Passing the Torch

Did you stay up till midnight to watch the torch lighting at the Olympics? I didn’t want to, but I did. Over the years I have been drawn to the Olympic torch lighting like a moth to a flame. It started back in 1984 watching Rafer Johnson scale the steps at the Coliseum and was solidified when the archer from Spain shot an arrow to light in for the 1992 Barcelona games. To be honest at first I wasn’t too impressed with the British torch ceremony. They chose six teenagers to light the caldron flame. In a moving ceremony six of Britain’s greatest athletes passed off the torch to these six promising teenagers which symbolized the passing of the torch from the legends to the next generation.

At first I was upset at who Britain chose to light the caldron. Britain has some great athletes and it’s always great to see some legend, which is kept top secret, come out and light the torch. The teenagers lit these brass pots which then proceeded to spread over 205 pots (Each pot represented a country participating in the games) and all the pots then rose up to form the Olympic caldron which will keep the flame lit until the end of the games. My displeasure dissipated quickly because it was so cool. It did get me thinking about how people and organizations pass the torch and keep the flame lit.

Calvary Chapel is going through a passing of the torch. At first I was excited because it was needed, but right now I am bordering on hesitant. When Greg Laurie, Bob Coy, and Brian Brodersen held court at our pastor’s conference it signaled a new day in our movement and to be honest there was a lot of enthusiasm generated, but last week they released more information about the process and my heart sank. To me it looks like they went backwards ten years as opposed to going forward. Now this could just be my skepticism and honestly change drudges up the fear in everyone, but I was hoping for something fresh and new, not a retread of the past. We will see how this plays out.

Passing the Torch is a metaphor for any organization that is going through a leadership shift. It is a symbol of giving the power to the next generation. If you are going to pass the torch there are several things that you have to keep in mind

  1. You must go forward: Every organization must go forward in order to continue on. You cannot have a preservation mindset when handing the reigns to the next guy. If the intention is to memorialize how things were or how great a leader was the organization will stall and falter. When the torch is passed it must be done with a mindset of preparing for what God has in store in the years to come. This takes prayer, vision, and guts.
  2. You must go younger: Some people will argue with me on this point but the torch has to go to someone younger. If we hand it to someone who has one foot in retirement, or whose energy is on the downward side this will frustrate those under them. It is the organizations responsibility look for the up and coming leader who has his finger on the pulse of the current generation and is willing to take the organization in the necessary direction. This may go against the norm or founder but is needed to move forward.
  3. You must take a risk: Any passing of the torch involves risk. No one holds the values of the organization more closely than the founders. It is scary to hand over power to someone who thinks differently than the previous leaders. It also threatens those who have built up their networking cache and risk losing influence if new blood comes in. But for the flame of an organization to continue to burn bright into the future there must be risks taken that will get it there. If you don’t take the risks necessary then it will only fizzle.
  4. You must let it play itself out: The final key is the let it play out. Once the leaders make a decision it is important to give it time to work itself out. I was alarmed by some things that were happening but in reality I wasn’t in the conference room making those decisions and I don’t know what went into making them. It will take a minimum of six months for these decisions to be implemented and have an effect. That is why it is also important when tough decisions are made to give it time. It’s rarely as bad as we fear and often we are surprised by the benefits. That is my approach in this and I encourage everyone to do the same.
3 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Chuck – thoughtful post. Thanks. I agree with passing on the torch – with a caveat. This has been a much revisited theme in CC in the last 5 years. It has been directed toward older senior pastors nearing retirement – that’s me. But it doesn’t resonate with me. I’m in the ‘heaven is retirement’ camp. I will help light others’ torches (like your Olympic illustration), but I’m not ready to pass mine on. But I certainly resonate with all else you wrote. (Philosophical question: can you really ever pass on your torch? You can hand over your ministry, but your torch?)

    And as far as changes in CC, I’m excited. I don’t think this sets us back, but positions us to go into the future. Thanks, Chuck.

  2. Benjamin Morrison
    Benjamin Morrison says:

    good points, chuck. any one whose vision is not future-oriented is sure to kill it. i really think a great example of this was how john piper recently passed the torch of his church. i love that he didn’t make it about his ability just to get up and teach (which is still intact) but about the energy and vision to lead the organization and that he began to feel a wain in this and so passed it on. sometimes a potential downside of the “i’ll retire when i die” mentality is that a pastor clings on longer than he should out of his need to feel needed and the church looses a sense of vibrancy and vision because of it, rather than stepping back into a mentor role for an upcoming leader. ultimately, only the pastor himself knows when he has crossed this threshold (and for some it could potentially be well beyond standard “retirement” age), but it takes a great amount of humility and willingness to do what is best for the church (rather than what validates me as a pastor) to step back when the time is right.

    also curious, what is it about the current transition process in CC that makes you think it’s a step back or causes your heart to sink?

  3. Matt Kottman
    Matt Kottman says:

    No minister ought to hit retirement unless there are incapacitating factors. But some ought to transition to a new ministry role. We all need to be careful of holding the reins too tightly. When our identity begins to get caught up in what we do instead of who we are in Christ, the thought of no longer pastoring the church can result in losing who we are. I can totally understand that struggle! But there does come a time when the next generation takes over, and if the former generation are still around, they can be available for counsel and support. Retiring from full-time pastoral ministry shouldn’t be viewed as outlasting your usefulness, but rather becoming more useful given age and ministry experience, and allowing younger generations to impact the community.

    It is interested that before Brodersen came to CCCM, the hair colour in the church was predominately silver. Brodersen’s role of co-pastoring with Chuck has (in my humble opinion) kept and brought younger generations into the church. Any church is always one generation away from death.

    Tim, I wouldn’t say this is how things must happen. If the older brothers remain flexible and are willing to adapt to the changing culture (without changing the unchanging gospel), that’s great. I think human nature gets into a routine and doesn’t like change. But as someone once said, the last 7 words of any church are “We never did it that way before.” To quote Papa Chuck, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken.”

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