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DON’T FUMBLE THE HANDOFF

The race was about to begin and the excitement in the air was energizing.  My son Benjamin’s high school’s 4×100 relay team had qualified for state and was expected to contend for the Oklahoma 4A state title.  The gun sounded and they were off.  We stood up as my son’s team mate reached to him for the all important passing of the baton.  Then one of the greatest fears in any relay race took place – they fumbled the handoff.  It had not happened all year, why now? 

In a second their chances of advancing to the finals were over.  Unfulfilled expectations overwhelmed them because of one mishandled handoff.  The disappointment was real because they knew they were fast enough to make the finals and maybe even win but we would never know because they had not been able to pass the baton.  This story is painfully true to my family but we all survived and our lives moved forward.

Fumbling a handoff in a relay race has no eternal consequences but Christians are running a race that does matter in eternity.  We are to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus but what about the other runners in the race?  What happens when the time comes for us to pass the baton of ministry to someone else?  Are we fumbling the baton of leadership development?  Have many dropped out of the race because we fumbled the handoff?  Discipleship is the starting point, the sustaining practice, and the key to lasting impact.   

The only way to ensure the proper handoff of ministry is to continually be reproducing leaders in our churches.  The most important and crucial element in passing the baton is discipleship and disciple making.  Always moving forward and always reproducing through an easily reproducible process.  Thom Rainer has rightfully observed that, “Congested churches and stagnant believers are the antithesis of God’s plan.”  Could this explain why it is estimated that 90% of those attending on Sunday’s are passive in their walk with the Lord and the church?

The quality of a church’s leadership is directly related to the quality of its discipleship.  If we do not have a clear discipleship process then we should not be surprised when there is a shortage of leaders.  Neil Cole has said, “If you can’t reproduce disciples, you can’t reproduce leaders.  If you can’t reproduce leaders, you can’t reproduce churches.  If you can’t reproduce churches, you can’t reproduce movements.”  The lack of leadership development creates a bottleneck in the church which has been created by a lack of making disciples that make disciples.

In the book From Followers to Leaders Robert Logan and Tara Miller give a highly reproducible model of leadership development that they call the I/You approach. 

Stage 1:  I do the task and you watch me. 

Stage 2: I do the task and you assist me. 

Stage 3: You do the task and I assist you. 

Stage 4: You do the task and I watch you. 

Stage 5: You do the task and someone else watches you. 

Now that is passing the baton!   We must dedicate ourselves to the most strategic activity that any church can engage in; making disciples.  There will not be any kind of significant, lasting, or sustainable movement of church planting or church revitalization/renewal without meaningful discipleship.  It is the very task that Jesus focused His efforts on and invested most of His time and energy.  Alan Hirsch has said it well, “Only to the extent that we can develop self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted disciples can we hope to get the task of Jesus’ mission done!”

Don’t fumble the handoff!