The Ultimate Relay Race

How do we pass the torch of discipleship from one person, one generation, to the next? We'll look at 2 Timothy 2:1-3, noting what we are to be and what misconceptions we are to avoid when we purpose to disciple others and multiply ministry.


John Patton was a man of God who was called to the New Hebrides Islands to be a missionary: a tough assignment, because the islands were inhabited by cannibals. I would have said, "Lord, don't send me there; they'll eat me, and you'll waste a good one..." And then I would have continued on with a very elaborate string of excuses.

But Patton didn't argue with God's call. When he and his wife arrived in the islands, they were dropped off and had to row ashore, where they built a little lean-to. Can you imagine trying to sleep the first night? They did, however, make it through that night and the next day, and then began to wonder about their strategy to reach the people of the Islands.

How would you reach natives like that? You couldn't put up a sign in the sand that read, "Vacation Bible School starts tomorrow_bring your children." You couldn't invite them over to dinner; you'd be it! You see the dilemma.

Well, they prayed a lot. Night after night they stayed in that little lean-to and asked God for a way to reach these cannibals with the gospel of Christ. Years later, after one of the chiefs had come to know Jesus Christ, he asked Patton who were the soldiers in shining armor who had ringed their lean-to every night. God had protected them with His holy angels.


After Patton had been there a couple of months, his wife gave birth to a baby. Tragically, the baby died, and a few days later his wife as well. Patton buried their bodies, but had to sleep on their graves to keep the natives from digging up and eating the corpses. All alone and seemingly at the end of his rope, he had to make a decision: "Will I stay or go?"


John Patton stayed_for 35 years! At the end of that time he was able to say, "I do not know of one single native on these islands who has not made at least a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. When I first came I heard the cry of cannibals; but as I leave, I hear the ringing of church bells."


Isn't that incredible? That's what can happen if we are willing to sacrifice and take the gospel to where the Lord leads. Certainly not everyone can, nor would God want everyone to, do what John Patton did. If, however, every one would do what God has called him to do in his corner of the world_his sphere of influence_we could see the world reached for Christ in a fairly short period of time.


Your target "island" may be your family, neighborhood, or workplace. God might also direct you to a special people group within or out of this culture. In any case, if we want to fulfill the Great Commission, we need the help of the Master of discipleship.


The Ultimate Relay Race

Just as an inexperienced athlete needs training and advice from a track and field coach, so we need the expert in discipleship—Jesus Christ—as our example. He was a living lesson of what it means to multiply one's life in others. Like an athlete with perfect form and skill, Jesus showed us how to pass the baton to the next generation of leaders/believers, through coaching His disciples as well as running his own personal relay race while on this planet. Everything He did seems to be part of His training strategy to ready His team of 12 for the first leg of the Ultimate Relay Race.


Jesus put the torch of discipleship in their hands. After some significant losses and stumbling, the disciples eventually became a highly successful relay team, later handing off the torch to the next generation of early Christians. What a relay the Lord started! It is the longest and most successful in the history of the world.


In the final decade of the century, the baton of the Scriptures and discipleship has been passed to us, and we must not drop it or lose our leg of this ultimate relay. We must be trained, diligent, and wise in our race, and above all make a successful handoff to the next generation. We must keep the race going until He comes again!


INTERACT: What was the chain of discipleship that brought about your salvation and growth in the Lord? Have you continued the process to a third generation? List those you have discipled.


Why is this picture of a relay race important to us? As we watch Jesus INTERACT with the disciples, it is obvious that the task of changing our world will not be accomplished simply by leading people to Jesus. Once true conversion takes place, new believers must become rooted in their faith, so they will begin to talk and act like what they are_disciples of Christ. So our responsibility is not fulfilled at conversion. We must enable new believers to go on to greater maturity, not just to respond to the starting gun but to finish the race well.


Second Timothy 2:1-7 contains specific instructions to disciplers: instructions offering a simple but profound strategy for discipling people. The key verse in this section is very familiar: 2 Timothy 2:2"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."


