Running the Race

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 pio- neer and perfecter of our faith . . . 

– Hebrews 12:1-2 NRSV

It is said that, on average, it takes at least five years for a pastor to establish a viable ministry within the church . . . as long as it is in good health and not experiencing any major conflicts. I believe this to be true, which means that this year – my sixth year in pastoral ministry at Sugar Creek – will be an important year for the mission of the church and my ministry here. This, then, is a good time and opportunity to review what I feel is the focus for the vision and mission of the Sugar Creek United Methodist Church for the future.

I liken the overall mission and supporting ministries of the church as an important race that we must run. This race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. So, as the Apostle Paul says in Hebrews 12:1, we must “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” In other words, we are in this race for the long term (for the life of the church), which means it’s going to take a great deal of determination to ensure we don’t give up and fall short of crossing the finish line.

As with any race, it takes a lot of support from others, as well as disciplined training and careful preparations by the runners. Paul reminds us that our support as a church comes from “so great a cloud of witnesses,” who cheer us on as we run, and who lift us up when we stumble and fall. Even more, this great cloud of witnesses means that we never run the race alone, and that we aren’t the first (and won’t be the last) to run. Indeed, this race began with the birth of the church centuries ago and will continue long after we have finished our leg of the race.

The training and preparations required for this race include throwing off any “weight and sin” that is slowing us down and holding us back from running a good race and giving our best effort. They include the weights of conflict, division, mediocrity, selfishness, irrelevance, inflexibility, etc. and the sins of pride, greed, gossip, injustice, deceit, discrimination, etc. within the church. In addition, for our church to persevere in running the race set before us, we must (as Paul says) “[look] to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” As we run, we must never take our eyes off Jesus for the faith we need, lest we lose our strength, and veer off course or collapse in the middle of the race. After all, Jesus is the ultimate example of faithful determination and perseverance in any race we run, particularly as Christ’s Church.

As a reminder, our goal as a church – the reason we run this race with perseverance – is to accomplish the mission of the church as commanded by Jesus. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20 NRSV). Rightly so, Christ’s mission for the church is the general mission for The United Methodist Church of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” and the specific mission for Sugar Creek United Methodist Church “to bring people to Jesus Christ through worship, connection, and service.”

In essence, then, the universal mission of Christ’s Church is the same, “to makes disciples of Jesus Christ.” However, to fulfill the universal mission, each individual church (including us) needs to have a unique vision and mission, along with viable and supporting ministries, according to its specific gifts and particular mission field. We have the unique vision and mission it needs, which offers inspiration and guidance as we run the race set before us. As just mentioned, our unique mission is “to bring people to Jesus Christ through worship, connection, and service.” And our unique vision is “sharing our joy in Christ Jesus by reaching out to show God’s love”

An important part of the role of the pastor in any church is to bring clarity and focus to the church’s unique vision and mission to equip church members (runners) to realize the vision and fulfill the mission (run the race) of the church. With the support of the SPPRC, I am doing this by offering the following vision and mission foci:

  1. Grow the Children & Family Ministry and Youth Ministry.
  2. Renew a Viable Hospitality Ministry.
  3. Provide Discipleship Growth Opportunities.

In my first five years of ministry at Sugar Creek, the church has made great “strides” in training and preparing to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Thus, as I enter the sixth year of my ministry here, I pray this will be the year that we do our warmup exercises, take our place at the starting line, surge forward at the sound of the starting gun, and run the race of renewing and growing vital church ministries and providing discipleship growth opportunities.

As we run, may we be inspired and encouraged by the cheers of so great a cloud of witnesses, made up of runners who’ve finished the race and crossed the finish line before us. And may we look to Jesus as our first and perfect example of the faith and perseverance we need for the race ahead of realizing the vision and fulfilling the mission of our church. Just a thought . . .

Pastor Paul