Running to Renew

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.

Kory 214x300 Running to Renew

Kory

Clergy Health and Well-being: Running to Renew
by Kory Wilcoxson, M. Div., Christian Theological Seminary, 2001, Senior Minister, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington, KY

I remember the first step. It was a slow, stuttering one, but a step nonetheless. I had been walking on our treadmill everyday for about six months as a way of getting exercise that was a bit more rigorous than typing sermons.

On this particular day, as a way of fighting the intense boredom of walking in place and getting nowhere, I remember thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I ran?” So I kicked the treadmill up to brisker pace and began running. After about a quarter-mile, I shut down the treadmill and stumbled upstairs, thinking, “Well, I’ll never do THAT again!” When my wife saw me, she had already dialed 9 and 1 before I could tell her that I was going to be OK.

I concluded that running on the treadmill was about as exciting as walking, only more pointless and painful.

But the next time I was on the treadmill, I did it again. This time, I ran a half-mile. After a few more times of that, I built up to a full mile. I felt like I’d just run a marathon! Once the winter weather cleared, I moved my running regimen outside and discovered that running wasn’t as boring as I thought it was. I could take in the local scenery, listen to music and podcasts, and even start mentally outlining my next sermon.

As I continued running, I found that it offered much more than exercise and distraction. It became a discipline. This was a revelation for me because I’ve always struggled with this part of my faith. From seminary forward, I’ve been told that a vibrant spiritual life consists of things like sitting quietly or praying internally or even – gasp! – spending time in silence. No can do. I’m an extrovert and my spirituality is lived out, not kept in. I am fed through dialogue and conversation, praying with others and faith in action.

Running became a natural spiritual activity for me. Not only was I getting exercise and de-stressing, I was discovering within myself a capacity for focus and conversation with God that I had always struggled to attain through more traditional disciplines. I was, as Paul exhorted, running the race that was set before me (Heb. 12), and I was discovering new ways to connect with God: through the beauty of the creation around me, through a renewed focus on the rhythms of my own body, and through an internal dialogue that, ironically, I could never hear when I was being still.

Being a goal-oriented person, I was also tapping into a new source of energy. As my runs grew longer, my overall energy for work grew stronger. I was more motivated to tackle ministry tasks, knowing that a good run was waiting for me at the end of the day. I figured if I could survive a three-mile run, I could handle a sermon on one of Paul’s thornier theological statements.

The race I was running in ministry and the race I was running on the road began to meld together, and an accomplishment in one race was fuel for the other.

I use an app on my iPhone to track my runs, which helps me measure my progress. I can look back and see the first time I ran five miles (January 6, 2012) and the point at which I passed the 1000-mile mark on this running endeavor (on my 295th run). Just as my spiritual journey is marked with significant benchmarks, so is my running journey.

Last week, I ran my first half-marathon. If you had told me three years ago that I was going to do that, I would have laughed. But if you had told me in college that I was going to be a minister, I would have had the same reaction.

Isn’t this gift called life such an amazing journey? Who knows where God is calling us to go? Wherever it is, I know this: it starts with a single step. Have you taken yours?