This passage very nicely outlines for us the fourfold process that enables disciples to become workers in the kingdom of God.

  1. Be dominated by grace—v. 1
  2. Be discerning about your entrustment (investment)—v. 2a
  3. Be dedicated to a ministry of multiplication—v. 2b
  4. Be diligent in pleasing God—vv. 3-7.

To see what this process entails, let's study each step carefully.


Be dominated by grace.

"You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." The word "strong" means "to acquire strength." The encouragement, then, is to be strengthened by grace ("God's favor manifested toward us"). Grace is an unmerited act, a free act of God unhindered by sin, not conditioned upon works. It means "an inclination toward courteous or gracious disposition; friendliness; willingness on the part of the giver."

If we are to be dominated by grace, where do we get it? i.e., What is the origin of grace? It is unmerited at salvation, but the encouragement of Scripture is to grow in grace—2 Peter 3:18. How do we do that? Scripture tells us about a number of sources for growth in grace.



I believe being strengthened by grace is one necessary prerequisite to effective ministry. If we are strong in grace, then our character, words, and heart begin to reflect that grace. We take on the following characteristics when dominated by grace:



INTERACT: How would you describe your relationship to God's grace? Are you dominated by it? How can you grow strong in grace in terms of the sources listed above?


Be discerning about your entrustment, i.e., your investment in others.

. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, "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." We have to dissect the verse carefully to see all that is here. In the area of discipleship we see several directives.


Reliability qualifies us to teach others ("…who will also be qualified to teach…"), because it implies a lifestyle that backs up that teaching. If any of us is to impact another, then he must have a lifestyle of "practicing what he preaches," or "applying what he announces."

Reliability does not imply perfection, however. The definition of "qualified" ("able" in the King James) is "coming to, reaching to." Hence, Paul's talking about coming to or reaching competence as a teacher. This definition helps us to see that though these people have all the signs of growing in their qualifications as teachers, they have not yet arrived. Reliability is foundational to their qualification, yet there is acknowledgment of spiritual growth still occurring and investment from others still needed.

Some have wondered about this process. They have thought, "Why don't I receive lots of individual encouragement to grow in my faith, and no one seems to want to invest his life in me?" Others have wondered, "Why is it I haven't had much encouragement from others to be a teacher?" Possibly, these are not reliable, faithful people. They can't be counted on or trusted! If you identify with that, or you want to develop a greater reliability, see outlineDeveloping Reliability and Discipline for ideas.


INTERACT: Spend some time meditating on your own reliability.

  1. Can people count on me in the spiritual area of my life?
  2. How would others characterize my faithfulness? (If your answer is not positive, what's your excuse for this condition?)
  3. Have I ever trusted in a flaky person? What was the outcome?
  4. How can a parent develop reliability in a child?
  5. How can I develop faithfulness in a new convert?

Let's review what have seen in 2 Timothy 2 thus far. In his instruction to a discipler, Paul has emphasized that disciplers are to be dominated by grace and discerning about their entrustment.


Be dedicated to a ministry of multiplication.

"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" (v. 2). This principle needs explanation and illustration to see its significance.

"When we have adopted the principle of building quality into a small group of people, we unlock the secret of spiritual multiplication." Christ viewed each disciple as the center of a reproducing ministry, understanding that qualitatively building one's life into the lives of a few begins a multiplication process that never ends. Jesus could have spent His life as an itinerant preacher, moving from city to city, never involving Himself in the life of any one person or group. If Jesus had taken this approach, He would have blessed the lives of countless thousands. But would His ministry have made an impact on the world?

Jesus was able to visit only a few places in His lifetime. If He had viewed Himself as solely responsible for spreading the gospel, would the task of world evangelism have been accomplished? Probably not. However, Jesus knew that His disciples and their disciples would spread themselves into multitudes of villages and cities He Himself would never visit. He taught men by the model of His life to involve themselves in the lives of a few as they ministered to many others." (The previous three paragraphs paraphrased from The Leadership Group, Here's Life Pub., San Bernardino, Ca., 1980, pp. 5-6.)

