My generation considers longevity in ministry. We count the cost better than previous generations. We have seen marriages and ministries flame out, annihilated in a moment. We have seen stretched and strained families. We know the statistics of dropout in ministry as well as anyone. We have heard stories and made notes.
When I consider my own ministry, I often think in marathon terms. I think of pacing and consistency. I think of balance and rhythm. I think spiritual nutrition and proper Sabbath resting. I don’t want to be another minister broken down by the roadside.
All these musings and considerations seem fine. They seem wise, a due correction to the course and pace set by others, but what still bothers me is the Apostle Paul. Paul doesn’t talk like a marathoner. Paul doesn’t talk like someone interested in getting a “finisher medal.” He wants to win, and that’s a different mindset for ministry and running all together.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul declares, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” The race’s winner runs very differently than the other finishers. And to be absolutely clear, Paul adds, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly.” So apparently there’s running and then there’s running. Paul runs to win. And that’s a different race altogether. Winners watch the clock. Winners don’t hold back. Winners press through the crowd to the front. Winners completely consign themselves to the task.
Finishers finish, but winners step across the line victoriously.
A faithful finisher or a determined winner, those are two very different mindsets. I am not exactly sure how to resolve the tension, but in some ways, I think we as Christians are called to both.
To those who would burnout, the call to faithfully finish must be heard. We run like champions and yet we recognize our limitations and entrust ourselves to the One who has already finished the race. We can back off the pace not in laziness but in trust and faith.
To those content to idle, the call to victory must be heard. The “it’s-all-a-wash-in-Jesus” mindset will not do. The Bible never speaks in these terms. We compete. We struggle and strain. We do not resign ourselves to “close enough.” We run to glorify God.
But we do not run alone, and we do not run with fear. So let us run with all we have, be it ever so slow or ever so fast, investing all we have in faith and trust and in peace.