The other day I wrote about my struggle to keep running after completing my first marathon, an effort that was itself a capstone to an amazing year of running after 17 years of inactivity and poor eating habits. You see, for a year – and particularly for the few months leading up to the marathon – I somehow got up the gumption to change my life, to commit to running, and to run a race I never thought I would be able to run. But I did it. And I felt great.
And then I stopped. Goal achieved. Box checked. Motivation, it seems, left somewhere out on 26.2 miles of asphalt in the District of Columbia.
My experience with running is not unlike many people's experience with church.
I've seen people get really involved in church for a while, as if to complete a project – a very tangible "project" such as the Confirmation of their teenager, or a more "spiritual" project of healing following a personal trauma. But once the project is complete, they drift away, having "achieved" what they first came to church seeking, but not having made the patterns of church or faith routine enough to be part of everyday life.
I can relate.
My project was to run a marathon. Since the physically and emotionally rewarding experience of running the marathon, however, my commitment to running has dropped off. Likewise, many people experience a period of intensive involvement in church, but then later drop off.
I don't begrudge folks who slip into the church for a time and then find themselves away, and not only because I can relate with this experience within the realm of running. Rather, part of what we're called to do in the church is to walk with people where they're at, and in that moment strive to be a welcoming community of Christ for them. Our doors are open.
Some come and sit for years on end. Others just wander through and take a look. Others hang out for a while but then move on. That's OK with me. Life-long membership is not the goal. Meeting people in their spiritual need and awakening them to the saving presence of the Triune God in their life – through shared practices of faith, including worship & praise, Bible study, prayer, service, fellowship, and giving – is what we're about, it seems to me.
In my own struggle to make running a daily and on-going routine rather than a time-limited project, perhaps I'm learning a little about those who come to church for a good, long stretch, and then who are absent for an even longer stretch.
As I try yet again to re-re-commit myself to running, I am grateful for friends who know the joy of running and who make running a part of their everyday life. They share their joy with me, and they encourage me despite my inconsistent commitment to running.
May I be as good a pastor, and our church as welcoming a community of faith, as these running friends are to this on-again, off-again, on-again wannabe runner.
3 thoughts on “Short-term commitment to church? I can relate.”
I’m not a runner, but this is really, really good, Chris. (I think there are possibly other life habits that I can relate to as well.) And I see it a lot. I see people who get really really really involved in the church for a short time, and then are gone, just as quickly. I also see some people who move to another church after getting a lot of support through a difficult time, and I wonder about that too. (Not in a bad way, exactly: just thinking, do we sometimes need to start fresh with a different community where they don’t know some of those needy things about us?)
Chris, this is in regard to your first post about the “let-down” you are experiencing after the marathon training and completion. I don’t want to come across like one of Job’s “friends” here, so take this in the best way: don’t be so discouraged. Give yourself some slack, for crying out loud. I congratulated you some months ago about completing your marathon. Like you, I’m a Lutheran pastor/sub-four hour marathon completer (in 1989, I dimly remember). I have returned to running regularly (I am noticeably slower, never fast to begin with!!) after 19(or more) years of primarily being a dad, husband, pastor, citizen — not necessarily in that order, either, as priorities dictate which arena of life gets my middle-aged version of energy. Give yourself a chance to stand back from your priority of running, and you will find those other aspects of your life will be enriching in their own ways. Be a pastor; apparently you’re transitioning from one congregation to another one. Pay attention to that (it’s unavoidable, anyway, so go with it, as both the one you’re leaving and the one you’re arriving at deserve that from you). Be a dad: I’ve got four sons/young men I’m watching grow up, so fast, two now in college, two will be high school juniors—they won’t be around here in the same way as before, as they too grow older, so cherish your time with your own kids–you don’t get these “parenting times” back, believe me. Be an attentive spouse! Clergy spouses out here in the “none zone” West coast need support on many levels that frankly can’t be found from anyone else but you. I’ve got 23 years of trial/error/success at this, (still a “work in progress”) and my hunch is that you and your spouse would delight in some TLC for each other. SO keep running–it’s not going to go away forever, I can tell how much you love it. Be glad to get out, oh, three, MAYBE four times a week, and come back to more serious stuff later, it’ll be there, if you want it. Looking back, you’ll find “less is more” and it’s just fine for now. I truly enjoy your site here. Keep up the good work. Happy landings in MN.
Great comparison of running and church. What I like about it is that what got touched on all rings true, but the idea is rich enough that I know before thinking that there are lots of other parallels to draw between the two.
It sounds like erik probably knows you, so this is no commentary on whether what he said was right or not. But I’ll just say that to an outside reader, you don’t come across as being down on yourself in the post.
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