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AGING WELL: Senior adults shouldn’t pass the baton too soon Missy Buchanan, Feb 14, 2012
By Missy Buchanan UMR Columnist
When I was in high school, I enjoyed spending spring afternoons at my brother’s track meets. He ran several individual events, but I especially liked watching his relay team.
I remember getting nervous as one of his teammates would hold out the baton for the next runner to take. I knew that his team had practiced their hand-offs countless times, but there was always a sense of relief when the transfer was complete. My brother ran in the anchor position, so it was his job to grab the baton in the last hand-off and rush to the finish line.
I have often heard church leaders use the baton imagery as an analogy for older members handing off their ministry roles and spiritual legacy to younger generations. At first glance, it seems a reasonable comparison. Mature believers should equip and mentor the next generation. However after meeting Chuck Stecker, president and founder of A Chosen Generation, I had to rethink the baton analogy.
I first met Dr. Stecker last fall at a 50+ ministry conference sponsored by the Christian Association Serving Adult Ministry Network in California. When I read the title of his workshop, I couldn’t help but smile. It was both catchy and thought-provoking: If You Have Passed the Baton . . . Take It Back!
It made me think. In a relay race, what typically happens to teammates who have already handed off the baton? They stop running. They move off the track and watch the rest of the race from the sidelines. See the problem? That is not the picture presented to us in the Bible. As followers of Christ, we are each called to finish the race.
Dr. Stecker puts it this way. The church has inadvertently told seniors adults to pass the baton, and as a result, we have turned a great resource into spectators in the most important race in history.
It’s true. Many older adults, including those who are still active, have moved to the sideline. They feel as though they’ve done their part and now they just want to rest on their spiritual laurels. They fail to understand that younger generations need to see them finish the race well.
A retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, Dr. Stecker believes that mature adults have a special calling to help younger generations stand against the pressures of a confusing culture. If seniors walk away from the race too soon, they will abandon vulnerable young people who desperately need godly role models in their lives. Spiritual continuity among the ages is achieved only when all generations are valued and expected to contribute.
No doubt, the natural process of aging will likely change how a person is able to engage in ministry, but the point is to stay engaged. For those unable to climb onto a roof to do repairs on an intergenerational mission trip, there are meals to be prepared and tools to be organized. For those who have grown frail, there will always be a need for active prayer partners and encouragers.
Finishing the race is not about demanding that things at church be done the way they’ve always been done. It is not about grabbing power from younger generations. It is about not abdicating responsibility even as you grow old.
We are called to pass along the wisdom of lessons learned. We are challenged to be spiritual mentors and godly influences on younger generations. Don’t make the mistake of handing off the baton and thinking, “I’m finished.” Your race is not over until it’s over.