Training yourself out of a job
The Bible compares life to running a race (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1). As the generations overlap and children are nurtured to adulthood, each generation is like a runner in a relay. Children are trained by their parents. After maturing, they become parents and train the next generation of children to maturity. Each generation needs to get the baton of maturity from the previous one and pass it on to the next one.
Three major stages (activities) in life are child (trainee), parent (trainer) and grandparent (mentor, or advisor). At each exchange in a relay, the new runner needs to get up to speed before receiving the baton, and the runner with the baton needs to hand it over at the right time. This illustration can be applied to many aspects of life, including families and Christianity. Let’s see what the Bible has to say on this subject.
Moses And Joshua
Moses, a great leader, led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, established them as a nation, and prepared them to enter Canaan. Two months after Israel’s exodus he appointed Joshua to lead the battle against the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-15). Joshua had been Moses’ assistant since his youth (Num. 11:28) – a trainee with on-the-job training. Joshua became familiar with all that Moses did. They worked together. It is not surprising that God appointed Joshua to succeed Moses by leading the Israelites to capture and occupy Canaan (Num. 27:12-23).
It’s interesting to note Moses’ relationship with Joshua. First, after the defeat of the Amalekites, God told Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Ex. 17:14 NIV). This event was recorded for Joshua’s benefit. He was reminded that he had been given the task of opposing the enemy and that God had given them a great victory. Before entering Canaan, Moses commanded Joshua to remember past victories and trust God for future ones (Dt. 3:21-22). Second, Moses was to “commission Joshua and encourage and strengthen him” for the task ahead (Dt. 3:28). This commissioning was observed by the nation that he was to lead (Dt. 31:7-8; 34:9).
Elijah And Elisha
Elijah was a Jewish prophet (800 BC) who prophesied against idolatry in Israel. God told Elijah that Elisha would succeed him as prophet (1 Ki. 19:16). No one is indispensable, and eventually we have to hand over our roles in life to others. Elisha then “set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant” (1 Ki. 19:21). Elijah and Elisha travelled together (2 Ki. 2:1-6). Before he was taken to heaven, Elijah was told by God to visit Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan. Each time, he asked Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha insisted, “I will not leave you.” He was a faithful trainee.
Jesus And The Apostles
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God came to rescue people from their sins (Mk. 10:45). During His public ministry, He chose twelve men, “that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach” (Mk. 3:13-19). These men, called apostles, were trained while they were “with Him” and then sent out to preach – both while He was on earth and afterwards (Mk. 6:7-13; 16:15-16). They followed Jesus, heard His teachings, and witnessed His miracles as well as His life, death and resurrection (Mk. 6:1; Acts 1:21-22). Jesus said His relationship with the apostles was like that of family (Mt. 12:49-50). He explained the parables to them, but not to the people (Mt.13:10,36; Mk. 4:34). He told them about His future suffering, death and resurrection, but they didn’t understand until after the resurrection (Mt. 16:31; 20:17-18; Lk. 18:34; Jn. 2:22).
Paul And Timothy
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews), took Timothy on missionary journeys (Acts 16:1-5). Timothy was a young man with a good reputation in the local church. He was one of Paul’s helpers, a “fellow worker” (Acts 19:22; Rom. 16:21; 1 Th. 3:2). Timothy served with Paul in spreading the Good News “as a son with his father” (Phil. 2:22). This is how he was trained to maturity. When Timothy had proven himself, Paul sent him out on his own, to strengthen the believers at Thessalonica who were experiencing trials and persecution (1 Th. 3:1-6). Paul sent him to minister in Corinth, recognizing that Timothy was “faithful in the Lord” and “in carrying on the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10). Paul also sent him to Philippi because Timothy unselfishly took a real interest in their welfare (Phil. 2:19-22). Timothy was with Paul when he wrote his letters to the churches at Corinth, Philippi, Colosse and Thessalonica (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Th. 1:1; 2 Th. 1:1; Phile. 1). The Bible also contains two letters that Paul wrote to his trainee, Timothy.
Parents And Children
Parents have the task of training the next generation to adulthood. Solomon wrote, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). Parents are responsible to develop each dependent child into a self-sufficient adult. This involves both training them and then releasing them (Eph. 6:1-4). Children should be trained to be adults, and when they reach adulthood they should be released from parental supervision and sent into the world.
