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A Letter from the Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Pace & Perseverance
July 27, 2017

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, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.(Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)

The fall of my sophomore year, we had a new member join the cross-country team named Ross. Ross, a senior, was trying to get in shape for the coming wrestling season and thought cross-country would be a good way to do just that. It was the opening race of the season and Ross was pumped. He was bouncing around the starting line like a boxer getting ready for a heavy weight fight. And sure enough, when the gun went off, Ross took off like a shot. He went straight to the front of the pack and was in the lead by 10 yards at the first turn, about 1/8th of a mile into the race. Before I go any further, you should know that, before this, Ross had never run a race longer than 1/4 mile and this race was 3.1 miles. It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that, before we finished the first mile, I had caught up to Ross who was sputtering and failing badly. Despite a great start, Ross couldn't keep up the pace.

In distance running, there are two keys: pace and perseverance. There is a great temptation in distance running to go out too fast. To have a great start and then fade rapidly as the race draws to a close. Those who find success know how to pace themselves, holding back a little early on and transitioning from the start into a manageable pace. Now, most people assume that distance running is a physical activity. After all, the premise of it all seems quite simple - get from point A to point B as fast as you can. But anyone who has done distance running can tell you that it's as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one and that challenge has a name: "The Wall." "The Wall" is the point when the adrenaline has worn off, fatigue has set in, and there comes a temptation to lose focus and sit back and relax. But it turns out that, to have any chance to persevere through the challenge of the wall, you must start out at the right pace. Pace and perseverance are more mental challenges than they are physical ones and are critical ingredients to running a race well.

Sound familiar to anyone? The temptation to start out too fast? The difficulty of persevering through challenges? Over and over I've found a connection between distance running and serving in ministry leadership. No matter what your leadership role, I find great encouragement in the author of Hebrew's reminder "to run with perseverance the race set before us."

When I took my first call out of seminary, I dove in with two feet. I couldn't work enough and couldn't do enough. Despite the caution from those around me, I took on any new challenge that came my way and was way too eager to take on new responsibilities. Most of you can finish the rest of the story. I had started what amounted to a distance race as though it was a sprint and was soon in over my head. And then, a few months into that first call, I discovered something about ministry: it's predictably unpredictable. If you're not at a sustainable and healthy pace when the unpredictable comes, you can't persevere and you're left struggling and sputtering.

The author's selection of a race analogy for the Christian life is more than appropriate in my view. After all, there are seasons in life and ministry that require perseverance when we are called to step into new roles or face extraordinary challenges. But to persevere, to have the extra energy to engage the challenges that are bound to come, we have to pace ourselves now. There's an unforeseen challenge ahead of every one of us; the only variable we can control right now is whether we're running at a pace that will allow us to finish the race strong.

The Rev. Brian R. Wallace, Associate Minister

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