Recently I ran a 10k with my pregnant wife. When we signed up for the race in Orlando, Cassidy wasn’t pregnant. After checking with her obstetrician, we decided that it would be fine for her to “walk” the race. We would walk it together.
This was a challenge because we tried to keep a certain pace. We wanted to finish the race before organizers shut it down and we wanted to receive the medal. We had to earn it, but to earn it, we had to keep our focus on the goal. As we learned along the route, this required a lot of self-control.
With about a mile left to go, we talked about how we had done so much of the race and we didn’t want to stop there. We wanted to keep going, looking for the prize.
This race was not about winning or being first. We were nowhere near first place. It was about finishing well. It was still nice to receive a medal and a T-shirt.
Before this 10K I had forgotten how supportive people are in these events. They stand by the race path shouting “You can do it!” and “You’re doing great!” It was encouraging for us to hear those words from the running community.
“How good would it be we if saw this kind of encouragement more often at church!” I said to Cassidy.
The apostle Paul used sports references a few times in his letters, including running and boxing.
The church in Corinth would have been familiar with sporting events. The city was the home of the Isthmian games, a simple version of the Olympic games, writer David J. Williams pointed out. They knew what Paul was talking about when running a race or boxing for a prize. They probably saw winners wearing the “perishable wreath” of leaves on their heads.
Paul tells us as followers of Christ to be similarly focused and disciplined. This race is not a sprint, it is one of endurance. How nice it is when we are encouraged by other runners to keep on running!
We see the churches struggling with people leaving because they can’t find an encouraging community. It may be hard for new people at church to connect with the members. They may feel discouraged and fall by the wayside.
That is also true for old church members. When encouragement is not part of the life of the church, it can be hard for people to want to be part of that community. Even long-time members can feel discouraged from serving and engaging with the church.
Just as the running community’s encouragement made me and my wife want to push forward and made us happy to be part of that community, so it should be with the church. How great it would be if the congregation were so encouraging that people would think, “I want to keep running with them! I am thankful for being in this community!”
The fellowship of believers is an opportunity we have for that. And as we receive encouragement from people, we have the chance to encourage others. Paul also had something to say about it: He tells us that we should encourage one another by helping to build up one another in Christ (Eph. 4:15-16).
Cassidy and I agreed that we need more of these uplifting conversations at church. We should encourage one another and help those following Christ to continue the race. If runners can do it, so can the community of believers.
As we shout to those around us “You can do this,” we know that the Holy Spirit is empowering us all to keep running this race!
Andrei Marinho is youth and discipleship pastor at FBC Sesser and a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Seminary.