I ran competitively for years … but that was years ago. In my prime, I won my share of 5K and 10K road races. I’ve continued to run as I’ve gotten older, but haven’t logged the miles to be in the top tier of my age group, much less to be at the very front.
This year during spring break, my family stayed at a getaway place that held a 5K run for their guests, so I decided to enter. Much to my surprise, I actually won. I had so much fun that I decided to enter a 5K in our community a couple weeks later. I knew this one would have many more participants and that I had no chance to win, but I figured I would be competitive in my age group. So on a beautiful spring morning, I lined up near the front of a mob of several hundred people, started strong, and … struggled at the end, just one of many middle-aged people trudging toward the finish line. My time was actually a few seconds faster than at spring break, but the results were quite different.
I think there’s a leadership lesson (or two) in this experience. It felt great to cross the finish line first in that spring break 5K. Many ministry leaders rarely, if ever, have that feeling of victory, of stopping after a season in which they ran hard and hearing others say “Way to go!” We need some of those moments. But the second lesson comes from the recognition that my first 5K race was not a real challenge. We need to spend most of our leadership energy in races that push us to grow to our full potential and that require us to rely on God. I’d rather give my best to a big challenge and fall a little short than cruise through life tackling easy goals.
That leads to the final lesson: don’t overestimate your own abilities, and don’t under-estimate God. I clearly had a false perception of my readiness to compete in a large race, and I’ve seen ministry leaders who likewise have gotten into trouble because of their inflated opinions of their capacity to lead. At the same time, if God is truly leading us, no race is too big and no mountain is too high. Ultimately, we’re responsible for preparing for the race (which means plenty of hard work beforehand), showing up to the starting line ready to go, and giving our best when the gun goes off. The rest is up to God.