Thursday, December 15, 2011

Goal achieving…

When I began running regularly, again, sometime mid-July, I didn’t have a specific goal in mind. Yes, I told myself I’d- maybe- train to join my brother-in-law for a triathlon. A small one. June 2012. Perhaps. We’ll see, though, if I’m still running in a month, I said. After all, it wasn’t the first time I’d tried a new exercise routine…

Well, it turns out that this time, it worked. As I write this, I’m preparing to run a half-marathon tomorrow. It’s not an organized event, mind you. Simply me and my headphones, running up and down Theodore Wirth Boulevard on my day off. I’ll run a route I planned that, Google maps assures me, is 13.1 miles. And the rest of the day, I’ll sit on my couch with ice packs nearby!

What’s funny to me, as I (nervously) anticipate tomorrow, is that this goal only came about gradually, after I began running. At first, I said, “I’ll ‘run’ to the end of the block and take a break.” Soon, it became, “Once I’ve gone 5 kilometers without stopping, I’ll buy a legit pair of running shoes.” (The initial pair was a Payless special- right price, poor for the knees). Only gradually did I begin wanting to go farther and dream bigger. My wife once ran a half-marathon, years ago. When I first heard that, I thought, “Sweetheart, you’re wonderful, but that’s crazy!” Until I found myself running too, getting farther and farther each time. The idea somehow emerged, then, “If she did it, maybe I can too!”

How do we go about setting and then achieving goals? And as Christians, do we ever set goals for growth in our own spiritual fitness? I’m sure some who’ve run marathons or half-marathons, or other such events, began with the idea itself: I’m running a marathon. They then tailored all their efforts to the task, beginning to end. But for me, it took baby steps (pun unintended). Indeed, my goal setting increased only as my endurance and confidence increased. And I wonder whether I’d be preparing for tomorrow if, from the get-go, I planned on this day.

Maybe. Certainly, that works for some. But this experience has helped me appreciate the value of incrementalism. That it’s not a failure of imagination, confidence or courage if you begin by setting a small goal, uncertain whether you’ll ever attempt more, simply content with where you’re at now and the slight progress you hope to achieve. In fact, as I reflect on, say, a challenge many small churches face, it feels similar- the pressure they feel, internal and external, to get bigger, to grow. Which isn’t a bad thing; indeed, I pray we too grow as a church! But one way many small churches respond to this pressure is taking on too much too fast. They’ll say, “We need to grow like that church down the street,” when that church down the street is 5, 10, 50 times their size. Thus, when they don’t find some magic bullet that makes worship attendance explode immediately, a tsunami of blaming or guilt can overwhelm the church, drowning their energy, deluging their confidence.

But what if, instead, they said, “We may never look like that church down the street. Nevertheless, what we do is faithful and important, and we want a few others to join the team.” Then, they set a simple goal- each member tell one person (whom they’ve never told!) about why they love their church. After which, maybe, they invite another person to join them on Sunday. And perhaps it continues, with a goal of leading just three new families to join, next year. That’s not a spiritual marathon, certainly, but momentum can build.

I suspect that same incremental goal setting might help more individual pursuits too: increasing your prayer life, Bible reading, charitable giving, your compassion. Even the greatest runners, surely, began slowly, simply, over short distances. And more to the point, even those who run a mile-a-day and will never dream of marathons are still healthier, happier, more energetic, I’d bet, than they’d be otherwise. And that’s a good goal, indeed.

Grace and Peace,


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