Will Anyone Want the Baton I Am Passing?

Orginally published on Monday, December 18, 2006 at 5:30 AM
by Earl Creps

A couple months ago I led a conference at Bethany University (Scotts Valley, CA) on the themes in Off-Road Disciplines. The last chapter of the book is called “Legacy: The Discipline of Passing the Baton,” and deals with the way Paul raised up Timothy to lead the next generation. You can find an abbreviated version of this chapter online here. While the event was small, the discussion was fairly heavy, dealing a lot with how, when, and if older leaders are going to turn over the reins to the young. Will they graciously invite younger leaders into positions of influence, stepping aside to make room or, will they hold on tight because of the question that a worried middle-aged couple asked me about young Christians: “How can we leave the church to these people?”

Our time together in conference sessions was OK, but we needed something—a real world experience of crossing generational lines. And we got one. Rusty St. Cyr, Bethany’s campus pastor, invited our group of mostly older leaders to join an informal student “chapel” service in the school cafeteria. We took the opportunity to mix my older folk in with small groups of students to discuss the whole issue of baton passing. Almost everyone had a very positive, and very eye-opening experience.

Except me. Just before we formed the groups I was interviewing a student leader about the kinds of questions we should ask. I thought I knew this subject inside and out, until he asked me this: “Why would we want the baton you are passing to us?

He went on to point to the example of his twenty-something peers who are deciding to take control of their own economic lives by forming or joining start-up companies. They have no intention of waiting around for Baby Boomers to give them opportunities within the Boomer-designed system. Why wait for the day when they might pass the baton (if that day ever comes) when I can be a self-employed entrepreneur right now?

That hurt. In countless hours of writing, talking, and consulting about baton-passing, I had assumed the whole time that we had something that younger leaders wanted to inherit. But what if that’s not true?

For Discussion:

1. Is the notion of “baton passing” just a Baby Boomer conceit? Would the Church be better served by more “start-up’s”?

2. Is the Emerging Church mainly an example of being offered the baton and saying, “No thanks”?

What do you think?


Author Bio:  Earl Creps has spent several years visiting congregations that are attempting to engage emerging culture. He directs doctoral studies for the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.agts.edu). Earl and his wife Janet have pastored three churches, one Boomer, one Builder, and one GenX. He speaks, trains, and consults with ministries around the country. Earl’s book, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, was published by Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network in 2006. Connect with Earl at http://www.earlcreps.com or

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  There are 13 Comments:

  • Posted by kent

    Will some one want the church I pastor when I leave? In my denomination there will be many who will but probably not among the younger generations. Primarily because if they executed ministry according to their hearts they would be blocked at every turn. They will be questioned and debated with, and in the end they will go off and begin a new work where they do not have to justify their mission.

    But the younger generation will have to takre the baton of the church, not individual congregations, but the church, we will have no other choice. They will have no other choice. Even if the emergent chruch is an example of saying not to the baton, they will have to take up the race for us all. So it make sense to have more conversations now, to understand each other better now then when the time come to pass the baton.

  • Posted by

    Yeah, it is indeed a question of what baton ARE we passing? If we are passing the baton of the Kingdom of Heaven, great. If we are passing the baton of an old worn out heritage and old worn out traditions (which may have been perfectly fine at one point) then no thanks. I don’t want to hand it to them either.

    For example…

    Do we really need hand-bell choirs anymore? And some of the ways we separate men’s and women’s groups into separate ministries… Do they even WANT that anymore? (It’s no wonder so many wives and husbands don’t talk...)

    We always say that if we are “doing church” the same way in five years as we are today, we will have missed the boat… The young know this!

  • Posted by

    Even though I am a part of a “start up” church, I’m not sure the church as a whole or in every location would be BETTER served by start-up’s.

    In answer to the second question, we didn’t start because we were saying “no” to the baton, but for many other reasons.  However, one of the blessings has been not having to wait to serve.  Having been an Air Force wife, we were members of four church before this one.  The average age of the committees (with exception of Hostess and Nursery) was easily 60.  Not only that but over the last 13 years, we saw the Sunday School teachers’ average age increase to the point that in our mid-20’s class the teachers were in the late 60’s.  This was true over all the churches in three states and three different regions of the country.  Even family members have commented that 40 somethings are not old enough to serve in leadership even though they have been serving since they were 30.

    Now that we are in our mid-30’s we are part of church that sees all ages as having a place to serve.  One of our core values is “Intentional Apprenticing” so that people are mentored and trained and placed in positions based on the gifts, calling and heart and not age. This avoids needing the “pass the baton” because all ages of adults are in positions of leadership after going through a “Paul/Timothy” mentorship.

  • Posted by Leonard

    There is an old spiritual called, “Give Me Jesus” and I cry nearly every time I hear it.  I think the core of the issue for me is just that, Give Jesus.  In my ministry I have a saying, if I gave you the best of me, my time, my wisdom, my energy, my love, my friendship but failed to give you Jesus, you got gypped.