If we want our lives to have a significant impact for God, we will want to be involved in multiplication. With that summary in mind, let me illustrate in a number of ways what can happen when we understand the principle of multiplication and are dedicated to it. This is why I am so excited about discipleship, because it gives us a very practical and efficient way to reach the world. Without a real vision of the power of multiplication, no one will stick with another person through thick and thin. But when he can look into the other's face and see in it the world and the potential of reaching it for Christ, his enthusiasm is fired up. (See Colossians 1:28-29.)

A multiplier is a disciple who trains his spiritual children to reproduce themselves to the third generation and beyond. Here are a few illustrations of the process of multiplication.

Allen Hadidian, in Successful Discipling (Moody Press, 1979, pp. 41-43) relays the following illustration from Walter Henrichsen, Navigators personnel director and author of Disciples Are Made—Not Born. Suppose a father offers his two sons the choice of taking either one dollar per week for 52 weeks or one cent the first week and an amount each week for the next 51 weeks that doubles the previous week's amount. Which of the two should the sons choose?

Before answering, let's examine the two kinds of growth.

Linear growth is all about addition. With this kind of growth, there is an increase by a constant amount at regular time intervals. A child grows one inch each year, or a miser hides 10 dollars each year under a mattress. An unchanging amount (one inch or 10 dollars) is added at regular intervals (one each year). The amount of increase each year is obviously unaffected by the size of the child or the amount of money already under the mattress.

Exponential growth is about multiplication. With this kind of growth, there is an increase by a constant percentage of the whole at regular intervals. The amount added each time is NOT constant, but increases continually as the total accumulated amount increases. An example would be a colony of yeast cells that doubles every 10 minutes. One becomes two; after 20 minutes, four becomes eight. The key to exponential growth is that the amount added each time is not constant. It increases each time. Exponential growth results in greater growth in the long run. So the sons in the story should choose the second option.

The first choice (one dollar per week) represents linear growth. Given a dollar each week, the son would still receive just one dollar the last week, and his total accumulated amount would be 52 dollars.

The second choice is exponential growth, or multiplication. "If one of the sons chose this, at the end of the year he would have an unbelievable amount of money. In fact, this boy's allowance for the fifty-second week alone would be: $22,517,998,136,852.48. That's 22 trillion, 517 billion, 998 million, 136 thousand, 852 dollars and 48 cents. Initially, the multiplication is slow, but don't let that deceive you. In the long run, addition never keeps pace with multiplication. Multiplication is explosive."

Hadidian also illustrates the principle with the following illustrations. "Suppose you start with a piece of paper 1/1000 inch thick, tear it in half, and then stack the halves, one on top of the other. At the end of one tearing, the thickness of the stack would be 2/1000 inch. If the process is repeated, the thickness would be 4/1000 inch. How high would the stack of paper be if it is torn just 50 times? Take a guess...the stack of paper if torn 50 times would be approximately 17,000,000 miles high. That equals 34 round trips to the moon!


"Suppose one starts with a checkerboard of 64 squares. On the first square is placed one grain of wheat. On the second square are placed two grains, and on the third square are placed four grains. How much wheat would it take to complete the checkerboard if the number of grains is doubled on each succeeding square? It would take enough wheat to cover India to a depth of 50 feet!"

We've seen mathematical, theoretical applications. But what is the impact in ministry? We can see its impact by contrasting it with another approach: one by one. Many Christians seem to think that the world will be reached by this strategy, in which the individual's objective is to reach the world of 4,500,000,000 people for Christ by speaking to as many people as possible about the claims of Christ. He devises a plan by which he will talk to 1,000 different people each day, never taking a day off. At this rate, it will take him 10,958 years to reach the world for Christ, assuming there is no population growth.

