The Missing Link in a Chain of Three

Like any race, the object of a relay race is to win. Winning means the last runner must finish, and finishing requires each preceding runner to successfully pass the baton to the one who follows. Failing to pass the baton is to lose. Race over! No celebration. Only regret.

The Christian life is a relay race. Passing the faith to those who follow is critical. There is no celebration if a child drops out of the race because the stakes are much higher than failing to receive a ribbon. Turning from the Faith brings eternal loss.

In previous posts, I have shared four reasons children may abandon the Faith of their parents. Today I want to consider how to encourage our children and grandchildren to adopt our faith as their own. First, we must teach our children biblical truth so they recognize what is false. Also, sharing our stories about God working in our lives is important. When Israel neglected those responsibilities, the third generation after the exodus abandoned God.

Jesus chose twelve men to be “with” Him and intentionally equipped them to become the second link in a long chain. Thirteen men sharing life 24/7 was demanding. Imagine the time away from family and career over a period of a couple of years. Imagine the fear of becoming vulnerable and allowing others to see you in your real skin not just your “Sabbath-go-to-Synagogue” attire. Imagine exposing your biblical ignorance and your impatience when weary or when the schedule keeps changing. Imagine Jesus exposing your pride and prejudice and competitive spirit.

But, imagine also the excitement and adventure of witnessing “out-of-this-world” miracles. Blind eyes seeing. Lepers leaping. Walking on water. Serving thousands from a boy’s sardine lunch. Here’s a difficult one: imagine witnessing your amazing teacher and miracle worker hanging on a cross, but on Sunday morning touching His resurrected body and breaking bread with Him in the Upper room.

Sharing life together and listening to the Master Teacher transformed eleven disciples. Judas chose the deceitfulness of riches and abandoned the mission, but eleven men had gripped the baton and continued pursuing the mission that changed the world.

That had always been Jesus’ strategy: “make disciples” who make disciples. That was Paul’s modus operandi with younger Timothy:“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1–2)

It is through personal relationships that robust faith is passed from generation to generation. Every believer ought to be intentionally connected with a more experienced believer and a less experienced believer. That is biblical discipleship. Biblical preaching and teaching are essential for a healthy church. While programs can be valuable tools, they can’t replace mentoring. Every authentic Christian is a link in the chain. The problem is the missing links. 

We must continue gathering corporately to worship, to be taught biblical truth and to encourage one another. A Christian without a local church is a contradiction. Even those with physical conditions that prevent church attendance ought to be connected with a church family.

If intentional relationships are essential in passing the Faith to those who follow, why are we content with church attendance? Why do we neglect Jesus’ command to make disciples?

Perhaps because mentoring requires taking time to meet with another believer, and requires self-disclosure of our personal lack of biblical knowledge and our struggles. If we haven’t been discipled, it feels intimidating. I understand those fears and once excused myself from the rigor of disciple making. Whatever our reason, the greater risk is failure to pass the Faith to the next generation

Having served as a pastor for nearly 50 years, I know the satisfaction and joy as well as the discouragement that comes with mentoring a younger less experienced person. I have seen the fruit of mentoring and the consequences of neglect.

I was only 23 years old when I became the pastor of Pulaskiville Community Church, a small rural church in Ohio. I was a recent graduate of The Moody Bible Institute and was planning on seminary the following year, but God revealed a different plan. Preaching Sunday morning and evening plus teaching the adult Sunday School class and leading the youth ministry stretched me. Then there were other ministry demands like hospital and home visitation. However, my passion and gift of teaching resulted in establishing a Saturday morning men’s training time. We studied theology, Bible interpretation and practiced preaching to each other. From that small group of men, four eventually became pastors. Others began to serve as elders. From the youth group over a dozen attended Bible colleges and some became pastors or missionaries. Two men would eventually serve as the pastor of Pulaskiville Community Bible church where I had mentored them. Those seven years were some of the most fruitful years of ministry because we were living out Paul’s instructions to equip faithful men who would repeat the cycle by training other faithful men. I still communicate with some of the men with whom I invested Saturday mornings. I understand John’s comment, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4)

I did not start a similar training ministry at Powellhurst Baptist Church in Portland where I would serve 13 years because Western Seminary and Multnomah School of The Bible offered biblical training. One of the seminary students also served as our church custodian so we spent significant time in my office or doing ministry. Bob, remains in contact with me because of the time we spent one-on-one in my office.

I served as pastor of The First Baptist Church in Bend Oregon almost 25 years. We began a ministry called Foundations for anyone who wanted tools to help them understand and apply Scripture. Men that aspired to serve as elders were connected with one of our elders as a mentor. To my knowledge, the only man who completed all the studies in the elder tract and met consistently with his assigned elder, became and still serves as an elder of what is now Foundry Church. Gaining knowledge and sharing life with his mentor made the difference in Asustin’s life.

Pleasant Home Community Church, where I presently attend, has a strategy for providing theological training accompanied with mentoring. Today, as I tiptoe into my 80th decade, I am meeting with two young men to study the Bible and share life. These meetings with younger, eager believers, are the best hours in my schedule.

Jesus said a disciple, when fully trained, will be like his teacher. Jim, one of the new converts that participated in the Saturday morning classes at Pulaskiville and later served as pastor of the church, recently asked if I was still using the NASB. I remember emphasizing back in the 1970’s that NASB was the most accurate English translation. Jim still clings to his NASB, but I had to confess that I was now using the ESV.

If we want our children and grandchildren grip the baton of faith, there is no better way than investing time in one-on-one mentoring/discipling relationships. Jesus trained men to become apostles and charged them to train others by teaching them to observe or obey all that He had commanded. Verbal instruction and reading good books are valuable resources, but you can only teach someone to obey something by spending time with them.

Three critical links—three generations—are necessary if we are to pass The Faith to those who follow. The problem is the missing second link.

Paul equipped Timothy who taught other men. John wrote to “fathers’ and “young men” and to his “dear children”.

That is our task as parents, grandparents and as pastors today.