Not because something is chasing me, but simply because I am trying to lose a little weight and stay healthy. I am not always successful. I was recently sidelined for several months because of a knee injury. And there have been several occasions when I just got lazy and didn’t do it for a year or two. But there are several lessons that I have learned from running and exercising that can teach us something about the life of the church.
Routine is your friend – it helps our motivation if we have a routine. I try to run on Tuesday and Thursday with a long run on Saturday. Sometimes the weather changes my plans, but it’s just a little easier to make myself get out of bed and get my gear on when I know that today is my scheduled day.
If you want to grow in your spiritual life, routine is your friend. This was the plan of John Wesley and the other early Methodists. Growth doesn’t happen by accident or by occasional learning. Growth happens when we commit to a routine of reading and study. Likewise, the routine of offering the opportunity for study and for people to use their Spiritual gifts provides a door for people to learn and grow.
Goals are important – Ships won’t reach port and arrows won’t find the target if there isn’t a goal. Your exercise goal might be to lose weight, to run a race, or something else, but almost everything you do depends on what your goals are. Your exercise routine will be very different if your goal is to run a 3 mile race or a marathon.
Obviously, this is hard to do spiritually on a personal level because it’s hard to say, “This year I want to be more spiritual,” but you can decide to attend a Bible study or to go on a mission trip, read a new book, or read scripture for fifteen minutes each day.
This is much more apparent as a church body. Without goals, churches often just spin their wheels and do the same things that they always did, even if those things stopped working a long time ago. Having goals can push us to do new things, go in new directions, and have the courage to try.
You need a plan – Once you have a goal, then it’s easier to make a plan, but while the goal tells you where you want to be six months or a year from now, it’s the plan that tells you what you need to do this week.
Once you decide that you are going to go to Bible study, you need to decide which one or, if you decided to go on a mission trip, then decide what else you need to do to get you there. You might need a passport, or vaccinations, or you might need to start fundraising. No matter what it is, a plan can help you get from where you are, to where to want to be.
I’ve been in a lot of churches that set goals every year at Charge Conference because the bishop said we had to. But once Charge Conference is over, everyone forgets what the goals were and nothing ever really gets done. If you are going to make progress toward your goals, you need to break them into manageable pieces and make a plan that you can work on weekly or monthly.
You need to push – Doctors tell us that for any kind of exercise to be effective, you have to elevate your heart rate by a certain amount over your normal resting pulse. The same is true for weightlifting. You won’t lift heavier weights if you keep lifting the same weight over and over. For your heart, lungs or other muscles to grow, you need to push yourself.
I’m convinced that people, and churches, are just like our muscles. If we only do the things we’ve always done, our muscles get soft and we begin to lose muscle tone. After a while, we discover that we can’t even manage to do the things that once were easy. The only way to move forward is to push, to strain, to stretch ourselves and do things that are hard. When we continually do things that are hard, we eventually discover that the hard things begin to get easier and the impossible things begin to be possible.
You can’t coast – This is related to the last one, but it’s scarier. There have been many times when I got too busy, or the weather was cold, or I had some kind of injury, and I stopped running. What I quickly remembered is that you can’t coast. Staying put or standing pat doesn’t work. If you aren’t pushing and getting better, you start going backward. If I stop running for six weeks, when I start back up, I not only have lost six weeks of training, but it will take me almost six weeks just to get back to where I was when I stopped.
While I admit that church and our spiritual lives aren’t exactly like that, there are some very real parallels. We occasionally get a little burnt out, but the reality is that when we drop out, when we stop pushing forward, a lot of things start sliding backward. It’s a reminder that we should constantly be trying to get better, personally, as well as collectively. Whenever we think we’re “good enough” we’ve probably already started losing ground somewhere.
It’s easier with a friend – Whether you run, diet, or lift weights, it’s easier to do with a friend. There will always be days when you just don’t feel like getting out of bed, going to the gym, or putting on your running shoes, but knowing that your friend is waiting for you can give you the extra push you need to get going.
Your spiritual goals are the same. If you join a Bible study with a friend, you know they are there and are expecting you. Afterward, there is someone to talk to and you can help each other to understand the hard parts or, it might be a little less scary to go together to ask the pastor what it means. If you are planning to go on a mission trip, you can compare notes on your progress and remind one another about your goals and deadlines.
At first, this sounds like something that wouldn’t apply to churches, but it does. For many projects and goals, especially in a connectional church like ours, churches can work together toward their goals. Finding enough people to form a mission team might take more than one church or, as we have found with the Perry Helping Perry food pantry, the needs in your community might be bigger than one, two, or even three, churches can handle alone. Working together might still be the push that we need.
Sometimes you fail – We can fail for a lot of different reasons but everyone that failed did more than the people that stayed on the couch. You might not go as fast as you wanted to, lift as much weight as you wanted to, or finished slower than you wanted to, but I guarantee that you achieved more than you would have if you hadn’t tried. What’s more, your failure probably taught you something that will help you succeed the next time.
This is exactly the same for people, and for the church, as we strive to follow Jesus. If you want to go to Bible study every week, but only manage to get there half the time, you still did something that moved you forward from the place that you once were. Likewise, a church that doesn’t reach its goals, or doesn’t reach them as quickly as they had hoped, has still moved forward compared to the church that did nothing.
So whether you are walking, running, or growing in Christ, just remember that it’s important to keep moving forward.
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