Due to inclement weather, the 9 a.m. service for Sunday, Jan. 20 has been cancelled. We will have one morning service at 10:45 a.m. as road conditions improve.

Passing the Baton

by Matt McClay

During the summer of 2021, the world looked on at Tokyo as athletes from around the world participated in the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, which had been postponed from the previous year due to pandemic concerns. While watching footage from the various Olympic competitions last summer, I was surprised to learn that the U.S. Men’s 4x100 meter relay team has historically struggled to succeed in their event, winning only 8 medals in the last 18 competitions since 1995. Such struggles are uncharacteristic of U.S. Olympians as a whole, as American teams and athletes frequently earn top places in their events. What has been the source of our relay team’s struggle? Each member of the four-man team represented the best of U.S. track and field talent and were, quite literally, some of the fastest men alive. Would it surprise you to learn that, historically, the source of the U.S. Men’s 4x100 meter relay team’s struggles had to do with their baton transfers? During their last 18 competitions, they have failed to successfully transfer the baton between runners a whopping 10 times! It is incredible to think that this relatively insignificant component of a relay race could lead to such disastrous consequences when not executed properly.

As we approach Father’s Day this month, consider the parallels between Olympic relay races and our God-given calling as fathers and men of God to pass the faith along to the next generation of Jesus-followers. Did you know that 66% of protestant young adults dropped out of church between the ages of 18 and 22?1 Additionally, while 69% of Christian teens attend church at age 17, the percentage dives to 33% by the time they reach 20 years old.2 Unfortunately, these statistics suggest many “dropped batons” have occurred over the last two decades in church history. A recent survey performed by Barna and The Navigators revealed that less than 30% of church-attending men age 40 and up are discipling others.3 The church in America is in desperate need of men to embrace the God-given mission of disciple-making, particularly as it relates to the next generation. The biblical words of the Apostle Paul to his protégé, Timothy, seem appropriate for us dads to consider leading up to Father’s Day.

“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV).

Can you see the relay race parallels in Paul’s charge to Timothy? The first “leg” of the race has to do with Paul running and passing the baton (through teaching) to Timothy. The second “leg” of the race involves Timothy, who is now running. The third “leg” calls for Timothy to pass the baton of faith to trustworthy people. Finally, the fourth “leg” envisions those trustworthy people who received the baton from Timothy passing the faith on to a fourth generation of Jesus-followers. As fathers, if we don’t pass the baton of faith to our children and other young men in our churches, who will? Consider these three rules from the United States Track and Field (USTF) rule book on relay races, and how they remind us of the truths found in 2 Timothy 2:2.

#1 – It has to be the right baton.

The rules relating to what constitutes a baton acceptable for use in an Olympic relay are surprisingly elaborate, dealing with such issues as its composition materials, length, and circumference. Simply put, apart from passing the right baton, a team is disqualified from the race. Paul was careful to instruct Timothy of the importance of sound doctrine and teaching, encouraging his young apprentice to “Remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8 ESV). Jesus instructed His followers to make disciples by “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19 ESV). The next generation has deep spiritual needs that the batons of good works, strong grades, financial success, or political and social activism simply cannot satisfy. Young men and women need to be reminded that the same gospel that saved their eternal lives can transform their earthly lives and empower them to transform the lives of others. The answer at the end of every one of their questions in life is Jesus!

#2 – The space to pass the baton is limited.

The Apostle Paul knew that his time on earth was quickly drawing to a close, and there is a marked urgency in his second letter to Timothy. In Olympic relay races, the area in which runners may pass on the baton to their partners is limited. Just as the window for a successful handoff opens and closes in track and field, so do the windows close on opportunities we have to pass the faith on to the next generation. Many high school students, college students, and young adults are experiencing significant transformations and transitions in their lives, such as the transition from high school or college or trade school, living under their parents’ rules to devising rules of their own, and riding as passengers in vehicles to driving vehicles on their own. Most importantly, teens and young adults are transitioning from taking spiritual cues from their parents to arriving at their own conclusions about faith and theology. Speak to a teen or young adult, and you will likely find them to be refreshingly open to discussing matters of faith! This window will not be open for long, and we Christ-followers who are older have the responsibility and duty to step into their lives and pass the baton of faith to the next generation.

#3 – A dropped baton does not mean the race is over.

Perhaps one of the few redeeming and hopeful rules of the USFT rule book for relay races deals with the issue of a dropped baton. According to regulations, a runner may pick up a dropped baton and continue running his portion of the race. Much discussion has been dedicated to the problem of teens and college students walking away from the faith during their young adult years and who is to blame. Should we blame their parents? Their church youth groups? The culture? Perhaps it’s time that we as Christians stop talking about the dropped baton of discipling the next generation and start walking toward the baton, begin picking it up, and getting back in the race! The Apostle Paul, prior to penning his second letter to Timothy, wrote to the Philippian church, “This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV). Who is a young person in your life to whom you can pass on the baton of faith? What practical step can you take today in picking up the baton and passing it on to the next generation?
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