I was the starter on our high school track team 440-yard relay. One of the first lessons our coach taught us about this race was that there was more to winning than speed. No matter how fast we ran, we would lose if we didn’t master the baton transfer.
In fact, we spent hours practicing this transfer. Coach drilled us on it and insisted it be polished to perfection. This was critical. On game day, if the transfer was fumbled, we would lose; if the baton was dropped, our team would be disqualified.
When we look back over the past generation of Christianity, it is apparent that we need to work on the “baton transfer.” We’re not successfully passing our faith to the next generation.
This isn’t to say that, as Christians, we’ve been slackers. Throughout much of the past generation of fundamentalism, we have been intent on winning new converts. But too many times, in our zeal for increased speed, we’ve neglected to pass the faith to our children—both our own children and our children in the faith. While we may see increased numbers of salvations, we are failing at the key element of winning the race—transferring the baton.
A 2009 Gallup poll revealed a staggering spiritual illiteracy in our nation. The poll reported that one-third of all Americans believe that “the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths.” This is just one example of the post-Christian culture that is taking over our society and denying spiritual values and biblical truth. In this spiritual climate, the transfer of truth from one generation to the next is vital if the faith is to be preserved.
Christianity is never more than one generation from extinction. Regardless of our personal fervency for the Lord, if we fumble the baton transfer, we lose the race. Fumbling our faith is not an option.
Paul was intense in his zeal for Christ. He pioneered across the known world as he preached the Gospel to those who had never heard. At the same time, however, he exerted great energy in transferring the faith to his new converts. He diligently and tirelessly gave of himself to root young Christians in their own relationship with Christ and ground them in the truth.
Paul’s converts didn’t just attend church. They learned the key doctrines of the faith—the deity of Christ; the death, burial, and resurrection; salvation by grace through Christ alone; the inerrancy of Scripture; the literal return of Jesus Christ for the redeemed. Paul taught his spiritual children to defend the faith, and his ministry flourished long after he was gone.
The key to Paul’s ministry was in his focus on the truth transfer. He instructed Timothy, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul realized that he had to do everything he could to pass truth on to the next generation of Christians.
Today, we must recognize the same need. It is not enough to simply be a Christian. It is not enough to just lead people to salvation. We must transfer the truth. As parents, pastors, teachers, and soulwinners—we must learn to equip others for the faith.
Like an Olympic relay runner, we have received the baton for our portion of the race, and we are responsible to transfer it. Yes, speed is important. But the transfer is vital. How can we effectively pass the truth on to our children and those we have led to Christ? How can we deliver our faith to the next generation?
Deliver the Faith through Discipleship
Our church is passionate about soulwinning, and we aggressively work to saturate our community with the Gospel. Years ago, however, I realized that our work doesn’t end at the doorstep when someone trusts Christ through the efforts of a soulwinner. It doesn’t even end as the new convert exits the baptistry. In fact, at these points, our work has just begun. We must transfer the truth through discipleship.
Investing in another through discipleship is making a choice to be the human instrument that will transfer the baton of truth. Discipleship allows a new convert to receive the truth in such a way that he can in turn pass it to the next generation.
Discipleship is what Paul did for Timothy. It is what Barnabas did for Paul. If you are a mature Christian, it is what others have done for you. Even if you did not have a formal discipleship program, someone (or, more than likely, several people) came alongside to help you become grounded in your faith and established in your relationship with Christ.
Remember, however, that the need for discipleship is not exclusive to new converts. This must take place in the Christian home as well, if we are to pass the faith to the next generation. Parents are commanded by God to train their children and to use every opportunity they can to teach them to love God passionately. Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” In other words, the home should be an ongoing school of discipleship.
Part of discipleship for new adult Christians is teaching them to build a Christ-centered home that will pass on the faith within its walls to the next generation.
Discipleship must take place in the home and in the church. And it must take place in both formal and informal settings.
Whether we are passing the faith to a young person or to a new Christian, there are two keys to making it work. Paul excelled at both.
Discipleship must be conducted in love.
As Paul instructed Timothy to transfer the truth, notice the term of endearment with which he addressed him: “my son.” All throughout the two epistles Paul wrote to Timothy, it is easy to recognize Paul’s great love for this young man.
This same spirit was evident in every case when Paul was delivering truth to new believers. He was both gentle and patient as he served them. He reminded the church in Thessalonica, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8, emphasis added).
It is one thing to teach or mentor out of duty. But Paul poured his heart and soul into transferring the truth. He loved the people to whom he ministered. He put his very health—and even his life—on the line to be sure the baton of truth was firmly placed in their grasp.
The most effective parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth workers—disciplers of any kind—are people who love those in whom they are investing. Lasting discipleship occurs when a godly Christian is willing to give of himself because someone else is dear to him.
