Setting the Pace for a Marathon

Marathon runners aren’t born, they’re made.  That is to say, anyone who wants to run a marathon needs to train their body to build endurance for such a long race.  The apostle Paul compares the life of discipleship to a marathon.  And like a marathon, a life of discipleship takes training as well.

Running Too Fast

For over a year now, the council at Horizon has been pursuing a process of transforming Horizon’s vision that we have been calling the U-Turn Church.  The process has involved making changes that provide a more familiar surrounding and more familiar experience for people in our community who may be unfamiliar with church.  But at the same time, the council is very committed that we make these changes in a way that invites everyone to come along—new attenders as well as long-time Horizon members.

These two commitments—a vision for becoming an outreach church, and a desire to effectively disciple Horizon’s current members—give us a reason to constantly monitor our marathon pace.  So we ask ourselves, are we running ahead too fast?  Are we pushing so quickly into a renewed vision for outreach that we might be leaving others behind along the way?

Admittedly, I think for some of us the answer to that question has been “yes.”  Several people at Horizon have been honest to let me know that it has been a struggle to keep up with trying to learn new songs and embrace the new features of Horizon’s worship experience.  It is important that Horizon gathers in a ministry that is engaging and meaningful for everyone.  So as we move ahead, we keep tweaking the details along the way to make sure we are not running too fast.

Running Too Slow

But then there is the other side of our U-Turn commitment—a vision for becoming an outreach church.  And so we evaluate where we are in the process of moving in that direction.  We want to evaluate the process because we want to make sure we keep moving towards outreach.  One of the keys for implementing this vision is momentum.  Horizon needs to make sure we do not abandon or stall or turn back in our efforts to reach out to unchurched people.

Training for a marathon takes a consistent regiment of activity.  I know from a year of cancer treatment that once you let go of a regular pattern of activity, it’s like sliding backwards and having to start all over again.  Marathon runners set incremental goals and keep stepping forward and moving ahead.  They know that consistency is the key to making progress.

And so Horizon also looks to keep moving forward.  The command of Jesus for the church in Matthew 28 is a command to GO and make disciples.  We do not stay where we are.  We do not expect others to come to us.  We do not demand that unchurched people in our community conform to our preferences.  We go to them, and we bring the message of the gospel to them in a way that will invite them to Jesus.

Setting the Pace

The tricky part about running a marathon together is that we may all be trying to set a different pace.  Some of us at Horizon may be ready and eager to sprint ahead.  Others of us at Horizon may need to slow down.  But we know this from scripture: that Jesus wants us to run this race of discipleship together.  And so the challenge of finding a pace that we can all keep together is worth the effort.

For those who may be frustrated that we are running too slow, remember that we are still moving forward.  A slower pace is still a forward pace.  Slowing down does not mean we are quitting or turning back.  It simply means we are making sure everyone is keeping up.

For those who may be frustrated that we are running too fast, be encouraged that we value your effort and participation.  In fact, we value your participation so much that we set a pace that works for you.  This is a marathon of discipleship that is not about being the fastest.  It is a marathon of discipleship that echoes the words of Paul in Philippians 3:12–14.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

till next time…
~pastor tom