The Olympics are about to start, but I can’t wait for them to end! Not because I don’t like these games, but because I love the last track event; the 4x100m relay. 4 runners. 1 baton. 3 tense changeovers in which the race is won or lost. Coaches spend a lot of time working on the changeovers. As one coach has said, ‘A race is not won because you ran faster than anyone else, but because you passed the baton well.’
The same can be said of the gospel. From Christ to the disciples, and on throughout the ages, the baton of the gospel has been passed on. And each church that we represent is running a leg of the relay. The question that I believe is asked of every Scottish Church in this day and age is, ‘will this baton make it through the next exchange? Are we working on the changeover?’
In Matthew 9:36, Jesus surveyed crowds of people and saw them as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. As I survey Scotland, that’s what I see; an unparalleled need - without a shepherd, sheep die. If they have no-one to lead them to good grazing or to fend off predators, they’re dead meat.
But alongside this unparalleled need, Jesus presents an unparalleled opportunity. In Matthew 9:37 Jesus describes the same helpless sheep as a plentiful harvest ready for reaping. The people we see might be in danger but they’re not without hope. What is needed? Jesus tells us; Gospel workers! Pastors, Planters, Women’s Workers, Biblical Counsellors and the like. But there’s a problem. The workers are few.
We live in a time of steep church decline. Only 2% of our population actually believe the gospel and hold to the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. We live in a time of theological confusion, with core truths of the gospel tossed around playfully as if they’re up for grabs. We live in a time when the workers are scarce. The question is, will you be a part of the next generation of gospel workers by becoming one? Or will you, church leader, make it your ambition to train the next generation of gospel workers for the harvest field?
Jesus set us an example to follow. Train up! Send out! That’s what he did with his disciples wasn’t it? And the example Jesus set was the pattern the church adopted. Take a look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy and you’ll see that. Paul even instructed Timothy to ensure that he wouldn’t drop the baton or be sloppy in the changeover.
‘The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.’ 2 timothy 2:2
In only a few words, this shows us how the gospel gets from Paul to the 3rd generation of gospel workers and beyond. Train up and send out.
Every one of you, if you truly believe in Christ, are gospel workers. You must pursue godliness and proclaim Christ. You were never intended to be a terminus point for the gospel, but rather another runner in the relay. Pass the baton on!
We must be strategic and intentional in raising up the next generation of gospel workers because this nation needs pastors, planters and the like.
Philip Jensen once said, ‘I have 4 policies when it comes to church leadership’
1) Preach the gospel and pray for gospel workers
2) Plant new churches
3) Actively recruit, train, and send out your best gospel workers, no matter how painful it is to lose them from your church.
4) Change everything that gets in the way of the first 3!
That’s great advice in light of a great need in Scotland.
David Robertson, of St Peter’s Free Church, said a couple of years ago that even if we planted 7000 churches of 100 people each we’d only be back to where we were 25 years ago. Well, I say we, across Scotland, make that our 25 year target! In Edinburgh, we at Charlotte Chapel, figure we need to plant 222 churches.
‘Impossible’, I hear you say.
Between 1831 and 1838, Thomas Chalmers was responsible for training up and sending out pastors and planters as part of a nationwide church planting initiative. Do you know how many churches he planted in 7 years? 222.
And by 1843, within 12 years of starting his ministry training in Edinburgh, it was said of Chalmers that he could walk from the far north of Scotland to the southernmost point of Scotland and spend each night in the manse of a man he had trained.
Let it be so for us, Lord Jesus.
Reach out, build up, send out, and pass the baton well. This is Christ’s concern for his church, and it must be ours.