In contrast, here's what would happen with the multiplication process: Someone living in an average community shares Christ with his neighbors and friends until he finds three who want to develop in their faith and become multiplying disciples. "After a year, these three each find three others into whom they can reproduce their lives. Now there are nine. In another year the number grows to 27 as each of those nine finds and builds three others. In 21 years, there would be 10,460,353,203 disciples. Through the multiplication method, the world could be totally discipled (not just exposed to the gospel) in 20 years, starting with just one individual." (The Leadership Group, p. 66.


This, by the way, is one reason Campus Christian Fellowship in Bellingham and Brady Bobbink's ministry over 20-plus years has seen an amazing amount of people sent into ministry.

Hadidian tells the story of multiplication exemplified through Dawson Trotman. "One remarkable example… is the story of Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, and Les Spencer, a navy man. After Trotman had been teaching Spencer truths from God's Word for some time, Spencer brought a friend from his ship to Trotman and said, 'Dawson, I want you to teach him all you have taught me.' But Dawson said, 'I am not going to teach him; you are going to teach him. If you cannot teach him what I have taught you, then I have failed.'


Les Spencer began to teach his friend, and the multiplication process began. Spencer's friend eventually found someone else who needed to be taught, and the process continued until on that one ship there were 125 men meeting every week for prayer and Bible study. Those men then went to other ships and bases until, at the height of World War 2, there were groups of believers started by these men on over 1,000 ships and naval bases all over the world.


Do you know what happened? The FBI heard about those groups with no name or charter, and it began to investigate. When agents went to one person and asked how the group got started, the reply would be, 'I [don't] know. I met someone on another ship who started a group.' So the FBI agents went to that person with their questions, only to be referred to another person on another ship. The investigation continued for three months until they were finally able to trace the whole ministry back to Dawson Trotman. That is how the Navigators got started. That is multiplication!"


Here are some examples of this principle from Scripture.

("The Disciples"—taken from Multiplying Disciples, Waylon B. Moore, Navpress,1981, p. 38)

Neither Andrew nor Barnabas was as gifted as the ones he reached. However, both men shared lovingly with others what they knew of Christ. And both had a part in the spiritual rewards of those they helped. We can be encouraged by the examples of Andrew and Barnabas and realize that each of us is able to make disciples and multiply. God wants to give us a potential Peter, Paul, or Timothy. Availability to the Spirit's guidance is essential if we are to multiply. You can be an Andrew.


There are some misconceptions about multiplication that need to be cleared up (paraphrased from You Can Make Disciples, Word Books Pub., Waco, Texas, 1978, pp. 70-72).

INTERACT: Which, if any, of these misconceptions have you most frequently bought into?


Returning to 2 Timothy 2 one more time, we see the fourth element of instruction to disciplers.

In review, they are to be dominated by grace; be discerning about their investment (entrustment); and be dedicated to a ministry of multiplication.


Be diligent in pleasing God.

vv. 3-7—"Endure with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this."


It is important to see the sequence of this passage. Verse 2 says we are to pass on what we have received, but verses 3-6 describe what is required to pass on the baton. Discipling will create great demands upon our lives. (See Colossians 1:28-29.)


Paul offers three major illustrations here of the diligence called for in spiritually investing in the lives of others.


  1. We are to be like a soldier who makes a personal sacrifice. "Endure with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." Discipleship calls for the sacrifice of enduring hardship. In many ways it's like fighting in a war; we are continually on duty. It requires work, and it demands a sense of personal sacrifice if we want results in the disciple's life (2 Cor. 12:15). A true soldier of Jesus Christ will concentrate on pleasing God and avoiding worldly entanglements. "No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer" (v. 4).


    Hadidian reflected: "You, as a discipler, need to make Paul's kind of commitment. If you truly love your disciples, you will spend time and money and anything else to see them mature. If you are too preoccupied with your own needs and interests, not willing to give your total energy to those disciples, you will never see them grow to be all that they can be. If you give of yourself to your disciples, then they in return will give of themselves to what you believe in. Discipling demands sacrifice, and that means hard work."


    INTERACT: List some worldly entanglements that could disrupt or destroy the process of a soldier of discipleship.


