“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1
Picture a church running a race that no one cares about. It’s out on the track, bustling down the straightaways, huffing around the turns, striving to keep pace… and no one is watching. No one bought tickets, no one came, and so no one is in the stands cheering. What’s more is that no one is standing to greet them at the finish line because there is no finish line. The stadium is empty and, but for the sound of busy feet hitting the track the track surface, it is silent.
Someone yells, faster! And so they pick up speed, past the point of sheer exhaustion, the church runs. Occasionally they become convinced—this must be the final lap! And so they turn on the burners to round that last bend. Almost there! But there’s just more track, another left turn.
I love the invitation that we run with perseverance the race that is set before us, but I wonder about the race some of us have chosen to run. Maybe it’s the race to survive as an institution, to keep the doors open, to “make it,” to balance the budget, to address building issues… Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that the race set before us is one we’ll “win” when we… what? Bring in more members? Fill our programs with participants? Run a successful stewardship campaign?
Perhaps. But life in a postmodern, post-denominational, post-Christian, post(ish)-pandemic context is teaching us that a spiritually engaged but institutionally suspicious culture simply does not care about churches’ institutional maintenance problems. Attendance slipping? Stewardship woes? Leaky roof? No one cares. And our desperate race to address those problems should conjure a picture of runners sprinting around a track in an empty stadium.
The race we’ve created for ourselves isn’t necessarily the one that’s been set before us. Our striving to cross a finish line into the successful church post-race celebration is, perhaps, a toxic figure of our unimagination—a doubling down on church-as-usual that has little to do with the races people in our community are actually running—races to put food on the table tonight, races to find decent child care, races for affordable housing, dignity, acceptance, connection. Oh, how those races are being run around us!
What race has been set before your church? Could it be that it’s a race others are already running, and your job now is to register, get a number, and find the starting line? Might it be that this race has absolutely nothing with your congregation’s institutional health and everything to do with keeping up with some runners you don’t know yet? And could it be true that there’s a stadium full of people who want you to win that race? Who will wildly cheer for you and the other runners? Who will jump down on the track to run with you? Who will explode with laughter and joy when you cross the finish line?
Let us run with perseverance the race that has been set before us.
The Ministry Collaborative welcomes pastors from throughout our program and broadening network to contribute to our weekly articles. This week, our thanks to Ben Johnston-Krase, Co-Planter of Farm Church, Durham, NC.