How is your running?
Pain-free, or painful? A discussion opener to assess how your ministry is going, using four categories of running. By William Wade
Top image | Steven Lelham | Unsplash
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ Hebrews 12:1
The author of Hebrews uses the analogy of a runner in looking at our following of Jesus, which also includes us working out our particular ‘race’ or purpose as we follow him. At our recent regional ministers' gathering, I shared a simple discussion-opener about how this might translate into our own ministry and what that might look like. I broke it down into four categories of running.
I would imagine that our hope in ministry would be that we could run pain-free. In other words, that we are enjoying unbroken fellowship with God, our leadership is fruitful and appreciated, our church members meetings are a joyful experience and it seems that everything we touch has a visible measure of blessing on it. Hopefully we can all testify of having seasons like this in our life and ministry. However, I am sure we can also all testify that life and ministry is not always like this, so let’s enjoy those seasons when we get them!
A niggle in running is really nothing serious. It is the little stone in the shoe, the onset of a touch of tiredness, the light drizzle of rain or a hill that takes a bit more oxygen than usual. These are niggles and nothing more. In ministry, we can have these as well. Perhaps it is the sermon that didn’t exactly go as you felt it would, or the fact that there hasn’t been a baptism in the church in a little while, or a couple of families in the church aren’t getting on the way they used to, but it’s really nothing serious. It’s just a niggle, and you know it will pass. It gives rise to prayer, but not sleepless nights. We can run with a niggle.
Pain is definitely a step up from the niggle. It is the tendons being continually sore, the muscles not recovering in the way they should, the joy of running being gone for longer than you can remember. In applying this analogy to ministry, we had a number of scenarios at our Ministers gathering that we felt this could be linked with: the constant criticism of a small number of church members, divisions in the church that threaten the stability of a number of ministries, a measure of spiritual depression setting in and taking away the joy of ministry. This is more than a niggle; this is painful. However, just as we can run with a measure of pain, we agreed that, with the right level of support, we can also minister with a measure of pain. It was, as one Minister put it, ‘the way of the cross’.
Any good doctor, physiotherapist, personal trainer or friend will tell you that running with injury is simply not an option. You will need surgery, rehabilitation and most certainly, rest. Ministering with injury should require the same response. Injury could look like the sudden death of a husband, wife or child. It could look like breakdown or burnout. It could look like any kind of personal trauma that adversely impacts your life and ministry to the point where you absolutely must stop, have spiritual heart surgery and restoration, and certainly a season of rest and recovery. You cannot run with injury. And you cannot minister with injury.
We ended our session asking, ‘Where are you on this scale?’ Some were ministering pain-free, with most being in the niggle or pain zone, and we prayed with each other into those areas. There may have been one or two in the injury phase, and we encouraged those to speak with our Regional Minister, or at least to a fellow minister they had a trusted relationship with.
And so, I will share the same question with you. Where are you on this scale? Do you find yourself running pain-free? That is a great place to be in ministry. Enjoy it while it lasts!
Are you running with a niggle, or with a reasonable amount of pain? It is still possible to have a fruitful and meaningful ministry at this level. Do have a prayer support network around you, but do keep running.
Or are you trying to run with injury? Could I encourage you, if this is you, please speak to your Regional Minister, to a trusted friend in ministry, or to someone professional, in order to heal?
God cares for you and for your ministry. He wants you to run and be an effective minister. But he wants you to be as whole as you can be.
Wherever you may be on this scale, may you have the support and help you need in order to run the race that is set before you.
William Wade is minister at Life Church, Cuffley
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.