read Exodus 18 and learn how Jethro praised God for Moses’ success but also taught him the importance of delegation and avoiding burnout. But Moses didn’t just seek counsel from those who were older and wiser. He sought to mentor the next generation leader—Joshua. And when the time was right, Joshua held the baton across the Jordan and led Israel into the Promised Land.