Indeed, discipleship does require sacrifice. It is a loving form of spiritual exertion. But seeing the next generation run with the truth makes it all worthwhile.
Discipleship requires ownership of the truth.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, “commit thou to faithful men…” he was emphasizing the need for ownership of the truth. Like a relay runner’s baton—a proper transfer occurs only when someone receives it and owns it. There is no middle ground—you have the baton or you don’t.
Paul was entrusting God’s Word to Timothy so he could pass it on to others. He wanted Timothy to assume responsibility for it, recognizing that this was a trust from God Himself.
When we ask others to personally own the truth, we must help them understand that we are not delivering our opinions, but God’s very Word. This is what made the truth transfer in Thessalonica successful. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul wrote, “When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” (Of course, this means we must be careful to differentiate between our opinions and God’s Word as we teach others.)
From the Gnosticism of the first century to the German Rationalism of 150 years ago to the Atheism prevalent today, there will always be those who deny the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture. We must teach those we disciple that God’s Word is both perfect and preserved; it is infallible and essential.
We ourselves must keep God’s Word and pass it on in its preserved state so the next generation will have the pure words of Scripture. And we must model for them what it means to give God’s Word preeminence in our lives. In other words, if we want others to own truth, we must embrace it first by living it.
Protect the Faith through Defense
Owning the truth is a great privilege. And if we want to retain that privilege and have the opportunity to pass it on to those who come after us, we must defend the truth.
Just as a relay runner holds his baton tightly while he runs, so we must “hold fast the form of sound words…” (2 Timothy 1:13). Too often, the next generation suffers because we have been flippant with the truth, failing to recognize its value and our responsibility to defend it.
Paul instructed Timothy to stand for the truth “…as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). A soldier’s duty is to defend his country, and the Christian soldier’s duty is to defend his faith. Jude 3 exhorts us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
The idea of contending is not a popular one today. Tolerance is the highest virtue in our culture, and post-modernists insist we give up absolutes. The world is willing to allow us to personally believe the truth—as long as we keep it to ourselves and acknowledge that “truth” may be different to someone else. Truth, however, by its very definition, is set apart from falsehood. Thus, when you stand for the truth, you automatically stand in contention with all that is untrue.
Why must we defend the truth? Because even as we labor to transfer the truth, Satan works to pollute the truth. If we want to pass on the faith, we must protect it. Remember, if we drop the baton, we lose the race. But if we pass the baton successfully, we win.
Our goal in defending the faith is not simply to win debates or showcase our zeal. It is that we would be able to train our sons in the faith to “be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9).
We want our young people and our new converts to know the Word of God thoroughly and to be able to use it as a sword to defend their faith. For this to happen, we must refuse to compromise the truth. We must hold it fast so we have something to transfer.
Perpetuate the Faith through Distribution
Although soulwinning should not be seen as the only way to perpetuate the faith, it should be seen as an essential to furthering the faith. After all, it’s difficult to pass a baton to nobody!
As we disciple our children, our young people, and those we have already reached for Christ, we must remember to keep distributing the faith to others. And, as part of discipleship, we must teach them to do the same. This is the full circle of 2 Timothy 2:2.
When God reconciled us to Himself, He entrusted us with the incredible ministry of reconciliation. Second Corinthians 5:18–19 lays out this privilege: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
Effectively ministering God’s reconciliation requires two key components—consecration and compassion.
Reinforce the truth through a consecrated life.
Your life must be consistent with your message. This is why Paul warned Timothy, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4).
There are false perceptions of grace abounding in America today that downplay consecration. Too many preach that it really doesn’t matter how you live, because you are under grace. Yet, Titus 2:12 plainly explains that the grace of God teaches us, “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Grace is not a license to sin; it is a motivator to passionately live for God.
As a soldier must be completely committed to his cause, so we must be completely consecrated to our Lord. We cannot transfer the truth if our lives are filled with anger, lust, or worldliness. Hebrews 12:1 instructs us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” If we are tangled in the affairs of this world, we’ll fumble the truth transfer. In fact, the next generation will take one look at the ineffectiveness of the truth in our lives, and they’ll refuse to accept the baton.
Deliver the truth with a compassionate heart.
The old maxim “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is true. Passionate soulwinning must be coupled with a compassionate heart. In fact, the same epistle that instructs us to “contend for the faith” also reminds us that there are some who “have compassion, making a difference” (Jude 22).
Effective soulwinning and discipleship are carried out by those who do it with a tear in the corner of their eye and a love in their heart for others. People can sense when we genuinely care for them—or when we are ministering to stroke our own egos.
The next generation will receive the faith only when it is delivered through a heart of compassion.
The truth transfer is the crux of our Christian race. We can run hard and give God our best. But if we fail to hand the baton of truth to another runner, we miss the purpose of the race. (2 Timothy 2:2)