A Marathon Mentality for Ministry

The man of God needs to be ready for the long, hard race set before him

I like to sprint. I sometimes find myself falling subject to the tyranny of bigger/faster. Many years ago, a friend and mentor, told me, “Ministry is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” How right he was!


I was always better at sprinting than running long distance–back in the days when I actually ran…in high shcool. My wife, by way of contrast, was and is a marathon runner. One of the things that I’ve noticed as I have watched her run over the years is that she knows how to pace herself. I’m convinced that she runs the same speed through the entire race. There are so many illustrations that the Scriptures draw upon from the world of running to help us understand various aspects of the Christian life. So too, there are many illustrations that we can draw from the world of running to illustrate aspects of pastoral ministry.

As is true in the world of running, so too in the the world of ministry. I like to sprint. I sometimes find myself falling subject to the tyranny of bigger/faster. Many years ago, a friend and mentor, told me, “Ministry is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” How right he was! I’ve now been in ministry for almost a decade and have seen many walk off the track after sprinting for a while. Quitting the race betrays that some of these men had wrong motives for ministry. Some were intent on making a name for themselves. They were seeking to build a corporation rather than seeking to be faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ who is building His church. Others were not called into ministry by God but had slipped in through the cracks of the ecclesiastical system. The sprinting in which they were engaged may simply have been a sprinting that sought to keep up with those who were called by God. After all, when God calls men, He gifts men. Those who do not have gifts for ministry will sometimes employ whatever other gifts they have to keep up in ministry. This can all be part of a sprinting mentality.

Add to this the fact that a thousand voices have given us definitions of fruitfulness and success in ministry that come from their own personal achievements and methods rather than from God’s word. Over time, some of them have taken themselves out of the race because they were moving too fast and getting too big for the good of themselves and the church. Roland Barnes explains the value of pacing oneself in ministry when he says, “It’s hard to derail a slow moving train.” The quicker we’re moving, the more devastating the wreckage can, and often will, be.

So, how are those of us who are given to the tyranny of bigger/faster to adjust to the need to pace ourselves in ministry? Here are five fundamental things to keep in mind:

1. Learn to be content. Contentment in ministry is a secret of endurance in ministry. Pastors must learn to be content with what hand God has dealt them. It may be that He has not called them to the influence of so many around us that we admire in the public square. There is something wonderful about knowing that God has called most ministers to labor in obscurity–and there is nothing mundane about that fact. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is also faithful in much.” The Apostle Paul–who was more zealous than anyone for the growth of the Kingdom of God–wrote those all-important words, “For I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).

2. Learn to sit at the feet of Jesus. So many who are given to sprinting are also given to “a Martha spirit.” When things are not moving as quickly or as smoothly as we want, we grow frustrated. We get angry. We start to stand over Jesus and tell Him that He needs to give us others to help us serve. We start to view others as existing to serve our desires to achieve and accomplish in ministry. We need, by way of contrast, to develop “a Mary spirit.” While Martha was torn in every direction in service, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His word. We need to learn to pace ourselves in ministry by learning to sit at the feet of Jesus in the Scriptures. The more our souls are being fed by Christ, the more we will be ready to serve others with the right spirit and the right pacing in ministry.

3. Learn to diligently seek the Lord in prayer. Endurance in ministry comes from seeking the Lord in prayer. When we fail to do so–and instead take matters into our own hands–it never ends well. The history of Israel’s Kings is a history of what happens when the leaders of God’s church seek him or fail to do so. Our labors will be inevitably be frustrated when we sprint do ministry out of our own resources and efforts. The more we pull back and enter into the presence of God in prayer, the more we will be given the strength and wisdom to endure and finish the marathon. Seeking the Lord in prayer shows that we are depending on Him for the race.

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