Passing the Baton

I have not been a big track and field watcher over the years.  When my kids take part in the elementary school field day I watch, take video and do Dad stuff.  Every four years I watch the races during the Olympics.  Otherwise, I don’t watch it much.  What amazes me is that while the participants get faster and stronger, it is all unravelled in a few clicks of the stopwatch if the hand-off of the baton is not done smoothly.  A lead can dissipate.  A team’s morale us dashed.  A medal contender never makes it to the podium.  All because the hand-off the baton was not done smoothly.  While hours of practice have been dedicated to that portion of the event, the stress and nerves can get to a person and a team.  The urgency to pass the baton in the heat of a race can cause enormous issue when it comes to passing the baton.

At the beginning of Deuteronomy, we find in Moses’ first speech a very interesting moment in his life.  He was being told to pass the baton.

38 Joshua son of Nun, who attends you, will enter it. Encourage him, for he will enable Israel to inherit it.

Deuteronomy 1

You have to go back to Numbers 20 to find out why this was happening.  In that chapter we find Moses and Aaron guilty of not obeying in detail the words of God.  He had said to speak to the rock.  Moses struck the rock.  Because of this event, they were not going to enter the promised land.  Moses had been God’s man for the past 40 years as he led the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the desert.  He had led, taught, and loved them.  He interceded on their behalf.  He counseled them in how to obey and follow God.  He begged them to be faithful and trust God.  However, he was not going to enter the land promised for 500 years.  When asked to provide someone to lead them, God responded that Joshua would lead the people after Moses died.  In this particular verse, Moses is telling  the people the story.  He was to encourage Joshua and prepare him for the position.

Passing the baton in leadership can be a difficult task.  In his book “Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars”, Patrick Lencioni writes that we far too often build barriers between teams and groups of people.  I have found this to be true in the church as well as corporate world.

While managing several food service locations, It was quite evident that the morning crew and evening crew did not mix very well.  As a manager I worked on both sides of this great chasm.  The morning crew tended to be older and more settled.  The evening crew tended to be younger and less stable.  The morning crew went home to lead families while the evening crew left to go party.  Yet, while the differences were giant, they both still worked in the same location attempting to fulfill the same vision.

While in the home-monitored security business there were three distinct silos: management, monitoring, and service.  Over my time, I worked in 2 of the 3 areas.  The barriers were high and fortified.  Each one was desperately trying to protect their interests and areas without a lot of regard for the other.  Each looked upon their job in isolation to the other two and often blamed others for the amount of work they were having to do!

For the past 15 years, I have served the local church as pastor.  Unfortunately, I find the same thing happening.  Whether it is age groups or ministries the silos rise and barriers thicken.  Generations tend to stick to their own.  There is a wide difference in belief, spending habits, conviction, commitment, and duty.  There is also a wide difference in wisdom and experience. The main difference I find is that those in power tend to stay in power.  There is a leadership vacuum in business and in church.  We have a generation of middle managers and servants who do not expect leadership because no one is passing the baton.

How can we expect perpetuity if we do not train up the next generation?  If there is no leadership development, there will be no qualified leaders in the future.  There will be people who can fill holes, but will there be leaders?  Moses was instructed to encourage and train Joshua for the position.  Moses was aging and would die.  Someone would need to lead the people into the promised land.  Moses recognized the need and asked God to provide.  Then Moses obeyed and trained up Joshua.  Here are a few tips:

  • You cannot run the whole race by yourself. In a relay race there are typically 4 runners.  The lead runner sprints out to a lead and passes it to the next person.  In this example, if the baton is not passed the team is disqualified.  For our amusement, let’s say that the runner did not want to pass the baton but continue running.  The other team just acquired a fresh runner.  It is possible that you could make it around the second lap, but what about the third?  Another fresh runner just started and you cannot keep up.  If one generation does not encourage and enable the next our organizations will suffer.
  • If you hold the baton too tightly the pass will be fumbled. We must keep a loose grip on positional leadership.  Pride and ego tend to tighten our grip.  There comes a time when we must step aside and serve rather than lead.  Just the right amount of pressure keeps it in our hands while passing the baton to the runner coming from behind.  There is a critical moment where both runners are running and the baton is being passed from one to the other.  In that moment, we see the symbology.  In our organizations we must be careful to exercise apprenticeship.  Just as Joshua apprenticed with Moses, how many times do we see this  in our organization?  What we see all too often is the tragic vacating of a position and the scramble to fill it.  If there had been an apprentice, then the transition would be smoother.
  • Every person has a best position. Running relays takes a bit of strategy.  Usually the order is 2nd fastest, 3rd fastest, slowest, fastest.  This allows for a strong position in the anchor leg.  Not everyone can be the fastest runner.  The coach makes the decision concerning who runs in what position.  Why Joshua?  Obviously there was something in him that God saw as important at this stage in Israel’s journey.  Why not Caleb?  They both were adamant about entering the promised land the first time.  It was for Joshua, not Caleb.  When recruiting leaders be sure you know what it needed at the time and near future before pouring resources into someone who will not fit the position or organizational need at the moment.

Ask God to show you the one to whom you will pass the baton.  Engage them in relationship.  Encourage them in apprenticeship.  Enable them by handing them the baton and serving them.

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