“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion also wakes up and knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – African Proverb
Worship ministry is a race we run daily. The question we must ask as we hit the ground running is, “Am I running a smart, healthy race of endurance or am I running a lack of training race that will eventually lead to burnout or dropout?”
Since we live in a culture that values motion as a sign of significance we often assume ministry must emulate a similar pace. It is unhealthy, however, and even arrogant when we run as if it is all up to us, as though it wouldn’t get done if we didn’t do it, as if our efforts are indispensable to God and as if our entire relationship with Him depended on it.
Scripture offers a great running metaphor that provides five encouraging tips to those of us in this worship ministry race. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
“Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,”
Running with others offers encouragement, motivation, pace and accountability. It is much easier to go farther when you are running with others. One of the most meaningful motivators for runners competing in a race is the crowd that lines the street to cheer them on.
Let that “great cloud of witnesses” of your immediate family, church family, friends and peers surround your worship leadership. If you allow them in they will encourage and cheer you on. Many of those partners have already gone before you paving the way and modeling what endurance looks like.
“Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us,”
Hurdling hurdles sounds redundant, but hurdlers don’t jump, they hurdle. Jumping is vertical so it requires more exertion and causes more hang-time, slowing the pace of the hurdler. Hurdling is horizontal, minimizes exertion and snaps the feet of the runner back on the track as quickly as possible.
Even when we run a smart race and lead worship collaboratively we will still face hurdles. We all know the big three ministry failures… moral, ethical and legal. These failures will not only sideline ministry but can completely derail it. Others often overlooked that can be just as devastating are pride, selfishness and laziness. The key is to get our feet back on track as quickly as possible. So if the same dog is chasing you every time you run, then it’s time to select a different route.
“And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
“Bonking” or “Hitting the Wall” is something every runner dreads. Distance runners have to push themselves beyond their level of comfort to log the miles necessary to compete. If you don’t do the roadwork, the minute the pace quickens, the incline increases or the terrain gets treacherous you will be tempted to quit.
Worship leading endurance is being able to continue despite stress, fatigue, pain and conflict because you’ve done the roadwork ahead of time. A famous critic once called a great violinist of the nineteenth century a genius. In reply to this, the violinist declared, “Genius! For 37 years I’ve practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me genius.”
“Who for the joy set before Him endured”
Fartlek is not a middle school bodily function joke. It is a running term of Swedish origin that literally means “speed play.” Running fartleks involves varying your pace throughout the run. Alternating between sprints and slow jogs increases both endurance and speed. Running fartleks is a fun way to give new life to monotonous training runs as well as rigorous speed intervals.
If the worship leadership race you are running has become tedious and you are constantly sprinting without ever allowing yourself a chance to catch your breath, you need to lighten up and again experience the joy of worship. Even though leading worship often requires intense seasons of going all-out, it also requires margins of recovery if you intend to finish well.
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus,”
You can’t see the finish line from the beginning of the race. Considering the length of a distance run at the beginning of the race is essential for determining pace. But dwelling on the distance throughout the entire race can be daunting and could lead to burnout or dropout before the race is completed.
In an effort to pace themselves incrementally, runners often focus on an object that can be seen ahead such as a telephone pole, mailbox or house. They run to that object and then focus on another object ahead and repeat that pattern over and over until the race is completed.
We can only finish this worship leadership race if we run it incrementally by fixing our eyes on Jesus. Fixing our eyes on Jesus helps us not to dwell so much on the end result that we miss the in-betweens. Fixing our eyes on Jesus helps us lead worship with contentment instead of comparison. And fixing our eyes on Jesus helps us depend on the author and perfecter of our faith, not our talent and platform presence alone.
The author of Hebrews continues with these thoughts, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11).
Dr. David Manner is the Associate Executive Director for the Kansas Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. His convention responsibilities include worship consultation and leadership development. Before joining the convention staff in 2000, David served for 20 years in music/worship ministry with congregations in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. David writes for various online and print publications and can be followed on Twitter @DWManner or on his Worship Evaluation Blog: http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner.