The relay race
by Terry Camsey, Major –
Forgetting what is behind, and straining towards what is ahead I press on towards the goal to win a prize.
I am not an athlete by any means, but it seems to me that in a relay race one of the challenges is to pass the baton on to a fresh runner, within a prescribed area, without dropping it and, ideally, without slowing down.
…if anyone competes as an athlete he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. 2 Timothy 2:5
The baton does not change; the same baton is handed from one runner to the next. For a few steps, the teammates run together until the new, fresher sprinter has the baton firmly in hand and takes off!
If the runner passing the baton were to fail to hand it over, drop the baton, or refuse to hand it over—insisting himself on running the second, third and fourth laps—the team would lose because, apart from breaking the rules, he will be unable to sustain the speed of fresher sprinters.
Run in such a way as to get the prize! 1 Corinthians 9:24
If we consider each runner in the team to represent a different generation—the baton to represent responsibility, and the essentials of our faith to be passed from one generation to the next—and the prescribed area (within which the baton must be passed) as a “window of opportunity” where the tired runner is slowing and the new sprinter is eager and willing take it up…we can see that, from Abraham’s time…
…The task of leaders has always been to know when to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation—and to do so, making sure that the new generation grasps it (double entendre there) firmly, before letting it go completely—knowing this is how relay races are run and won! Drop, or fail to pass the baton on and the race is lost. It is also lost if the next runner refuses to accept it!
Is there life for older runners when they are unable to compete? Many who ran well when young go on to be coaches, mentors or wise “sounding boards,” respected for accomplishments of the past (with their own generation) and passing on experience and wisdom to young, fresh sprinters. Running in tandem, for a while, each respects the other’s contribution. Finally, the older former sprinters run their races through the younger athletes until the baton is released altogether.
Bill Clinton ran for presidency on the slogan, “A bridge to the future.” Challenger Bob Dole’s slogan was, “A bridge to the past.” The voters chose whether to go forward or backwards.
Richard Branson was CEO of the Virgin Group at age 19. William Booth headed up the Christian Revival Association at age 36 and was General of The Salvation Army by age 49 (Generals taking office since Bramwell Booth average close to 64 years of age). The first territorial commander of Canada was Thomas Coombes, a commissioner at age 24!
Do young leaders run the race in exactly the same way as their older predecessors? Probably not, but they do understand and are recognized by their generation—just as their predecessors were in their day. A critical danger is a failure to appreciate differences in emerging generations.
There are at least six generations around right now: Seniors (born 1908-1926); Builders (born 1927-1945); Boomers (born 1946-1964); Busters (born 1965-1983); Generation X and Generation Y. No generation at the same age is similar in tastes, values, dress, language or education, and trying to project the lifestyle of one generation on to another is rarely successful or effective.
Three critical questions are suggested, and worthy of consideration: What will happen to aging churches (and denominations) in the next 20 years if the average age is close to 50 now and they are not reaching subsequent generations? If they don’t attract/appeal to/keep Boomers, Busters and Echo-Boomers, how will they be able to influence or shape the 21st century? If a church is committed to transformation of the unsaved, how can it affect generations holding different values, if seen by those generations to be irrelevant to their life style?
Since we are surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.