    The Baton we must pass is the ability and passion to make disciples.  The church in Acts broke barriers or race, gender, economics and penetrated the culture because people were “giving Jesus.” It was all most of them had.  My point is if we are going to pass a baton to anyone, it must be a passion for Jesus and to tools necessary to walk with him in a way that shines his light in dark places.  I wish this were a given in our thinking but it is not.

  • Posted by jody

    I live in Scotts Valley, and I’m sorry I missed your chat up at Bethany U. I think we younger folks have disengaged somewhat from how the older generation “does church.” There seems to have been an era where commercialized gospels and trinketts and music and materialism was pushed onto the entire American church. This is not to say the younger generation has all the answers and knows how to do things right, but more that there is a willingness to disregard the status quo, and to drop the facade, to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing, and to be willing to hear what God has in store. There is an electrifying excitment coursing through the start-up churches, because no longer are we being told what to do and how to do it by an older person, but we are entrusted with the word of God and we can wait on the Holy Spirit to lead us. There is a desire, it seems, to return to the bare bones of what the church is supposed to be. There is a desire to shed the traditions and ritualistic monotany of weekly church services. Again, this is not meant to beat down the current Christian church structure, but an attempt to explain why a new kind of church is emerging.
    I think the majority of young people want to find out for themselves what the Bible says about certain things, rather than commiting to memory what Sunday School teachers tell us. I was not raised in the church, but when I became a Christian at age 21 I wanted nothing more than to be spoonfed the Christian sub-culture so that I could become the ultimate Christian. Now I see that I was not patient to wait on God to reveal His truths to me. I looked to other people instead. Now I want to know God deeper and to be more real. I am not able to do that in the current evangelical church because there is a “headship” placed over me. I left a church a year ago that told me what the Bible says, or at least their interpretation of each verse, but they did not practice these things. I was not free to serve God the way I thought He was leading me, and I disagreed on a minor, non-essential end times doctrine that led to division.
    Because I questioned this non-essential doctrine, I was told I would never teach the Bible at that church again. I was rendered mute in the youth group, and I felt tied down. I finally considered leaving at that point, and after the youth pastor and his wife counciled me to separate from my husband because he was no longer going to church there.
    I believe God wants me to be a part of a community that seeks to nourish my spiritual health, my marriage, and my spiritual gifts. I’ve found that community, but I had to strip away my pride and anger and preconceived notions first.
    I think a lot of young people feel like they are rendered ineffective in the older church as a whole because of experiences like these.
    When I encountered these problems, I confronted the leadership. Their response was to ignore me, deny my claims, and to gossip about it to others, or lie to cover up my concerns. They would not listen.
    If the older generation refuses to listen to the younger, refuses to validate feelings and concerns, refuses to repent of clear and present sin, then the younger generation will leave to save their own lives.
    I am so blessed to know that you are willing to engage in dialogue with young people and older people. It’s a discussion that needs to happen. And both sides need to be willing to listen to each other.
    Thank you for listening.

  • Posted by

    I don’t know where I fall in this catagory I am 47 years old but young in the Ministry. I have been an Associate Pastor for the last 2 years an Ordained Minister for the last 3.  I have an esatblished Senior Pastor who is 60 who God is working through.  He Started and founded our Parent Church in New York City and now travels back and forth to upstate New York to Our church and Preaches every Sunday Morning Worship service here and then I make sure that the Sunday evening and Weds. Evening Services are performed.  either by myself or another Associate
    Pastor who is in his late 60 early 70’s still on fire for God filled with the Holy Spirit still with a hunger for souls.  The way I see this is yes Paul groomed Timothy for the Ministry but he never passed the baton or torch or whatever until his own death was eminent so I see this as there is no retirement until your ready to meet the Lord and that all of the Clergy associated with the church need to place their gift into the ministry so that it is a combination of the Blessing that God gave us all.  I don’t think young pastors should sit on the sideline waiting for the torch to pass but to be involved with the ministry every day know the in’s and outs.. And that the Senior Pastors or Older Pastors need to look at these Ideas of the young pastors and give them some thought because their way maybe the way that is going to win that soul on that given day we need to be more open to the Spirit. And quit worrying about a title and get a testemony

  • Posted by

    Huh, pass the paton?  How about mentoring them in?  Not sure i get the passing paton thing as ministry is always changing.  Now we have multi-site churches, home churches, new starts.  I do not think we are doing church the same way we were back in 1980.  Oh some churches are, but I am not sure it is a majority anymore?  So far as the new people saying what were doing is an old thing, no I don’t think so not where i serve, but I am open to new ideas on how to reach the lost.  Of course there are traditions and I am sure some things are the same, however as do I, the new generation of leaders will have some things to learn from the vets.  I enjoy talking to ministers who have been at it a while.  Just as Paul mentored Timothy, the older generation needs to mentor the new leaders.  Not just give them opportunties to preach or serve, but really invest in the new ministers.  Maybe prevent the young guys and not so young guys from learning some lessons the hard way.
    My two cents.

