Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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baton transfer

Finishing Well: Transferring the Baton

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.

running well
Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Finishing Well: Running Your Leg of the Race

Let’s continue thinking about finishing well in a ministry assignment. In our last blog post, we talked about receiving the baton well. So now we are running our leg of the race. We are now fully engaged in our ministry assignment. Furthermore, we have a working knowledge of our host language and culture. Yes, we will want to continue to grow in these areas as we serve. But it is now our turn to run well with the baton we have been given.

How we run our leg of the race will significantly impact finishing well. Of course, we want our ministry to further the progress of the gospel. We want to make a contribution to the contextualization of the gospel in our host culture, building on the progress of those who served before us. In the New Testament, Paul and the author of Hebrews use the race analogy to describe ministry and the Christian life. At the end of Paul’s life, he writes, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). So, what gave him a sense of finishing well? I see four ways we can run like Paul to finish well.

We Run with a Clear Purpose

Paul’s life was guided by a clear purpose. We see this in passages such as Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:23, and Philippians 3:14. In Acts 20:24 he describes his life as “my course” (the same word translated in 2 Timothy 4:7 as “race”). Notably, Paul identifies his purpose as completing his God-given work of faithfully “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.” This goal drives him forward.1 1 Cor 9:23, Phil 3:14 He is focused on the prize awaiting him at the finish line. Eckhard Schnabel writes in his commentary on Acts,

receiving the baton

Finishing Well: Receiving the Baton

As we continue to think about finishing well in a ministry assignment, let’s return to the beginning of our leg of the race. Starting well sets the stage for finishing well. In a relay race, the team that exchanges the baton most efficiently usually wins. So beginning our lap by smoothly receiving the baton will increase the likelihood that we will finish well.

In a relay race, a runner must pay attention to the preceding runner. Particularly, one needs to know which hand holds the baton so a smooth transfer can happen. The assigned lane one’s team is running in is also essential to know. Moreover, the placement the previous runner has achieved is also important information for the team’s success.

We tend to act as if history started when we arrived on the ministry scene. I did when I came to Alaska back in 1978. Yet, it didn’t take long to realize there was much to learn from those who came before me. So, it is important that we begin our assignment by learning from previous runners. More importantly, how we receive the baton will prepare us to pass it on well to those who follow us.

Firm grip on the Gospel
Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

Finishing Well: Keeping a Firm Grip on the Gospel

In the first post in this series on finishing well, I compared a ministry assignment to a leg of a relay race. I also pointed to the baton as a distinguishing feature of a relay race. Furthermore, I identified the baton as the gospel in our ministry race. The gospel is the distinguishing feature of our ministry.1 While Tom Steffen does not identify the baton as the gospel in his book, Passing the Baton, he does devote a whole chapter to “Presenting an Accurate Gospel.” (p 127-141 in the 1993 version of the book.) As relay runners must keep a firm grip on the baton, so also church-planters must keep a firm grip on the gospel. This is no less true for administrative assignments in mission organizations.

What is the Gospel?

This may seem like an unnecessary question. Yet, when we read the definitions of the gospel from Christian websites, confusion is evident.2Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 2010. p 18-20. In a similar way, J. Mack Stiles warns of assuming and confusing the gospel and cultural Christianity.3 J. Mack Stiles, The Marks of the Messenger, IVP, 2010, p 37-47. It is critical to the race before us that we know what the gospel is.

The Gospel Holds the Bible Together

At the first conference of the Gospel Coalition in 2007, D. A. Carson made this observation in a message titled “What is the Gospel?”:

ministry as relay race

Finishing Well: Ministry as a Relay Race

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about finishing well in the past several months. In part, this is because I turn 70 in November and will retire at the end of 2021. But I am also interested in this subject because SEND U has been asked to develop and find resources to help SEND missionaries finish well whether in a ministry assignment or at the end of a career. When reflecting on finishing well, I find it helpful to view ministry as a relay race. 1Tom Steffen’s book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting That Empowers also uses this analogy.

Over the next few months, I will be writing a series of blog posts on finishing well in ministry assignments as a leg in a relay race. In this series, I will be applying the analogy of a relay race to finishing well in a ministry assignment. Presently, I plan to write six more posts. This will be followed by a shorter series on finishing well at the end of a ministry career.

In this post, I want to sketch the analogy between ministry and a relay race.

Ministry as a Race

The apostle Paul describes his ministry as a race in a number of passages (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:7). In the Acts and 2 Timothy passages, he uses the same word in the original language2 (the ESV translates it “course” in Acts and “race” in 2 Timothy). Interestingly, in both passages, he writes about finishing his course or race. In the former passage, he expresses his desire to finish his course and ministry well. In the latter, he expresses his confidence that he has finished his race well.

Wellness after 40
Photo by Tristan Le from Pexels

A book about planning to live well after 40

Wellness for the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life by [MD Dunlop, John]

What does wellness look like after 40? Why should we care? We find helpful and practical answers in Wellness for the Glory of God: Living Well After 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life by John Dunlop, MD. The author focuses on wellness in the second half of life.

In the introduction, he explains what the book is about:

What strategies can we who are getting older adopt that will maximize our chances to endure the challenges of our later days and continue to be well? The essence of this book is expressed in the title. Wellness depends on living with a purpose that goes beyond the here and now. Over and over I have seen that one way in which Christians can stay well in their twilight years is to keep their focus on God, his greatness, and his glory.1John Dunlop, Wellness for the Glory of God, Crossway, 2014, p 12.

The suggested strategies call for changes that can make a difference as we age. Consequently, starting at age 40 is not too early.

Defining Wellness

Dr. Dunlop takes a wholistic approach to wellness. He writes:

. . . wellness is much more than physical health and freedom from distressing symptoms. Wellness involves the whole of our being, which includes six distinct areas: physical, mental, social, financial, spiritual, and emotional. These areas of wellness are not independent but are all interrelated. Each area contributes to the wellbeing of each of the others. At the same time, struggles in one area may distract from wellness in each of the others.2Dunlop, p 21.

Spiritual disciplines requires effort but provide great benefits.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Discipline

The Problem

I hate discipline. But I love what it does for me. When I see the word, I think of how I felt each time my parents punished me for my transgressions. Yet those episodes helped me learn right from wrong. And when I heard the gospel, I knew I was a sinner in need of a Savior. Though it was painful to admit my sin, I’ve loved what repentance and seeking the forgiveness of God have done for my life.

Despite the benefits of discipline, the word itself can cause discomfort. As I talk with others about engaging in the spiritual disciplines, many say they feel an inner resistance to the concept due to the connotations of the word. There is, however, more to discipline than punishment. Here is a brief review of some concepts attached to “discipline.”1Kurian, George Thomas, Editor, “Discipline,” in Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001) 241-242. The following concepts are included in the definition of discipline: “Teaching of precepts and commandments that help Christian growth and discipleship….Punishment….Rigorous training….Rites and activities of a denomination….Practice of correction of serious faults of faith or life by the congregation or its leaders.” Also, see Lane, William L., “Discipline,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 1, General Editor: Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 948-950, for a presentation of some Old and New Testament concepts of discipline including: OT— “training, instruction, and firm guidance…reproof, correction, and punishment” and NT—“Instruction.…training by act, example, and word” and the discipline of suffering for one’s faith.

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