There’s an old runner I know who recently shared a story that I think will be helpful for churches that desire to be healthy. (Actually, it probably would be helpful for all communities: neighborhoods, other faith communities, etc., but this is the Slow CHURCH blog after all and our audience here is mostly Christian).
Humility – Setbacks, like the injuries that the Old Runner experienced, are part of life. If we want to be healthy, we must accept this reality, and bounce back slowly and painfully after setbacks, and keep pursuing health. Also, it’s important not to compare ourselves or to try to compete with others, and especially others that are in very different health and situations than we are (e.g., the young runners that the Old Runner thought he could beat).
Preparation – The Old Runner’s injuries reminded him, and particularly as an OLD runner whose muscles just weren’t as flexible as they used to be, that he always needed to prepare carefully before running by stretching his muscles and especially those in his legs. For churches, many of the things we do that don’t seem like we’re doing anything — say prayer, or grieving with those who grieve, or studying scripture, or engaging in conversations about theology or discernment — are actually very important as preparation for our action as a community in the world, and like the Old Runner, we may be setting ourselves up for setbacks if we’re not attentive to the ways in which we prepare ourselves. (I realize that the metaphor breaks down a little here, as the things I described above are important of themselves, and although they help us prepare, they are not merely preparation)
Vigilant Attentiveness – The Old Runner found as he resumed running, that he had to be attentive to his every footstep, learning the lay of the land, and steering clear of even tiny depressions or rises in the land. This attentiveness, of course, had to be secondary to the main task of running; he couldn’t be captivated by the ground and stop to gaze at it, but the Old Runner knew painfully well what happened when he didn’t pay attention to every footstep. Similarly, as we do things as a church community, we need to be attentive to what’s going on around us, even small “bumps in the road” can cause substantial pain if we don’t see them coming.
Tenacity – This lesson goes hand-in-hand with humility. When you know what you are called to do, keep at it even when there are setbacks or stoppages. Learn to bounce back after complications or even failure. Or in the spirit of diversity, consider the other sorts of related activities will help you be more healthy in general and also may reinforce your efforts in any particular area.
Economic Creativity – The Old Runner came to realize that although it didn’t seem he had the money to do so, he probably could find a way to replace those pesky beat-up shoes that amplified the injuries he was having in his legs. There are always plenty of resources to do what is healthy. We may have to get creative or to make sacrifices, but the resources are always there. I don’t have the space to explore this in depth here, but there are a host of opportunities for churches to generate resources, from special fundraising campaigns to renting out space in the church building or on its land to starting initiatives that engage neighbors and generate income (coffeehouse, restaurant, home repairs, the possibilities are endless!)
These virtues that the Old Runner is painfully learning are essential to the health and well-being of communities, and especially churches. What other virtues must we cultivate as we slow down and seek to be more faithful communities of God’s people in our particular places?
Image Credit: Paul Holloway, Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons.