I recently had the opportunity to run my first marathon. As a pastor, I couldn’t help but glean some lessons for ministry from the experience.
Slow down to go the distance.
Prior to this marathon, I’ve tried to make running a healthy habit in my life but it was rarely a pleasant experience I looked forward to. However, in the midst of training for this marathon, I learned something that has forever changed my approach to running.
I began using a device to track my heart rate and was shocked to discover that the speed I had always run at was too fast for me. If my goal was to go the distance, I needed to slow down.
Though in my mind I was already a slow runner to begin with, I forced myself to slow down my training pace even more. Rather than comparing myself to other runners, I had to find a pace in which I trained hard but where running also became a much more positive experience.
Many of us go at a pace in ministry that is unhealthy and unsustainable. For reasons both externally and internally based, we’ve made it normal. Each of us has to learn a pace appropriate for us in which we can say with integrity that we are working very hard but which will also allow us to last for the long journey. If we want to go long, some of us need to slow down.
Have a plan.
I am not a runner by nature. As much as I loved the concept of running a marathon, there was just no way I was waking up one day and doing it no matter how much I desired to. If my goal was to run a marathon, I would need to have a long-term plan and stick to it.
Whether for ourselves personally or for those we lead, we often have goals we desire to see met but when we don’t have the plans in place to show how those goals will be accomplished, it can result in a lot of frustration. Don’t just say where we need to go but also show how we will get there.
Fuel up properly.
I discovered very early and painfully that no matter how hard I worked in training, if I was not fueling my body correctly, all that effort was wasted. I learned that you can’t outrun a bad or insufficient diet.
Many in ministry work very hard but often do so without taking in the proper spiritual nutrition required. The challenge is that realistically in the short-term we can practically look like we can function in that manner but in the long-term the detrimental effects will be revealed. If we will live out the lives God has called us to, it will require regular meals of time in God’s Word and prayer.
Keep the big goal in mind.
During the long stretches of training and in the marathon itself, I often grew weary and would be tempted to give up. In those times I found it helpful to remember why I was running. Because for me the marathon was actually never about the race itself.
A few years ago I was physically very unhealthy and recognized that if I continued on that path, there was a good chance I would not be in a place to see my little girls grow up. Being there for them has been my main motivation.
In my most exhausted moment late in the marathon, I began experiencing painful leg cramps and was tempted to give up. The thing that kept me going to the finish line was the mental picture of walking my girls down the aisle on their wedding days. That big goal for the future allowed me to take each painful step in the present.
The ministry marathon
Ministry is joyful but it can also be grueling and painful. You will hit frustrating roadblocks. There might be significant financial challenges. You will experience deep failure. Trusted people may betray you. Despair, loneliness, and depression can envelop you. In every moment—but particularly in those difficult seasons—keep your eyes on your bigger goal. As Hebrews 12:1-2 exhorts us, may we fix our eyes on Jesus and be reminded why we ultimately do what we do in obediently following our call to love and serve the Lord.