Church on the Run

In the chill of winter 2020, I began a regular Saturday tradition, one that always seems to crack people up: I started running with a bunch of dads. Specifically, with Eric, Mark, and Tyler—Eric, a dad of three and pastor of mission and outreach of my church here in Kent plus Mark and Tyler, who are also on staff as part of our teaching team and production team and each have two small, adorable children. Running with Eric, Mark, and Tyler has become not only one of my favorite and fun parts of my week, but recently, I’ve to see at one of my most spiritually formative, too.

I was explaining to a friend that running with Eric, Mark, and Tyler has unintentionally yielded some deep, transformative conversations, particularly since we began running together at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve discussed everything from Donald Trump to Mark Driscoll, the merits of NBA basketball and the merits of smoked paprika in recipes. We’ve discussed vaccines and masks and city life and small town living. We’ve run through snow, pouring rain, and sweltering heat. We’ve run half-marathons and three-quarters marathons. We’ve discussed the deaths of loved ones, the reality of our own deaths. We’ve seen the end of marriages and celebrated new life. We’ve literally covered a lot of ground.

When I think about my time running with Eric, Mark, and Tyler, I am thankful for the miles we’ve run together, the friendship we’ve formed, and the ways they’ve both intentionally and unknowingly shepherded me through one of the most remarkable ages of my life. While running on Saturday mornings probably doesn’t count towards Eric or Tyler or Mark’s ministry hours, they certainly could, for that’s what it has often been for me.

Being a part of a church community, I’ve learned, looks a lot like Saturday morning long runs. Sometimes the conditions are optimal, other times you have to endure some harsh weather that causes literal blood, sweat, and tears. Some days the course is easy and flat, other times you must grit your teeth and count on your friends to help encourage you up the hill. Some days your stride feels strong, other days you barely make it through the miles. Some days you have wisdom to offer, other days, only more questions. To be a part of a church community is all of these things: we take on the good and the bad, the triumphant and the painful, and we take it on together.

I am grateful for Eric, Mark, and Tyler: my brothers in Christ who love a good long run, too. When I think about the ministry they’ve provided during our long runs, I think about the writings of Eugene Peterson: a pastor who understood the local, personal work of shepherding. In the recent book The Pastor: A Memoir, Peterson words are shared as follows:

“The pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God—this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful “without ceasing.” I want to give witness to this way of understanding pastor, a way that can’t be measured or counted, and often isn’t even noticed. I didn’t notice for a long time. I would like to provide dignity to this essentially modest and often obscure way of life in the kingdom of God. Along the way, I want to insist that there is no blueprint on file for becoming a pastor. In becoming one, I have found that it is a most context-specific way of life: the pastor’s emotional life, family life, experience in the faith, and aptitudes worked out in an actual congregation in the neighborhood in which she or he lives—these people just as they are, in this place.”

With Eric, Mark, and Tyler, I have gotten the sense and received the gift of feeling that our Saturday long runs are not solely schedule to just “get the thing done,” but also to be together. As we run through our local place—Kent, Ohio—I feel grateful to know we are all also running for more than a future race in Akron or Philadelphia or the CVNP; we are running towards something bigger, too.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12: 1-3)

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