We are finally getting to the finishing part in our series on finishing well in a ministry assignment. In a relay race, transferring the baton is crucial to finishing well. For example, the US 4 x 100 meter relay team was disqualified in the 1988 Olympics for a late handoff. In a similar way, how we transfer responsibility and leadership defines to a large extent whether we finish well in a ministry assignment.

The incoming runner has the primary responsibility for the transfer of the baton. Specifically, he/she places the baton so that the outgoing runner can grasp it most efficiently. In a church planting assignment, the missionary is directly involved in the training of emerging leaders. However, in administrative assignments, there is usually less involvement in selecting a successor. Nevertheless, one can leave behind a “Policy and Procedure Guide” or a step-by-step manual for the next person filling that role. So, what characterizes a good transfer when we finish our ministry assignment?

The Transfer is Intentional

Throughout his book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting that Empowers, Tom Steffen emphasizes “a comprehensive, phase-out church planting model” (p 7). From the very beginning, the church planting team intends to transfer responsibility and leadership. In other words, this transfer plan guides the whole process of church planting.

Likewise, in an administrative role, we recognize that others will follow us in the role. We are intentional in passing the baton to those who follow us. Successfully transferring responsibility may include cross-training others in the office prior to our departure. 1Cross-training is the practice of training your people to work in several different roles,2 or training them to do tasks that lie outside their normal responsibilities (from Cross-Training – Team Management Skills From MindTools.com). Furthermore, putting together an up-to-date procedural manual will contribute to a smooth transfer. Of course, we also need to spend adequate time in the transition zone. More about that later.

The Transfer is Planned

Not only is a good transfer intentional, but it is also planned. Relay teams spend a lot of time practicing transferring the baton. Practice drills include hand-offs while stationary, while jogging, and at full speed. Furthermore, both the incoming and outgoing runners have specific responsibilities during the transfer. Communication developed during practice is essential for a successful transfer in the actual race. The purpose of this planning and practice is to complete the transfer while maintaining the pace.

In Passing the Baton, Steffen explains how to plan for a successful transfer to national leaders. Understandably, transferring the baton in church planting is much more complicated than a relay race. There are responsibilities for both the church planter and the national leaders. These responsibilities change as the plan progresses.

If church planting is to become a way of life within and without a particular people, national believers must own this vision [the phase-out model] and be trained to accomplish it. To facilitate this objective, church planters must be prepared for a series of changing roles that will swiftly propel national leaders into ministry roles, hence allowing them to become proficient.

Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, p. 21.

Tom Steffen identifies six role changes that a church planter needs to undergo: learner, evangelist, teacher, resident advisor, itinerant advisor, and absent advisor (p 24). The last four are stages that are happening in the baton-passing stage.

The Transfer is Timely

In the 4 x 100 meter relay, runners have 20 meters to exchange the baton. An additional 10 meters allows the outgoing runner to accelerate prior to the exchange. However, in church planting, we are preparing national leaders throughout our ministry time in that location. That is, the emerging leaders are learning to lead as they run beside us.

Timeliness in transferring the baton in church planting is more about assessing competency than looking at the calendar. 3See Steffen, p 85. The Apostle Paul emphasizes competency in the Word for new leaders (2 Timothy 2:1,2; 3:16,17). So, it is not surprising that Paul commended the Ephesian elders to God and the Word as he transferred the baton to them (Acts 20:18-32). National leaders’ competency in the Word is an essential criterion to determine the right time for the transfer of leadership.

David Sills advocates that we should continue to train national leaders until they can teach others to teach others4 (Reaching and Teaching, p 46). So again, the timing of the baton transfer depends on national leaders having a firm grip on the gospel and the Word. Additionally, they need to be competent in training others. Sills comments:

The bare minimum that missionaries should teach must result in trained leadership in the national church that is able to interpret the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15), understand basic Christian doctrines (1 Timothy 4:6), and teach them to others (1 Timothy 3:2). They must also meet the biblical qualifications of church leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and know how to critically contextualize the gospel in their culture (1 Corinthians 9:22). . . . They must be able to teach the Scriptures, sound doctrine, and godly living to those who follow, less than that is not enough.

M. David Sills, Reaching and Teaching, p. 65.

The Transfer Does Not End the Relationship

After transferring the baton, the incoming runner does not go to the locker room. Rather they stay on the field and cheer on the next runner. That will be the focus of the final post in this series.