However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
Recently, my wife, son, daughter and I have begun running in 5K (3.1 mile) races on the weekend. Most of the competitors in these races are either recreational runners trying to recapture some glory in their lives (that would describe me) or those just out for a time of communing with others in a semi-organized and timed way (ergo, the rest of the family). Now, you have to know that running is something I've done for the majority of my life, the last decade or so notwithstanding. Recently, I've been able to revive my passion for running and hope to ignite a similar passion in my kids, if for no other reason than to give them something they can do over the course of their life to stay healthy. So, back to the 5K's. I harbor no illusions of winning the event or even my age group (although I've placed fourth in my age group the last few times) but I do take these little events seriously. I've bought good running shoes and clothes to wear, I train, I warm up, I time myself and keep track of how fast I run each mile, etc.etc. My kids just show up. They want to run well and they have goals but they just don't take it as seriously as I do.
Yet, I noticed something interesting about my daughter the last couple of weeks. I had finished the race and was running the course backwards to help my family finish. When I found Abby, she was walking with a new friend. Apparently, she met this person early and they encouraged each other throughout the race. "Very cool", I thought. I was proud of her. Then, to my surprise, at the next race, the same thing happened. So, While I was busy "running my race", she was busy running hers. My race produced some sense of self satisfaction that I had hit my personal goals. Her race produced a new friend. In this scenario, who won?
Churches sometime get caught up in having the right worship, the best kids programs or mission work. They're sure that if the sanctuary is repainted or new carpet laid, it will be a game changer. They think if they can just find the right consultant or change process, they can "win the race". There's nothing to really say they won't, either.
But I wonder what it would look like if our churches focused not so much on the race (growth, stability and sustainability) and instead focused on relationships. Imagine a faith community that intentionally looks for new people to know. Instead of focusing on the finish line they are focused on the people around them and how to get to know them and develop real relationship with them. Can you imagine? Can you imagine a church where the people are more important than the programs? Or where conflicts take a back seat to real sharing of life, true life?
In this scenario, even if a church achieves some sense of self satisfaction that it has made progress toward some self selected 5 year startegic plan, have they been about the task of "testifying to the Gospel of God's grace?" If we could only "run our race" and be acutely aware of those also running and decide that, strategic plans be damned, we are going to get to know and love those around us, imagine what the church would be....