Passing the baton

Paul had Timothy.

Moses had Joshua.

Bilbo Baggins had Frodo.

Brett Favre had Aaron Rogers. (Maybe I lost you on that one. I am not a Packer fan. Go Vikings! It illustrates a point.)

Throughout history, from secular to sacred, there have been leaders who raised up assistants to pass on the mantle of leadership. They passed the baton. 

In high school, I ran track and enjoyed relay races. One thing we practiced over and over was the simple handoff of the baton. Why? Why practice something so easy as the transfer of one section of pipe to another? The reason was that it was harder than it looks.

The baton gets dropped. It happened in track, and it happens in life.

  • Sometimes leadership is passed to a family member who squanders decades of hard work and ingenuity. The son may have trust, familiarity, and time, but not have the other attributes necessary to be a great leader.
  • Sometimes the leader is too afraid of giving up control, so it takes an emergency for the baton to pass. In such cases, the board or people below are left trying to pick up the pieces.
  • Sometimes the leader is too confident, thinking they have this. They don’t see how raising up a leader can help them and those around them.


In ministry, it is critical that we raise up leaders to pass the baton. We need more small group leaders, directors, deacons, ministers, elders, missionaries, and pastors. Why? Here are five reasons to raise up leaders.

  1. It helps us remember our goal. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Our goal is to make disciples of all nations. We can’t do that alone nor does the message end with our making disciples. We need to raise up people to help people know our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
  2. It provides support for us when we are weary. “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12). We are better together than alone. In leadership, we need others. Raising up leaders is work, but in the end, it will help. 
  3. It allows the group to build resilience and health apart from us. “Appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). Paul encouraged Timothy to appoint elders, plural. He saw the value in not having a CEO, but a team of leaders to care for the congregations.
  4. It utilizes someone else’s talent that is different from ours. They have strengths we don’t have and can build our groups in ways we can’t.
        • I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-9
  5. It can extend the ministry beyond us. “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). We must not let our ministry die with us. If we are in the ministry for a longer season, don’t inhibit the growth of other ministries by holding on too tightly to those under us. Let us pass the baton to the next generation or next ministry. Raise up a leader. Prepare to pass the baton.

If you agree with me, then whom are you raising up? Can you name a person you are pouring your life into, who can eventually take on leadership? If you can’t think of anyone, whom might you approach this month about a mentorship relationship? Why not take a moment to think about that right now?

So, you have a person you are thinking of as a potential leader, who else comes to mind? Maybe you are at a loss of who would be another possible leader. How can you identify potential candidates? What type of person should you look for? The acronym FAT helps (faithful, available, and teachable). You likely have heard of that. Those are critical attributes of an assistant and any future leader. I would add one more quality that must be present, in some form: skill. They have to have some ability to lead. They must be faithful, available, teachable, and possessing some degree of skill. Perhaps the acronym would work better moving the letters around to FAST (faithful, available, skillful, and teachable).

Unfortunately, the process can be anything but speedy. An assistant may never rise to the skill level necessary to lead a group. He or she may be the best assistant but an ineffective leader. That happens. God made all types of people. Another reason the process may take time is the person you give your time to may not want to lead. He may need to be motivated to take on leadership, or she may be in a season that is not conducive to leadership. Another thing that may slow the process down is disqualifying behavior. The person may lack the necessary character to take on that next role. Thus, you have to go back to exploring who may fill your shoes when you are gone.

Whom can you raise up to extend what you do? Raising up a FAST leader is slow, but good. Don’t drop the baton—be prepared to pass the baton.

What I like about these FAST qualities is the accent on character. The individual is not going to be perfect. No one is. But they must have some degree of humility and integrity. This is not only sound advice from social scientists or people who have gone before us. I think this wisdom is grounded in scripture. Paul talks to Timothy and Titus about finding leaders and key servants for his church. The qualifications are predominantly character. The only skill he notes that elders must have is the ability to teach. So skill is important, but it is not ultimate.

Whom do you see as FAST?

      • Whom do you know that keeps their word?
      • Whom do you know that has some bandwidth to come alongside you for a season?
      • Whom do you know that has a measure of promise?
      • Whom do you know that is open to hear what you have to say?

Those are the ones whom you can bring up and disciple to take your place or extend God’s work beyond you.

We have looked at why this important and whom we are looking to as candidates. Once we identify the person, how do we develop them?

Here are five ideas that come to mind.

  1. Have your assistant lead. Disappear for an event. Have them take over. Ask them how it went.
  2. Praise and thank them when you see them spread their wings in leadership and do well.
  3. Read a book on leadership together and talk about it.
  4. Go to a conference together and discuss leadership.
  5. Meet over coffee to pray. Build your relationship. That relational capital can make those difficult conversations easier and those encouraging conversations more meaningful. 

My favorite resource on discipleship over the years has been Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism.

Regardless of the resources you use, trust me, raise up an assistant. You won’t be around forever. Our message is too important for it to end with us. You won’t regret it. Pass the baton.