    There is no room for entertaining worldly or sinful activities on the side if you are going to disciple others. They won't please God, and maintaining them will be a bad model to those we attempt to disciple. If we want those in whom we invest to give themselves fully to pleasing God and to discipleship for a lifetime, we must show diligence in pleasing God by avoiding unhealthy entanglements and by being committed to discipleship for our lifetimes as well.


  2. We are to compete fairly, as athletes, by obeying all the rules. "Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules" (v. 5). What is the victor's crown in this context? It's those in whom we are investing our lives. In fact, Paul says his disciples are his joy and crown (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). We will be assured of receiving that crown by competing as an athlete does, according to the rules. By strenuous practice and work, we will see the disciples we coach become mature in Christ.


    INTERACT: What are the "rules" of discipling? The answers are in this study. Using only 2 Timothy 2:1-7, write out some of the rules we need to obey in discipleship.


  3. We are to be like a farmer who works hard and expects a good return. "The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops" (v. 6). We are to persevere, sow good seed, cultivate, and be tenacious, if we expect to be a good discipler.


    INTERACT: What kinds of perseverance/commitment are called for? Some examples:Time (A 24-hour period in the life of Christ is described in Mark 1:21-37.); Emotional strength (2 Cor. 11:29); Financial and material possession (2 Cor. 11:7-12); Lack of public recognition (Study Barnabas' life with Paul and Mark.); Exposure of your personal inadequacies and weaknesses (I Cor.2:1-5; 2 Cor.1:8-11)


    INTERACT: What are we expected to sow in a crop of disciples? (Character qualities, understanding, wisdom, etc.)


    There is so much more in these three examples than the obvious. Paul asks Timothy and us, therefore, to do one more thing. "Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this" (v. 7). This reflection is not an option; it is a command. "Reflect" means to "mark, think about." If we do, there is a promise of insight from the Lord. "Insight" means "understanding, cleverness as shown in quickness of apprehension, acuteness; the intelligent, penetrating consideration which precedes decision and action; used of reflective thought, productive thought, moral thinking or contemplation." Insight is a reward we should long to receive from the Lord.



    It is a fact of life that the reliable, faithful and trustworthy person will be rewarded greatly in the end. Jesus will say to that one, "Well done, good and faithful servant." This applies not only to the future, however; it relates very specifically to deciding who we will invest in. The rewards are high; let's take this seriously.


    Therefore, the conclusion of this study should be for us all to take up Paul's instruction and meditate upon it. If we do, Paul promises the Lord will give us insight.


    INTERACT: Describe your commitment to the process of multiplication. Who are you presently investing your life in? Does he/she qualify according to 2 Timothy 2:2? What is the most difficult thing you are experiencing about the process?


    "A young boy had a dream of becoming a great concert pianist. He read the biographies of Van Cliburn and Rubenstein and listened endlessly to records by these men. Finally, his parents bought a piano for him, and he began working to make his dream a reality.


    He bought a beginner's book on `How to Play the Piano' and devoted himself to practicing scales and arpeggios for hours each day. Eventually, he was able to play simple pieces; but when he moved to more difficult compositions, his abilities seemed to reach their limit. He kept working, but only became more and more frustrated. His dream appeared to be beyond his capabilities. Just as he was about to give up completely, he noticed an advertisement for a music class which was going to be taught in his city by a master pianist. The boy enrolled immediately. After only a few weeks of instruction, his playing improved dramatically. Following the guidelines of his expert instructor, he finally gained enough expertise to become a master pianist himself. He saw his dream fulfilled." The Leadership Group, p. 15


    Likewise, we are discovering that if we would see our lives maximized in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we need the help of the Master of discipleship. Just as the inexperienced pianist needed training and advice from an expert in his field, we need to look to the expert in discipleship for our example. Jesus was a living example of what it meant to disciple others. This became the pattern and was carried out by the disciples and the Apostle Paul. Let's pick up that baton in our generation and continue the race.