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.

Mentoring: Passing The Baton of Faith

Why children abandon their parents’ faith has been the focus in the previous three posts. The problem is not unique because, as they say, “history repeats itself.” The third generation after Israel’s amazing exodus from Egypt abandoned their parents’ faith. Here’s the account: “…there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. …And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers.” (Judges 2:10)

I have shared three reasons children may abandon the Faith:

Failure to share our God-stories: Like the example in Judges 2:10, children may abandon the Faith because it no longer seems relevant. They have heard ancient stories about things God has done millennia ago, but do they know how God is working in their family today? It is vital that we share our personal stories about God’s provision and protection.

Affluence: Both Moses and Joshua warned Israel not to forget the Lord when they enjoyed abundance in the land. (See Deuteronomy 8:10–18 and Joshua 24:13) Prosperity and peace come with the inherent risk of forgetting that God is the giver.

Individualism: Without koinonia– mutual sharing of life with other believers- faith tends to cool like embers removed from the flame. Israel no longer lived together in one place under the strong leadership of Moses or Joshua. Dispersed throughout the land, each person began to do whatever they desired.

The absence of intentional personal relationships:

Reading through Exodus, I discovered another potential reason Israel may have dropped the baton of faith: the lack of intentional relationships. Some people call it mentoring; Jesus called it making disciples. After spending a night in prayer, He chose twelve men from the large multitude “so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:13–15, emphasis mine)

Jesus didn’t just lecture them but shared life with them. They traveled together and ate together like family. If you were asked to share an example from the Old Testament of two men who deeply loved one another and shared life together who would you suggest? Elijah and Elisha? David and Jonathon? Consider Moses and Joshua. What I discovered about their relationship, from the first mention of Joshua in Exodus 17:9 through the conclusion of Deuteronomy 34, impressed me so deeply that I want to share it with you.

Moses chose Joshua to lead Israel in the battle with Amalek

Shortly after Israel had crossed the Red Sea, the Amalekites attacked Israel before these former slaves had time to form an army. They had little military savvy.

The situation with Amalek was urgent so Moses chose one man, Joshua, from over 600,000 men of military age to lead Israel in the battle. I wonder why Moses chose Joshua. All we know about him is that he was young—somewhere over 20 years old—and was from the tribe of Ephraim. Had Moses observed something about Joshua during the exodus or at the Red Sea that set him apart. Did Moses pray before He chose Joshua? Perhaps young Joshua had tagged behind the much older Moses like a child admiring his hero.

Whatever Moses’ motivation, he provides a model for mentoring. An older, more experienced man reached out to spend time with a younger less experienced man, and a deep relationship was forged between them. Here are Moses’ first recorded words to Joshua: “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” This was the same staff that was transformed into a serpent and was raised before releasing plagues against Egypt. The Red Sea had parted before this staff. Exodus 17:8-15 describes the battle with the Amalekites from the perspective of the nearby hill. Israel prevailed when Moses raised the staff toward heaven as a demonstration of trust in God. When Moses grew weary Aaron and Hur supported his arms. After Israel had defeated Amalek, Moses built an altar to commemorate Joshua’s overwhelming victory. Their relationship was firmly established that day and would continue grow more intimately.

Moses and Joshua were united in their pursuit to know God

Both men met with God on Mt. Sinai: “So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God.” (Exodus 24:13*) Note that Joshua is now called “Moses’ Servant.”  They would spend 40 days together on Mt. Sinai.

These two friends also frequently met with God in the Tent of Meeting—a tent outside the camp where “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.” (Exodus 33:11)

Perhaps you’re familiar with this account of Moses’ intimate relationship with God at the Tent of Meeting, but did you also notice that Joshua sometimes remained in the tent after Moses had departed? Joshua is not only described as Moses’ assistant but also as “a young man.” This is repeated in Numbers 11:28: “And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth

To have been commissioned to lead the battle against the Amalekites, Joshua would have to be at least 20 years old, and we know Moses was at least 80 years old so I’m beginning to imagine a father/son relationship. This is confirmed when Moses named Joshua like a father names his son: “And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.” (Numbers 13:16) Moses changed his young friend’s birth name from Hoshea, meaning “salvation” to Joshua meaning “Yahweh saves”. The name stuck.

Moses publicly commissioned Joshua to finish the mission

After Moses was disqualified from entering the Promised Land, God charged Moses to pass the baton to Joshua. Here are clips from this historic transfer of authority:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. …And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation,” (Numbers 27:18, 22)

And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, the days approach when you must die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.’ And Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting.And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”” (Deuteronomy 31:14, 23)

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Deuteronomy 34:9)

What an amazing picture! Imagine this 120-year-old veteran publicly transferring leadership to his “adopted” son. Moses probably felt some regret from being disqualified, but he also experienced great pride in the man his adopted son had become after 40 years sharing life together. The next scene, shortly before Moses’ death, is even more precious. Moses had composed his swan song to present to the nation, but he didn’t have to sing a solo because Joshua accompanied his mentor: “Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun.” (Deuteronomy 32:44) Imagine this father/son duet proclaiming God’s faithfulness.

Joshua reflected his mentor

Jesus taught that “A disciple… when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)

That is evident from Moses and Joshua’s relationship. After Moses’ death “… the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.” (Joshua 4:14)

Joshua, like Moses, had warned Israel against turning away from God when they enjoyed prosperity. Like his mentor, shortly before his death, Joshua summoned Israel to remind them of God’s rich blessings and to warn them: “A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years. And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.” (Joshua 23:1–3)

Because of Joshua’s leadership, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.” (Joshua 24:31)

However, at this point in the story, something is missing. There is no record of Joshua mentoring a younger man. Probably because Israel now lived remotely from each other so there was no strong central leader. So “there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. …And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers.” (Judges 2:10)

Are we in danger of repeating history today? Yes, if we fail to share our “God-stories” and succumb to the deceitfulness of riches. Yes, if we seek to build healthy churches apart from discipleship, we are at risk. It is through personal relationships that the baton is safely passed from generation to generation. That was Paul’s modus operandi: 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) Note the father/son relationship between Paul and Timothy.

 Every true Christ-follower ought to be connected with a more mature experienced believer and a less experienced believer. That, I believe, may be our greatest weakness today. Have we short circuited the mission by replacing mentoring relationships with proclamation and programs? Can we follow Christ and ignore His model and command to “make disciples?”

Mentoring takes time and involves risks, but the joy of watching someone grow spiritually is like that of a parent when their child continues to do as he has been taught. At least that’s the way John felt: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4)

Next week I plan to share my personal experience with the joy and fruit of intentional personal relationships.

*All Scripture passages are from the ESV Bible.

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