Training is like helping the next runner get up to speed before receiving the baton of maturity. Parents have only about 18 years to train their children. During this period, children should be given increasing responsibility until they are ready for living as an adult. If the training is deficient, the next generation will not be prepared to run the race of life. And if the baton of maturity is not handed over, they will be hindered. Releasing is handing over the baton of maturity. It’s like Joshua being commissioned by Moses to lead the nation, like Elijah’s cloak being left for Elisha, and like the apostles and Timothy being sent to distant places. It’s like graduation, when the trainee is released to work without a trainer.
Parents should progressively release their children into the world outside the home. It begins when children go to school and learn to socialize with others and respect other authorities. Later, they go to work and learn to assume responsibility and support themselves. Children become more independent when they leave home, and when they marry (Gen 2:24; Mt. 19:5; Mk. 10:7; Eph. 5:31) and establish a new family.
When a child reaches adulthood, parents should give them independence so they can experience the consequences of choices and learn from experiences. They will never mature if their parents continue to protect them from these consequences. They also need to gain experience making their own decisions instead of having them made by their parents.
Now let’s look at the applications of these principles from the Old and New Testaments to the roles of trainees, trainers and mentors in the family and the Church. Trainees are young in the faith, trainers are mature in the faith, and mentors are retired from training to an advisory role.
If we are trainees, are we willing to be like Joshua, Elisha, Timothy and the apostles? They served willingly and were eager to learn. Joshua obediently fought the enemy and courageously opposed the majority report when he spied out Canaan. The others left families and occupations to be with their trainers. Paul told Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). This was written to Timothy when he was about 33 years old. He was to be a good example so as to avoid any criticism. Is our behavior worthy of the Lord we serve, or does it cause others to criticize Christians as being hypocrites?
If we are trainers, are we willing to be like Moses and Paul? Are we training the next generation to maturity, or are we hindering their development? Are we looking for trainees? Moses and Paul saw the potential in Joshua and Timothy. All new Christians have potential. Do we see the potential in the next generation? Such potential is not realized unless it is developed. We need to help convert “potentials” into “actuals.” Like Moses, we need to give them tasks to do and help them develop their strengths. Like Jesus, we need to treat them as family members. Like Paul, we need to treat them as fellow workers. Are we willing to have others share in our work? Paul even included them as co-authors of the letters he wrote.
As the next generation matures are we releasing the baton so they can run their race? Are we handing over responsibilities? Are we training ourselves out of a job, so others can carry on when we are no longer able?
Just because we’ve trained someone and handed over a responsibility, that doesn’t mean we can retire and do nothing. The Levites served in the tabernacle from 25 until they retired at 50. After retirement they could assist by mentoring: “At the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work” (Num. 8:24-26). If you have retired from service, are you now mentoring someone? Ideally each person in active service should have both a mentor who has already served, and a trainee who is preparing for service. Otherwise the baton of faith and service may be dropped. Let’s now apply these principles to evangelism and the local church.
“Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals” (Jud. 2:8-11).See how the baton of faith was dropped between the generations. Parents had not taught and trained their children (Dt. 4:9-10; 6:1-7; 11:19; Ps. 78:3-7; 145:3-4).
On the other hand, Paul wrote about Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Here we see the Christian faith being passed through three generations. Like the apostles, it is our responsibility to preach the gospel to each generation and each community. This should be a high priority for each Christian and each local church.
In The Church
Paul also commanded Timothy: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). Here we see the truth being passed through four generations (Ps. 78:1-7). Paul had nearly finished his part of the race (2 Tim. 3:6). He had trained Timothy, who was to train the next generation, and these were to train the next. It is like four runners on a relay team. In this verse, I changed “men” to “people” because the Greek word is “anthropos,” which means “human being.” The same word occurs in “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man (people) of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Everyone in the local church should first be trainees and then trainers.
Biblically, the Church is to train the next generation and release them to serve. We need to identify spiritual gifts in the next generation and give them opportunities to develop and exercise these gifts. This means being willing to share responsibilities and not hold onto them selfishly. There should be trainees in each ministry. There should be a handing over of responsibilities to those trained. And there should be mentoring of the trainers. If this doesn’t happen, a local church will shrink as workers die.
Also, we need to work as teams and not as individuals. For example, Paul worked with teams of evangelists and helpers, not alone. This means having more than one person who can do a job. Paul’s list of helpers in Romans 16 is a good example of this.
Sustainable Families And Churches
Let’s pass the baton of faith and service to the next generation: by training our children to maturity and then releasing them to develop as adults; by spreading the faith to all generations; by training younger believers in service, partnering with them and then releasing them to further develop their gifts and take more responsibility; by supporting those in active service as a mentor when we get to the grandparent stage. This means that everyone will be involved in the many activities of the family and the local church as either a trainee, a trainer, or a mentor.