One Course, Two Kinds of Runners

By Mark A. Taylor

Wayne Smith was entertaining the banquet crowd at the Energizing Smaller Churches conference in Cincinnati this spring. The retired minister of Southland Christian Church in Lexington told about a conversation with his former secretary.

“Any differences between me and the new guy?”

“Well, he hands me his sermon to type by Tuesday,” she answered.

“Tuesday?” Smith replied. “Why, I didn’t even pray till Thursday!”

I wouldn’t presume to compare myself to Wayne Smith. But I think he and I have one thing in common. We both work close to the deadline.

Here at Christian Standard we give each week’s issue to the printer on Tuesday. The copy is edited a couple weeks ahead of that to give time for proofreading and page design. All of it, that is, except this column.

Most weeks I’m writing the editorial on Friday. Or Sunday at home. Or Monday. Without fail the managing editor has my column to slip into the proof every Tuesday morning so far. If I ever have a car wreck or appendicitis on a Monday, we may be in trouble.

I know this isn’t good. Sam Stone’s approach was better. When he was handing me the reins, he said he always wrote his editorials ahead. “I didn’t want to walk into the office knowing I had to write an editorial that day,” he said. He hated it. I sheepishly admit that kind of pressure usually energizes me.

Kennon Callahan, the church growth consultant, has labels for people like Wayne Smith and Sam Stone. Some people, he says, are sprinters, racing toward the goal at the last minute. Others are marathon runners, planning their work and parceling it out over the days till it’s due.

You know which label applies to you. And, if you’re married, I’m guessing we’d tag your spouse with the other. Opposites attract, they say.

But this isn’t always true for a ministry team or church staff. Sometimes the different styles breed conflict instead of harmony among those who must work together.

The sprinter is bored by the reams of flow charts and planning sheets and calendar pages created by the marathon runner. The marathon runner is frustrated by the eleventh hour brainstorms and changes foisted on the group by the sprinter.

The two collaborate best when they acknowledge the problems with their own approach and see the good in the opposite. Every sprinter must learn to plan. And marathon runners must be open to last minute changes in the course.

Some tasks are more suited to one style than the other, but few healthy churches will be built by sprinters or marathon runners alone. I’m glad we’re running with Wayne Smith and Sam Stone. To win the race, we need both.

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