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11 July 2016

Passing the baton: what the Olympics can teach us about discipleship

Passing the baton: what the Olympics can teach us about discipleship

Why do we often fall short when it comes to passing on our vision? What makes the difference between an effective handover and a 'dropped baton'?

There is a brief moment in a relay race when the baton is exchanged and the two athletes run together. It is the key moment of the race and will determine its outcome. Our time on earth is but a sprint in the enormity of eternal life, but if we run alongside someone, faithfully passing on the vision Christ has built into our lives and ensuring it is passed on again, then we will have used our time to influence generations for eternity. One life helping one life to help another.

Jesus has handed us a glorious vision statement: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." It is global in its scope and generational at its core, as the gospel is taken across the world through Jesus' disciples making more disciples.

Today, more and more churches are focusing on 'intentional disciplemaking', resulting in many excellent initiatives. However, if this is to become part of the DNA of the Church, then something more than great programmes is needed. It must be encountered 'life on life', so that it can be followed.

Come and see

'Life on life' discipleship means coming alongside a few people for as long as it takes to enable them to become their best for Christ and equipping them to pass this on to others. That is what Jesus did. He became one of us and drew a group of people into his life to reproduce his life in them. John 1:14 says: "The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory."

Jesus invited John as a young man to come and see (John 1:38-39), later he invited him to follow and learn (Matt 4:19) and finally he sent him out to take someone else on the same journey. And that is what John did for the rest of his life. About 40 years later, he could write: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it." 1 John 1:1-2

He had seen it for himself, up close. His life had been changed forever, and now he invites us to take a close look as well.

People before process

Try asking people about the most formative moments in their lives. Occasionally you will hear about sermons they have heard or conferences they attended that changed the course of their journey, but most often they will tell you about the influence of another person, whose life touched them and taught them how to follow Christ.

That was my experience as a university student. I had only been a Christian for a few months when a guy began to run alongside me. He had recently graduated from the same course I was doing and had begun working in the same city, but that was where our similarities ended. I'm an extrovert, he is definitely not. People energise me, while they drain him. Yet over the months that followed, he met with me week by week, showing me how to connect with Jesus in the Bible and through prayer, and how to share my faith with friends. He made time for me, even when the relationship was challenging or when work meant he didn't have much time to spare. I saw something in him that changed my heart. He really cared about me growing in Christ and I learned to value others in the same way.

Generational discipleship is about enabling others, so they can enable others. We may feel inadequate for the task ahead of us, but God says: "The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly." Isaiah 60:22. Let's look to God, the ultimate enabler. He will enable us to pass it on.

Brian Blacklock, on the leadership team of the The Navigators UK, and a campus ministry leader in the UK and Canada for 30 years, writes his second book on generational discipleship. Pass the Baton: Making Disciples Life on Life takes us on a journey into passing on discipleship the way Jesus did, life to life.