Why Ministry is Not a Marathon

When you work for the church or other Christian organization, the life of ministry can seem like a marathon where the goal is to keep going at a steady pace until you finally reach the finish line. We don’t want to give up at 30 kilometers when there are still 12 kilometers left in the race, or at mile 18 when there are 8.2 miles still to go—especially when that last .2 of a mile is the difference between finishing the race and dropping out prematurely. We want to run the race and win the prize as 1 Corinthians 9:24 puts it.

That’s why I was surprised recently to read just the opposite:

Life is not a marathon, and it shouldn’t be looked at as one. Life is better viewed as a series of short sprints with periods of rest in between. Think about the way most professional athletes train. They expend a huge amount of energy for a season, and then they have the off-season to rest and recover. They repeat that cycle over and over for as long as they play their game. If they tried to forge ahead without the rest period, they wouldn’t have very long careers. – The New You: A Guide to Better Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness by Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson (Baker Books, 2019, page 129)

The authors go on to relate this to the rhythm of work and rest embedded in creation. Just as God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, so they say:

We are designed to do the same: to work, then rest; to sprint, then recover. When we approach life this way we are more resilient , have more clarity, and have an easier time controlling our energy in a positive way. (page 130)

The rest of their chapter on “Energy in Motion” outlines some practical ways of managing our energy, like being aware of which activities seem to create new energy and those which are draining, taking a regular day of rest, getting enough exercise, drinking enough water, losing weight if needed, decluttering. These are basic self-care strategies, but thinking about them as ways to manage and maximize energy helped me appreciate them in a new way.

For me, this chapter on energy was the best of the nineteen short chapters in this book on how to gain better physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health. Other strong candidates include chapter 12 on “The Power of Serving: Seven Ways to Change the World” and chapter 15 on “Defeating the Deadliest Emotion: The Necessity of Rooting Out Bitterness.” Each chapter includes personal anecdotes plus some small steps to get started toward the new you. The book concludes with “the small steps challenge,” which is a four-month plan to read and follow through on the practical steps outlined in the book.

For more information and related resources, you can check out newyoubook.com, but please be aware that you’ll be asked to provide the name of your church, your role, and other information in exchange for the free resources.

Disclosure: Thank you to Graf-Martin and their Resourcing Leaders program for providing me with a complimentary copy of The New You. The choice to review and any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.

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Ordained minister with 25 years' experience as lead pastor of a mid-size, multi-staff church, now resident author with a liturgical worship community, and editor of Purpose, a monthly magazine of everyday inspiration. Author of Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. For more, see aprilyamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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