I was sitting in my new office at a new place starting a new work. I was ready and hopeful about what God was going to do. I remember praying for the wisdom of Solomon and that the Holy Spirit would do more than I could ever ask or imagine. And then he walked in.
I wasn’t expecting him, but that was ok with me. He was a friend and cared about me and the ministry. We talked shop for a while and then on his way out he said something that I’ve never forgotten.
“Brian, remember, you are going to be here for years. Settle into a good pace. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Since that time, I’ve started running for exercise and about four 5Ks a year. And though a 5K is not a marathon, it’s also not the 100 meters. I have friends who can sprint 5Ks, but I can’t. I need to pace myself at about a 9-minute mile (ok, so maybe I jog). If I don’t pace myself correctly, my timing gets messed up, my resources get depleted and I have nothing left to finish the run. There have been mornings where I started with a pace that wasn’t sustainable. At mile 1 that’s not a problem. At mile 2 it becomes one.
Now, serving as a church planter/pastor, my friend’s advice continues to shape my thinking. My tendency is to get in a hurry, wanting my plans to come to fruition quickly and my goals to be realized in my timing. I set the wrong pace and spend my resources quickly rather than managing them for the long haul. I need to remember—on a regular basis—that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
One pastor wrote, “No one wants to be a success in year three and a statistic in year 10.” That happens when we start running a sprinter’s pace in a marathon. We use people rather than shepherd them. We burn out our families and our souls. We have a great start and a limping finish. All this because we forgot that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
So, how do I know if I’m sprinting a marathon?
- Is your current pace of life sustainable? There will always be seasons of labor that are intense, but if you get locked into 60-70-hour weeks over time, you will crash and burn. Can you do this for five years? Have you settled into a good rhythm of work and rest?
- Are you staying hydrated? Our souls will get weary in this journey. It’s not a sprint, but it’s not a massage either. Keeping the water of the Word in our lives is crucial. If we hope to finish well, we must not neglect the Word of God and prayer.
- Are people resources or souls? When we are sprinting, we can start using people rather than loving them. Not only is this dangerous to them, it’s dangerous to you. You are handling God’s children in a way that doesn’t honor Him. People are treasures, not tools.
- Are you stretching? I hate the cool down after a run. I would rather skip it—until the next day when I can’t bend my legs. Sabbath and rest is stretching for the pastor. Are you being disobedient to the Lord by working too much and not resting?
My prayer for my own life and the lives of those we plant from Exodus Church is not only that we would run the race, but that we would finish well. Apart from God’s grace, we will not do this. Part of our response to God’s grace has to be setting a good pace for the long haul of gospel ministry so that we can finish strong.
“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1–2).