Passing the Baton: From One Generation to Another

Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him . . .

Then he (Elisha) arose and followed Elijah . . .

(1 Kings 19:19b, 21b)

It was four years ago at the summer Olympics in Beijing that both the U.S. men’ and women’s teams were expected to medal in the track and field 4×100 relay.  After all, ever since the women’s relay was introduced in 1928, at least one of the teams has medaled in every summer games (excluding the 1980 boycotted games.) But the sports headlines that ran following the first round of races read “Baton drops mar U.S. efforts in both 4×100 relays.”1 In both races, the runners reported that they just could not hold on to the baton during the handoff or could not find the baton when they reached for it. The 4×100 relay can be an Achilles heel for many track and field teams. They spend hours working on the baton pass, since a race can be won or lost in how successful one runner passes off to another.

As many women’s ministries are beginning to plan for the upcoming church year, Women’s Ministry leaders sometimes wonder why the younger generation seemingly does not consistently step in to leadership. At the same time, the younger generation wonders why the older leaders do not pass opportunities to serve on to the younger.

The answer to that all comes down to the baton pass.

As the 2012 Olympic teams continue to train for a successful baton pass, how can we also train to successfully pass on the baton of leadership from one generation to another?  In Scripture, we find an example of how an older leader successfully passed on his mantle, or his baton, to a younger leader continuing the ministry, without missing a beat.

The Older:  Elijah

Elijah had to recognize the need to pass it on – (1 Kings 19:4-10) Elijah actually began to stumble here a little bit. If you remember, right after his big showdown with the Baal gods on Mt. Carmel, still finding his life in danger, Elijah retreated to a cave. He almost quit the race, so much so that he honestly believed that there was no one ahead of him to run the race with him.  It is almost as if Elijah felt that he had to do it all himself. As established leaders, we may be holding on to the baton so tightly that we do not even see the need for the next generation of leadership.

Elijah had to see there were potential leaders – (1 Kings 19:11-17) During this brief encounter with the LORD, twice Elijah tells God that he alone is left.  But look at how many people God preserved … 7000 who had not bowed to Baal. I wouldn’t exactly call that being alone.  How many times have we said, “There is just no one else to help me,” when God has an army standing right in front of us?

Elijah looked in the right place. (1 Kings 19:19a) – Elijah found Elisha working in the field. Don’t miss this. Look first at who is already working. Think about how many men and women of the Bible were called into some special ministry after they had demonstrated ability and a willingness to work and where they had also shown some faithfulness. If you don’t see the person to pass the baton of leadership to, are you looking in the right place? Go see who is already working in the field.

Elijah visibly marked Elisha for leadership (1 Kings 19:19b) – The mantle that Elijah placed on Elisha was a special cloak that was recognizable by the people as a symbol of sacrifice and commitment.  There is value in publicly affirming and commissioning young leaders. Many in this young generation have not had older women that affirm and encourage them, leaving a young generation floundering. As older leaders, it is important to be intentional about publicly affirming a woman’s gift, call of God, and purpose for which God has created her.

The Younger: Elisha

Elisha did not seek it out but was willing (1 Kings 19:20-21) Elisha was decisive and willing. He recognized God’s call immediately and did not hesitate to follow.  This may be indicative of the work the Lord had already been doing in his life.  Even Elisha’s request to say goodbye to his parents was more an act of honoring his mother and father rather than a mark of hesitation. Elisha was not seeking out position or notoriety, but was willing to go when called. On a relay team, no team member is more important than another. Each team member must be willing to play her part on the team, not seeking personal success, but team success.

Elisha persevered, even when Elijah wanted to say “Go Away!” (2 Kings 2:1-8) Regardless of Elijah’s response, Elisha demonstrated tenacity and commitment. Elisha was not going to let go. This perseverance is indicative of today’s young leaders.  They want to learn and to stick with it. It is this perseverance that develops a commitment to finish the race, whatever it takes.

Elisha emulated Elijah because they lived life together (2 Kings 2:9-25). After Elijah ascended into heaven, and the pass of the baton was complete, the people of Jericho immediately recognized that “the spirit of Elijah rested on him.” In other words, Elisha was running the same race Elijah had been running with the same purpose and in the same way.

In order to make a successful pass from one to another, we must live life together, running at the same pace, the same cadence, and with the same purpose, so when it is time to complete the pass, there will be no stumble, hesitation, or drop of the baton.

The 2012 Olympic relay teams have been working diligently to make sure that the teams do not experience a repeat of the 2008 Olympics.  It all comes down to the baton pass. As U.S. sprinter Walter Dix said, “When [the handoff] is done right it looks extremely easy. But it takes a lot of work to get that done correctly.”2

As you watch the relay teams run the best races they can in the weeks ahead, ask yourself, “How well am I fulfilling my mission to pass the baton on to the next generation?”

  • Recognize there is a time to handoff the baton
  • Practice the handoff by living life together
  • Complete the hand off and cheer that young runner on to the end.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Tim 4:7)