Passing the Baton

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
Hospitals can be forbidding places. 
That’s true even for caregivers who usually feel at ease with others.  People requiring hospitalization are generally not at their best.  It can be uncomfortable walking in on a patient who is struggling physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
When I was 25 years old I didn’t know the first thing about bringing encouragement to hospitalized individuals.
But I was blessed to have a mentor.
Howard Lindquist, who was the head of the pastoral staff of the church I was serving, knew how to turn hospital visits into moments of grace.  I had been out of seminary for two months when Howard said, “Why don’t you take a ride with me this afternoon?  Let’s go make some hospital visits together.”
Howard showed me how to walk into a room.  He modeled how to pray for a seriously ill person.
He pointed out the best parking spots at the Indianapolis area hospitals, which is not trivial information.  He showed me the side doors and back doors that would ultimately spare me who knows how many steps over the next four decades. 
Even though I had once taken class notes on hospital visitation, I never needed to reference them again.  Howard let me walk beside him one afternoon.  He showed me how to care.
There’s a classic pattern to mentoring that can be expressed by the following sequence:

  1. I do and you watch.
  2. I do and you help.
  3. You do and I help.
  4. You do and I watch.
  5. You and I both repeat this pattern with someone else.

Mentoring, in other words, is reproducible.  I learn so I can teach someone else.

Think of all the things worth knowing that are best absorbed not in a book but at the elbow of someone who is willing to share: how to make delicious gravy, how to garden, how to ask for forgiveness, how to stay calm when the world seems to be falling apart.

From beginning to end, Scripture upholds the value of passing the torch from one spiritual generation to another.  Moses mentors Joshua.  Elijah walks with Elisha.  Elizabeth bestows the gift of friendship and encouragement on Mary.  The apostle Paul reproduces his own commitment to Christ in the lives of Epaphras, Titus, Phoebe, Silas, Epaphroditus, Priscilla, and dozens of other men and women who appear in his various letters.

How do you become a wise person?  Hang out with a wise person.  How do you become a disciple of Jesus?  Keep company with at least one other disciple of Jesus.

This doesn’t happen through a program.  We don’t need Doctor So-and-So’s Seven Steps to Spiritual Success.  Francis de Sales, one of Christianity’s most notable teachers of the last 500 years, wrote, “Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion?  If so, look for a good [person] to guide and lead you.  This is the most important of all words of advice.”  

What makes a great mentor?

We don’t have to be experts, gurus, therapists, or theologians.  All we have to be is a half-step ahead of someone else who is eager to learn.

One sentence from Paul’s hand, more than any other, helps us comprehend what’s at stake in one-on-one spiritual mentoring – that is, passing the baton of spiritual truth.  In 2 Timothy 2:2 he writes: “And what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.”  If we look closely at these words, we can see five discipling generations.

First, there’s Timothy.  He’s the “you” in this sentence. 

Second, there’s Paul himself: “What you have heard from me.” Timothy didn’t learn how to follow Jesus by taking a course at a local community college and then memorizing his notes.  He grew up in his life with God by walking alongside Paul.

But where did Paul pick up the life lessons of spiritual wisdom that he passed along?  That heritage was received from “many witnesses” who had taken the time to invest in Paul.  That’s the third generation.  Helping others grow means guiding them along the pathways of previous generations.  Good news always reaches us from someone else…on its way to yet another someone…and we are accountable for making sure the whole message is passed along intact. 

Fourth, Paul tells Timothy he needs to entrust these teachings to faithful people.  In Greek the word “entrust” means making a secure run to the bank to deposit a treasure.   Discipling another person is not doing a “data dump” into an unusually receptive brain.  Disciples are not widgets.  Paul knew Timothy and he loved him, and Timothy was now to invest in the same kind of relationships with others.

That brings us, fifth, to the truly decisive phrase in 2 Timothy 2:2: who will be able to teach others also. 

Paul, who has been resourced by faithful witnesses, pours into Timothy, who’s doing the same thing with a few others – with the key proviso that Timothy must find a way to carry out this mission so that the chain will not be broken – to ensure that the fourth generation will know how to raise up a fifth generation.

The Bible is a book that inspires us to pass along the precious cargo of spiritual wisdom from parents to children, from teachers to students, from friends to friends, from neighbor to neighbor.

When the Holy Spirit supervises that process, the lessons will go deep into our hearts.

So pass along something worth knowing.  Choose to be a mentor.

And if you’re eager to learn about central Indiana hospitals, I just happen to be the guy who knows the best places to park.