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THE IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONSHIPS
We in the West are witnessing a steady erosion of ethics, values and relationships in every strata of society. God’s people are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the upcoming generation. John McElroy, author of Passing on the Baton, says it is time for the church to wake up. We cannot afford to sit idly by while our youth are seduced by false religion, paganism and lawlessness.
“Relationship,” he says, “is what the church can and should do best. There is no group or religion in the world that can even begin to compare with the church’s potential to empower people and shape society through relationship with Jesus and each other.”
The majority of society’s problems can be traced to poor relationships between parents and children. Malachi 4:5-6 implies that, when the hearts of fathers and children are estranged from one another, a curse strikes the land. While this curse takes varying forms in society, it also affects the church.
THE CAT'S IN THE CRADLE
Many congregations today are dying because there are few sons and daughters to carry the baton of church leadership. The enemy wants to stop the baton of faith being passed from one generation to the next. He wants to intimidate the older folk and distract the younger. He uses tools of suspicion and indifference to drive a wedge between them. The result is a perceived generation gap between young and old.
One reason for this decline is the church’s focus on institutional concerns instead of empowering relationships. Citing his experience as a denominational minister, McElroy says, “Like many of my contemporaries in ministry, I became caught up in the race to ascend the ladder. Sadly, I had become more enamored with innovative leadership programs and getting things done than on spending quality time building into spiritual sons and daughters.”
One day, while listening to an old Harry Chapin song, "The Cat’s in the Cradle", the Lord spoke to John. Throughout the song, while his boy is growing up, a busy father makes excuses for not spending quality time with him. Eventually, the son grows up and the shoe’s on the other foot! As the song concludes, the disappointed father laments, “And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me.”
Like the Prophet Nathan’s words of rebuke to King David, John felt God say, “You are that man!” The Lord convicted John of not sharing his time and his heart with his teenage son and daughter. But they weren’t the only ones missing out; John had also failed to raise spiritual sons and daughters. In that instant, God showed John the danger of perpetuating the very thing he desperately wanted to avoid: building a pastor-dependent church that would suffer and decline when John moved on.
John will always be grateful for God’s grace in showing him that "His ways are above my own." Our ways and priorities in ministry fell far short of His. Our God is a loving father who values caring relationship above endless activity. In one encounter, God changed John’s heart.
The prophet Malachi wrote of a time when “the hearts of the fathers would be turned to the children, and the hearts of children turned to the fathers.” While this was originally fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist, it also points to an outpouring of God’s grace in the 21st century. John says in every Christian congregation sits a vast untapped army of spiritual fathers and mothers. The church’s greatest challenge is to mobilize these millions to turn their hearts toward the generation coming after them. This can only happen through one-on-one, loving, empowering intergenerational relationships.
All around us young people are waiting and hoping for someone to take an interest in them. We can abdicate this responsibility to the world or take advantage of this season of grace to see the generations unite and the Kingdom of God advance.
PASSING ON THE BATON
Proverbs 13:22 reminds us, “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.” Far too often we think of inheritance only in terms of the wealth we leave behind when we die. Christians need to take a long-term view, considering future generations. Life is more than a 100-yard dash; it’s a relay where we pass a legacy to those who follow us, which they, in turn, can pass on to others. Our role must be to make our ceiling the ground floor for the next generation. We need to enable our children to take God’s vision to a higher level than we were able to accomplish in our lifetime.
Every Christian has a baton, a spiritual inheritance in Christ, which is worth passing on. Our baton is the sum of all the lessons, insights, wisdom, counsel, character and spiritual anointing that we have gained. Our baton is the spiritual legacy God wants us to impart to others. John poses four questions to anyone who is serious about passing on their baton to the next generation:
1. Do we have anything worth passing on to the next generation? Yes, every Christian has a deposit of God’s Word worth passing on to others. You don’t have to be famous, educated, or a pastor to positively impact another Christian’s life. Simply make a list of lessons you’ve learned, scriptures you’ve seen fulfilled, and stories that illustrate what you’ve learned.
2. Who can we pass our baton to? This requires prayer and discernment. First, every parent should hopefully build into their biological sons and daughters. Secondly, we need to seek "spiritual children", younger men and women, who God will link us with for the purpose of passing our baton. Choosing the right son or daughter is important. Prayerfully, look for three things in choosing a son or daughter: character, competence, and chemistry.
3. How do I link with a spiritual son or daughter? If we pray, God will link us with men or women of His choosing. In any relationship, someone has to take the initiative. Initially, a spiritual father or mother should take initiative. It may be as simple as having a coffee or breakfast together. Try to meet regularly, weekly or monthly. Explain that your purpose is to encourage growth in Christ and to be a sounding board.
4. What does a spiritual father or mother do? Essentially, that depends on how God leads you. John believes we must learn to speak with four voices: as a mentor, a coach, a sponsor, and as an example. What you say depends on the lessons you’ve learned. The important things are to be a good listener, ask questions, and be yourself. The goal is to encourage a younger brother or sister to become the greatest of what they can be for Christ. Remember, love is spelled T-I-M-E.
As spiritual fathers and mothers build into sons and daughters, John says a new church culture will rise. This culture will reflect Jesus, based on honor and mutual submission. Love bears its most lasting fruit through one-on-one empowering relationships. Consider for a moment, if you have progressed in life, it is because someone cared enough to encourage and empower you.
About John McElroy
Originally from the United States, John is Senior Pastor of the Churchlands Christian Fellowship in Perth, Western Australia. Before establishing the Southern Cross Association of Churches, an interdenominational network of pastors and Christian leaders, he pastored within the Presbyterian, Uniting and Vineyard denominations. He is a widely traveled speaker, teacher, author, and encourager of prayer among government officials, politicians and judges in Western Australia and Africa. John’s heart is to see unity and relationships strengthened throughout the Body of Christ. As director of Southern Cross, John’s vision is to link Christian leaders throughout the southern hemisphere for a purpose: to pass the baton of spiritual inheritance to a new generation of leaders across Australia, New Zealand, the Indian Ocean, Africa and South America. John is married to Alaine and has two children, Toby and Holly. Their home is in Perth, Western Australia.
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