Youth Ministry for the Long Haul: Marathon or Sprints?


[This post is part of the Youth Ministry 101 series] Runners

I've never really understood why people like running; some athletes get punished by running and runners choose to do it for fun.  In running there are two basic types of running, either long distance or sprints.  Both of these types of running are very accurate metaphors for youth ministry.  In order to be healthy leaders, we need to learn how to lead with both of these concepts in mind.

Youth Ministry as Marathon

Marathon runners put themselves through torture as they run races that are often over 25 miles long.  There are a few things that marathon runners do to make themselves successful.  They train and they pace themselves. Marathon runners put many hours into building up their running muscle so that when it comes to the actual marathon they want to have the endurance to last the entire race.  They also realize that a marathon is significantly different than a sprint; in order to maintain their energy for the duration of they race, they pace themselves.  As we minister to students, it is critical that we spend time preparing ourselves for the marathon of youth ministry and that we pace ourselves to last.

"Quick departures have a lot to do with inaqdequate preparation and unrealistic expectations.  But like running, setting the proper pace assures long-term results and your ability to finish strong...Youth ministry is a race that requires both training and endurance." - Doug Fields

Youth Ministry as Sprints

Sprinting on the other hand is not about lasting a long time.  A sprinter will, for a short period of time, push themselves to their potential and then shortly later stop, rest, and recover.  While running a marathon is about pacing yourself so that you can continue running for long periods of time, sprinting is about working as hard as possible for a short time and then stepping back to recover.  Sprinting is as much about the running as it is about the recovery.

Youth Ministry is filled with seasons.  After a short time in youth ministry, you will quickly notice that certain times of the year are consistently busier, while others are a great opportunity to recover.  A sprinter cannot be successful if they move from sprint to sprint without resting.  A youth worker also cannot move from season to season continually running without stepping back back.  Both athletes and youth workers are in the business of energy management.

"Sprinters typically look powerful, busting with energy and eager to push themselves to their limits.  The explanation is simple.  No matter the demand they face, the finish line is clearly visible 100 or 200 meters down the track.  We, too, must learn to live our own lives as a series of sprints - fully engaging for periods of time, and then fully disengaging and seeking renewal before jumping back into the fray to face whatever challenges confront us." - The Power of Full Engagement

Photo Credit: mtsofan

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