I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
Missions Fest Vancouver 2010’s theme is “Finish the Race;” a fitting metaphor that matches the atmosphere of our city in the days leading up to the Winter Olympics. It is also fitting because Paul’s declaration encompasses two timely and important aspects of Christian missions. These aspects are seen in the two principle characters; the author of the book (Paul) and its recipient (Timothy).
Paul as a Finisher
The obvious reference of the 2 Timothy 4:7 is to Paul himself; he wants to finish well. His attitude to serve God as long as he is given life and breath is seen in some of the books he wrote in the last months and days of his life:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two; I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philippians 1:21-26
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will awarded to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8
My work at Missions Fest allows me to work with many people who embody this attitude. It’s my privilege to work with those who see their “golden years” as a time to serve God and be involved in ministries around the world. I enjoy working with these people and helping then find a place where they can find significance in the global work of the Kingdom of God. But simple demographics would tell me that they are in the minority.
The so-called “Boomer Generation” is entering their retirement years as the best educated, richest, and healthiest generation ever seen in history. In Canada alone there are an estimated 200,000 Evangelicals that entered retirement, and unfortunately many of them are more concerned about their golf score or next trip to Florida, than the state of world evangelisation or the plight of the poor. I don’t think that I am the only one that would question if they are truly finishing well.
Timothy as a Disciple
Paul is able to make his declaration about finishing well because he already began the process of passing along the torch of leadership to Timothy and others. He is concerned with the on-going work of evangelisation and the health of churches that he is planted. Paul says to Timothy:
You then my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And 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)
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction ... do the work of an evangelist. (2 Timothy 4:2, 5b)
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. Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift ... Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:12-16)
One of my mentors, an older pastor whom I worked with, once told me, “Never measure success in ministry in the moment; either for the good or the bad. Measure your impact 2 years or more after you have left, because then you will see the fruit that lasts. The only thing that matters is lasting fruit.”
Camille F. Bishop, a long-time YWAM leader and author of We’re in this Boat Together: Leadership Succession between the Generations, states that the “face of leadership is changing across America, and the stakes have never been higher.” This is true in the business world, but it is especially true in the world of evangelical mission agencies. Many organizations are facing the challenge of passing the torch from founders and their supporters, who are comprised of builders and boomers who were part of the formation and development of the organization.
There is a double-sided irony that disturbs me in the world of North American Evangelicalism. First, I see a generation of people interested in making an impact for the Kingdom of God who founded movements and worked hard, but have done little or nothing in terms of passing along this torch or preparing younger leaders. Then there is a generation that is known as the most digitally connected group of people to ever enter the work force, yet they are starving for relationships and mentors that will guide them. Someone has to bring these two groups together. Someone has to help these two groups see that “finishing the race” includes identifying, equipping, and releasing the next generation of leaders. This will result is an impact and lasting fruit that will.
There is a need in the North American Church for both groups of people – those who are like Paul and are leaders and visionaries, and younger leaders like Timothy who will take up the torch and run with it – to be aware of the mandate of Jesus in Matthew 24:14:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Followers of Christ are all invited to run a spiritual race in obedience to the commissioning of God and to engage in the work of making Christ known through word and deed. We are all encouraged to run that race with perseverance. We are all called, no matter at what stage of life we are in, to finish well.