Noticings – February 28, 2024

Sweaty Evangelism
“Oh, it wasn’t for church…”

Last weekend we visited our son in Ottawa to celebrate his 30th birthday. It was a great weekend featuring an art gallery, skating at city hall, and a couple of lovely dinners out. Our weekend concluded with a brunch with some of our wonderful old Ottawa friends that we met when I did my ministry internship there. At that brunch I witnessed one of the most impressive expressions of evangelism I’ve ever seen. Oh, it wasn’t for church – it was for running!

My son and I are both runners (although he is much quicker than me), and so is this family we brunched with. Back when we hung out with them more they were more casual runners, like me. We’d do the odd half-marathon or 10K, sometimes together, but it came and went. In the past few years this family has caught the running bug and have become somewhat avid. One decided that they’d like to stretch to marathon distance, so it became a family training party. Another goal was to do a half-marathon each month for a year. This, of course, involves travelling to warm and sunny places in the winter to do these runs – which is part of the allure of it.

One person at the table, whose partner is a runner, nonchalantly said they’d like to run more but they worry about a slightly sore knee when they run. Cue the evangelism! We were regaled with story after story of wonderful races in beautiful places, of the shared joy of committing to a goal and seeing it through, and of ways to nurse minor injuries and continue training.

Two things in particular caught my attention. One was the confession that they didn’t really love the training part all that much – the sweat, the monotony, the early mornings – but it was all worth it when you achieve your goals, and do the races, and spend time together. The second thing was the pure elation they exuded of experiencing the warmth and depth of the supportive community that forms around running races. The course is lined with strangers enthusiastically cheering you on and wishing you well. And fellow racers are generous with encouragement, aid, advice, and camaraderie.

Our friends gushed about the joys of running for about an hour. But – there was not a single “you ought to” do this, or “if you don’t you’ll” whatever. This sweaty evangelism had no guilt, and no threat. There were no false promises of an easy road. There was nothing but pure joy and experience being shared, and inviting the other into sharing in the joy they felt. I literally said out loud, “If churches evangelized about faith as hard as y’all have been evangelizing about running our churches would be full!”

It even worked on me! I’ve been slowly finding my running legs again in the last couple of months and their passion and enthusiasm has inspired me to dig in a little harder and aim for a half-marathon again this year. Passion and enthusiasm are infectious. What are you passionate and enthusiastic about? Might it be church? If so, I hope you will take someone to brunch very soon!