We’ve all heard the phrase “passing the torch” when it comes to passing on our responsibilities to someone else. We pass the torch in our careers, volunteer organizations, churches and even our own families. It is the nature of the cycle of our lives. But what happens when we (or others) seem to have a death grip on the torch? What causes people in one generation to not be willing to let go and trust the ones coming up behind them? And what are the repercussions?
In my experience, I have found three main reasons why people find themselves with such a death grip on the torch:
- Being preoccupied. We haven’t taught, trained or led someone to come behind us. If we are honest with ourselves, we would find that most of the time we are pretty full of ourselves. We think we are indispensable in our jobs, churches and other organizations. It’s as if we think we are going to live forever, so we don’t give much thought to who is going to step up when we are unable to do these things any longer. It is a failing that many of us have at times. We are so caught up in trying to accomplish things and be the people that we think we are supposed to be. As a result, we don’t give enough thought and time to the people we should be leading and teaching so that when we are gone, things will continue. After all, that would take even more work, and we are far too busy to do that!
- Pride. We don’t think anyone can do it as well as we can. As a result, we don’t even attempt to invest any time or energy in building up the next generation. We continually look at them as inexperienced or even incapable of doing the things we do. We dismiss their ideas because, after all, WE have the life experience to know better.
- Fear. We fear that someone coming behind us, even if we know they’ve been taught and are capable, may have very different ideas than we have. The truth is they WILL have different ideas than we do as to what is good or what will work. Instead of considering their opinions, we take their ideas and the potential change as a threat. “This is the way we’ve always done it.” “No, we don’t need a new program in the church.” “You need to settle down and not be so excited about things. We like the stability of our rut in this organization.” These fears, though they may be a result of our own past experiences, are not always godly. If we don’t let the people coming behind us make decisions, we are doing them, ourselves, our organizations and this world a huge disservice. And when we don’t allow people to step up and start taking more responsibility (which includes making decisions), we cripple them and eventually kill the very organization we are trying to help.
When it comes to churches, I’m not a proponent of free pizza and beer parties to get people in the door. That being said, if we don’t allow the youth to meet God where they need to instead of where WE need to at 40, 50 or 60 years old, then they will go somewhere else. They will find someplace that is relatable for them. It’s not wrong to let the next generation step up and make decisions. We’ve taught them commitment; we want them to be committed. We want them to take initiative, get involved and get fired up. We want them to be invested, but the moment they try and do anything, or even talk about doing anything, we shoot them down because we think we know best. And the truth is, many times we do know best. Sometimes we know exactly what will happen when they step out and do what they are proposing, but if someone didn’t let us step out on our own and make some of those same decisions (or even some of those same mistakes), we wouldn’t be where we are today. We would not have the knowledge or the wisdom that we have. The truth is you can preach and talk to the next generation until you are blue in the face, and some of it will stick, but some of it won’t because our talking doesn’t match the actions they see us taking. Even if we’ve been faithful as parents, aunts/uncles, mentors, teachers, and even if we have done everything as well as we can, they still have to step out for themselves. And when we reach back to pass the torch to them, but then don’t let go when they take hold, we end up burning ourselves.
Let’s not struggle with our need for control. Let’s build the leaders behind us. Let’s be an example for them, not of traditions, not of man-made exalting, but of trusting God. Let’s live our convictions and trust God to take care of them and guide them exactly as He has done for us, even if it means changes to our routines or even our world. Let’s pray for them, support them, and be there for them as voices of wisdom. But let us NOT use our experience as a weapon of control to hold them captive to our own preferences or ideas simply because we do not like change. Let us love them with the love described in 1 Corinthians 13.
We don’t need to pour water on their fire, but instead fan the flames. We don’t need to pass a bucket of water to them, we need to pass a torch burning with fire and let them take it so they can feel the energy of what it’s like for THEM to leap out and trust God. It is through their own experiences with God that they will energize their generation. Churches and other organizations today don’t look like they used to, and churches/organizations tomorrow won’t look like they do today. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we will realize the power of a living God who never changes, no matter what our society does. He is still the same yesterday, today and forever. His power is exactly the same, and He will reach through whatever the cultural customs may be and touch the hearts of those who seek Him. He’s been doing it since the beginning of time and will not cease until He returns.
Consider this, depending on where you are in your life’s journey:
- If you have already passed the torch, or are in the process of doing so, be willing to let go and trust the leadership you have shown and the example you have been to those behind you. Let go of the torch and trust them to take hold and run forward with it. Don’t struggle with it, or become angry, bitter or critical because you think you can still do things better. Pray for the next generation, for them to be open to God’s leading. Pray for yourself that God will reveal new ways for you to support and encourage them…even when they make mistakes.
- If you are following along behind someone bearing the torch, pay attention. Talk to them; find out why they do what they do. Learn the history of the torch they bear so it becomes personal to you. Support and encourage them, instead of thinking they are old-fashioned and don’t know anything. Look through the differences of age or culture and see the truth behind the external methods. Don’t let your frustration with “old” things blind you to some of the value they might hold. Be patient and develop your own embers on the inside so that one day, those embers can be ignited when you are handed the torch.
- And if you are the one holding a torch right now of any kind, recognize the huge responsibility that comes with it. Make sure you are carrying it faithfully and authentically. But make sure you are looking to those coming behind you and teaching them how to step up when it is time for you to move on. You owe it to everyone who is counting on you right now to BE the torch-bearer.
A “death-grip” on the torch eventually results in the death of whatever cause, church, or organization for which it is being carried. May we all take a long, focused look at ourselves and make sure we do not contribute to the death of the torch. Let us not snuff the flame through our laziness, apathy, or need for control…but let us stoke the fire and cheer on those who are willing to step up and carry it forward.