  • Posted by Noel

    Outstanding post and outstanding questions. 

    My abbreviated answers to your questions would be

    1) Both.  There is a lack of willingness against many (not all) to pass the baton.  There are a ton of reasons for that, not the least of which is that as the current leadership grows and matures, the bar raises with them and a younger, less experienced leader can never seen to make it over the constantly moving bar. 

    At the same time, churches who do have a willingness to pass the baton often pass an irrelevant baton that the next leader is not going to be able to use.

    2) In my experience, the baton is not being passed very often.  I say this as a pastor in a church where I have seen great examples of how to do this well.  I am a 35 year old pastor, on a team with two pastors in their 50s, one in his 40s, and one in his 20s.  The guys in their 50s have been here since the church was founded in 1977.  For years, they (one in particular) played the strategic / visionary role.  Now, that is my job.  These guys are amazing examples to me.  And I have talked with tons of young pastors in other churches who do not have the same great set of circumstances I do.  It’s an awesome environment to work in.

  • Posted by kent

    In some respects, whether we like the fact or not we are passing the baton. The emergent church, the house church, the multi-site church would not exist if were not for the traditonal church. The issue is not how we look but what we do. Will the church in 2025 look like this? No, but then again neither does the of 1935 look like we do.

    Technique and structure are not the end goal. The traditional chruch was missional and assume otherwise is the height of arrogance. How we carried it out may be different, but the same passion burned.

    100 years from when a new movement of God arises it will be interesting to see how those who have held baton will pass it a long.

  • Posted by

    Perhaps the question is less about IF the baton will be passed and more about HOW the baton will be passed. 

    There’s a lot out this week about baby boomer’s retiring and I believe this will impact church leadership and ecclesiology as well.  Most of today’s “notable” (define how you would like) pastors are in their 50s and 60s and are looking to retire in the next decade. 

    My question is this: Do today’s pastors even know How to pass the baton?  Do they know what it looks like to have a “Timothy” walk along side of them for several years in order to prove his worth as a fellow minister?  Do pastors have enough of a healthy ego to allow someone else to rise out of the woodwork?

    Or will churches continue to follow the normal, unbiblical pattern of bringing in a new preacher (even though they need a pastor), letting him “audition” with one sermon (which is amazing considering his worth will be proved a lot more by his relational and leadership skills), and hiring him (which is kind of like hiring a football coach: you give him 3, I mean, 2 years to see if he can “win” and keep the season ticket holders happy).

    I guess we’ll see.

  • Posted by Rick White

    Interesting.  It was actually an article by Barna on this very subject that gave me the idea behind my blog.  Barna doesn’t answer all the questions people are asking on this subject, but I think he might provide a little more understanding for those trying to interpret the boomers and their actions (or lack of action) in regard to passing the baton. 

    As I’ve said before, I think the question of passing the baton has less to do with the boomers and more to do with the younger leaders.  Passing the baton is something you are constantly doing in little ways by investing in others, be it the next generation or not.

    From my stand point, I started the process of handing the baton to future leaders the minute we started our church.  The minute I forget to have this mentality is the minute I slip into arrogance, believing I’m irreplaceable.

    Personally, I think most lead pastors suffer from a severe lack of creativity when it comes to envisioning a role for their leadership outside of being the lead pastor in their current church.  I’m not sure why this seems to be the case.

    Anyway, here’s the article by Barna:


  • Posted by David Bennett

    There are times when I don’t know that I want to carry the baton that I am passing.  Why would those coming behind want to carry it?  Still, it is the baton that I am used to and the preservationist side of me wants to think that is of value and that others should want it.  This isn’t how I always felt, but is what I feel and think at this season of my life.  There are parts that are worth passing, those I hope to have the opportunity to do so, but the rest should be dropped and trampled upon.  If it is made of human tradition, ideas, and laws - then it is best left on the ground and not in the hand.  If it is made of the truth found in Jesus Christ, then we must find a way to pass the baton.

    Guess that means that I agree with your younger friend.  But then isn’t this the reality for each generation to face.  We all will build things that worked for us, but have no eternal value to them at all.  We just think they have such value.  May those who come behind me discover the legacy that is worth recieving and carry it in the race.  The rest they can let fall to the ground!

  • Posted by

    We are all setting here talking about passing the baton but isn’t that actually our duty to fulfill that by Gods word to raise them up to take over and all we talk about is the struggles and trials that we are having who’d want the baton, Well I never asked for it GOd called me to it and would not leave me alone.  When I accepted it I did not hear God say there won’t be any trial and tribulations anymore On the contrary we are as the song says messing up Satans plans we are going to have more trials and tribulations but that is a different subject but what I am getting at here is that we as Pastors and Elders of Churches need to insure that we are raising them up and guiding them so they can deal with trials and tribulations they will face God will call the man for you to pass the baton to and we need to insure they are equipted to carry on the message of Christ and him Crucified..

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