The Runner's Baton
It’s a seemingly simple act: handing off a foot-long cylinder of tubular metal to another person. What could go wrong? We pass things to each other every day. Here’s a spoon. Pass the ketchup, please. Can you hand over the mail? These exchanges rarely go amiss. However, when you add running at top speed to the equation, and then a dash of competitive pressure, the simple handoff becomes a high-stakes, difficult maneuver.
It thrilled me to see a crew of elementary school kids at our local track practicing the handoff during a recent track-and-field camp. What these young ones did with ease can torment the best of the best. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the American men’s 4x100 relay (the favorites) failed to get out of the first round because of a dropped baton. Anchor runner, Tyson Gay, reached back for the exchange but never got a grasp of the baton. It jangled down to the blacktop along with American hopes for a gold medal. Gay blamed his own sense of timing, saying, “I went to grab it and there was nothing there.” HIs teammate Darvis Patton put it this way: "Tyson Gay is a humble guy. But I know it’s my job to get him the baton, and I didn’t do that.”
In the life of the church, something similar happens. We can be running a strong race of faith. We can have strong churches, faithful personal spiritual practices, excellent music and lively worship. But if we fail to hand off the baton of faith to the next generation, it falls to the ground like a clanging baton.
It’s incredible that Jesus trusted the future of his church to 12 Apostles. It’s incredible that they handed off what they had received to so many others. It’s incredible how many successful faith handoffs there were in the first 200 years of the church. It’s an incredible mystery how the Christian faith spread with such speed and depth. It’s incredible that in the 2,000 years since Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension to glory, the baton has never fallen to the ground. Jesus’ church is still up and running the race of faith.
We can do lots of great things in our own time and generation. But the most essential thing we can do is to hand off the baton to those who come after us. We must pass on what we have received.
I plan on making this one of the spiritual themes in our community over the next several years. We’re already a community that loves and values children. It’s time for us to become more skillful at not just running the race of faith, but in mastering the baton handoff.
To see a successful baton handoff—where two world-class runners seamlessly exchange that foot-long cylinder while running gracefully in sync at full speed—that’s a thing of beauty and grace. That’s the kind of beauty and grace the world needs from us.