Mr. Bob and I have just finished watching Amazon Prime’s World’s Toughest Race. 66 teams of five, four team members and an assistant, navigating over 500 kilometers/350 miles with nothing more than a map, a compass, and each other. Where the Ironman is an individual race, this is a team endeavor all the way. There are multiple checkpoints in the Eco-Challenge where they all engage in hiking, running, biking, swimming, paddle-boarding, repelling, rowing, sailing, rafting, climbing, and more all to be completed in eleven days hosted by Bear Grylls.

The co-ed teams are made up of various extreme sports athletes of various ages and stages in life. There is an 18 year old racing with his dad, a dad racing with his two daughters, men who have shared life in sports for more than 25 years, twin sisters, and even a dad with early onset Alzheimer’s racing with his son and two friends who is an icon in the Eco-Challenge community. The assistant team member provides clean clothes, racing equipment like mountain bikes, hot food, and all the cheering encouragement they have in them at each checkpoint to support the racing team members. Broken bones, concussions, cuts, boats falling apart in the dark, hypothermia, jungle rot, infections of every kind are treated by medical volunteers all along the way. If and when they cross the finish line the assistant team member is there to meet them and they cross over together. It takes planning, preparation, and sometimes sheer grit to finish the race. Their reward? A medal and I’m sure there’s a t-shirt in there somewhere. 

We in ministry with children and families are on the world’s toughest race. We are called to provide, secure, implement, and follow up the sharing of Jesus in multiple modalities, in multiple developmentally appropriate ways, in an unknown land, with nothing more than a map (Bible), a compass (prayer), and each other. Where many in the local church are just now trying to get their ministries off the ground after being on the sofa for almost six months, we’ve been at it like extreme athletes. We grieved for what was lost in April, we pivoted to build new servant-leader teams in May, we have the scars of repelling into summer on the sharp rocks in June, the weariness of rowing in rhythm in July, the hypothermia of frigid and frozen leadership in August, yet we continue to do what we didn’t even know we couldn’t do heading into fall.

Phone conversations with my peers this week included “I don’t want to be part of something that is dead,” “They called me and told me I share too many ideas in the staff zoom meeting, so I need to pull it back,” and “I feel I’m in a Whack-A-Mole game and all of my fellow staff members have a quarter.”

Hear me clearly….YOU were created for such a time as this! YOU were a Jesus-follower before you were a staff member, so you have permission to share the love of Jesus in whatever way possible on a personal level. Release any expectation you have for the people you are waiting to hear from. Really! Sing the song, “Let it go! Let it go!” Take a day and both grieve and celebrate the ministry you led before. Write it down. Look at the pictures. Then get up and go big by thinking small.

How do you go big by thinking small? Like the teams on The World’s Toughest race, there will be times to row, to climb, to swim, to hike, to bike, to eat, to rest, to keep going at multiple checkpoints in a new way. Keep moving. Only those who will speak life and live out innovation and creativity with a can-do, positive attitude and who are moving can speak into your life. Oh the eye-witness stories we have read and studied of that short season when Jesus led his closest disciples. He taught them, rebuked them, loved them, lived life with them, and died for them. We’ve been reading and studying those stories for two thousand years and people have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus because of them.

Jesus healed one at a time. Jesus taught most effectively in small groups. He walked. He slept. He ate. He laughed. He prayed. He took time alone, then because of His compassion, He lingered with the lonely, the wandering, and the lost.

For those in large churches…. think old school and lots of really small groups. Jesus’ smallest group was three: Two Sons of Thunder and the one who said, “Lord, if it’s you, call me out on the water.” A small group and in a small amount of time, they rocked the world for Jesus! No bells and whistles (technology). They used what was in their hands like fishing, stories of fiery furnaces, eye-witness testimony, a boy’s lunch, dreams and visions as they met along the way (parks, driveways, parking lots, text messages, phone calls, postcards, notes, and chalked neighborhoods.)

1. What’s in your hand? (Exodus 4:2)
2. Who’s on your team? (Matthew 18:20)

Sonja Wieck, a multi-Ironman competitor, heard about “the race that eats Ironman for breakfast.” She took it as a personal challenge. I won’t tell you what happened, but something she said stopped me in my tracks, “I was made to do hard things.” 

Because YOU love the Lord YOUR God with all YOUR heart, soul, mind, and strength and love YOUR neighbor as yourself….. go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. YOUR world. It’s not going to be easy, but you were called for such a time as this and you can do hard things especially among the remnant of the exiles.

The World’s Toughest Race is not easy and we run our race for so much more than a medal and a t-shirt. Just think of the stories of God’s faithfulness you will have doing hard things! Let’s give ’em something to talk about for years to come! Because WE WERE CREATED TO DO HARD THINGS. I’m on your team and I’m cheering you on! And I’ve just placed an order for new t-shirts.

“My zeal wears me out.” Psalm 119:139a