Relay races in the summer Olympics are amazing. Not only are the athletes incredible, but I love to watch the exchange of the baton. It flows so smoothly most of the time that it seems to be a simple task. But watch one dropped baton, and you realize that the act of passing the baton is a complex action, involving great judgement, expert timing, practice, and attention to detail.
I’m not writing about passing the baton to tell you we’re making leadership changes. We’re not – although we are always on the lookout for a few more good leaders. I’m writing because leadership is a spiritual gift, vital for healthy, growing ministry, and we need to cultivate it better. Good leadership creates a culture where ministry and people flourish. “Culture is a combination of what you create and what you allow” (Craig Groeschel). Great leaders learn to develop healthy ministry cultures that have great impact.
If this spiritual gift of leadership is so vital, why then is the church so poor at passing the baton? Most solid ministry does not survive past the years of the founder. Many churches shrink greatly after the departure of effective Pastors and leaders. And we accept this as the normal ebb and flow of ministry. To apply what we practice to the Olympics, a smooth baton exchange would be a rare thing – with the norm being a chaotic scramble to grab the correct bouncing baton by most of the runners. Now, that would certainly have some entertainment value at the Olympics, but not so much in our community churches.
The average age of a senior Pastor in a US church is now 54 years. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but I mean to be a little alarmist. (Quote me on that.) Folks – we’re not doing this well. The church in America, to remain vital in an increasingly secular society, requires vibrant leadership. The Church is the ONLY link and invitation some people will have in their lifetime to discover their Creator God. While the Holy Spirit provides the gift of leadership, healthy churches and ministries provide the training ground to mold strong leaders.
Olympic runners start with their gift of running. The baton part comes later, and involves years of practice, failures and lost races along the way. But the effort eventually yields an Olympian. When I came to IBG, I was practicing leadership in other venues. But I didn’t know my fellow runner Wally, and I didn’t know the details of the race he ran called IBG. We talked a lot, and he had me lead a few Chapter meetings while he sat far enough back to not interfere but close enough to grab the baton if needed. We met periodically to discuss how he led the ministry and where we were the same and different. The “baton pass” we created took several years, but has allowed IBG to continue to flourish with Wally’s passing, and the passing of many founders.
Not only does baton passing require skillful intent, but it also requires willingness to let go of the baton. Wally Johnson was a rare ministry founder who was willing to let go in stride to pass the baton. I have grieved wonderful ministries that peaked and declined, because the leader needed to hold on just a little longer. As leaders, we need to see our churches and ministries as belonging to God alone, and be willing to pass the baton for the potential of something even greater. As Boards, Elders and Deacons, we need to own the responsibility to support, resource and champion development of the next generation leaders. And support our existing leaders while AND AFTER they pass the baton. There is no retirement in the Bible. We need to see passing the baton as a MULTIPLICATION exercise – not addition and subtraction.
Okay, I’m way over my word limit. Madame editor, please forgive me. Thanks for letting me rant on something that has been rumbling around my innermost being for a while. And thanks for being part of this simple Bible Giving ministry that GOD uses to utterly change the trajectory of so many lives.
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