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Running to Win

Written on September 2nd, 2014

Running

We are entering a new school year today. Vacations are memory. Back-to-School sales are finally done. The students are here!

We school leaders need to be ready once more but are we? Are we genuinely excited or are we anxious about how the year will turn out? Are we enthused about the next year or already tinged with worry about the challenges this year may bring? As school leaders, we do set the tone of anticipation with our staff and the school community.

The apostle Paul speaks of running a race in his leadership role for Christ. Three times in Scripture he describes himself as an athlete on a race course. In Acts 20:24, he says his aim is “to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.” Later in life, he shares with Timothy that I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Many of us have embraced the image of racing for God and the one-year cycles we have in schooling certainly helps us think in terms of another lap for Christ! Paul speaks of Christian running that race when he states: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” But before I commend you on the next lap of your leadership race, let’s consider the mindset we need to have before we begin!

Do we run “to win” or do we run “not to lose”?[1] Coaches often need to shake their players up during a difficult game with a challenge like this one. It may be a tough game and honour is on the line. Remember the Canadian Junior Hockey team that had the Russians 5-1 at the end of the second period with gold medals waiting for them in 20 minutes! The Canadians played prepared to coast to victory in that last period. The surprising Russians came on the ice playing to win and they did! Five unanswered goals and the gold went to them!

What does “playing not to lose” mean for school leaders?

Playing not to lose in Christian education can be as fatal as it proved to be for the Canadian junior team. The first casualty of such playing is our confidence in our ability. We don’t trust ourselves, our teams and our community to come through in the end. The second casualty is our team play. We resort to individual play to single-handedly pull out the victory forgetting so quickly that the team (community) strategy got us where we are. The third could be tolerance. We have sharp words for those who are not contributing in our minds. The tolerance for each other’s unique contributions has dissipated. Everything breaks down when it should have been a pleasure to build up the school together.

The more we play not to lose in Christian education, we let go of the ultimate truth of our situation. Playing hard not to lose really exposes our lack of faith in God and in His ability to bless us in our leadership challenges. He has gifted us with professional insight and surrounded us with a community of co-workers. Perhaps Paul is speaking to us in this moment when he says in Galatians 5:7, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?”

Who or what is cutting in on our confidence to keep us away from full and fearless engagement? Can a deficit budget really do that on the first day of school? A declining enrolment when we have so many other eager students already in the school? What would the pioneers of our schools say to us? Did those first board members, teachers and principals know something about playing to win? Those first sending families who had no other working model of behaviours except what the Lord placed on their heart!

Listen again to the encouragement from Scripture in Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Go, teams go!

[1] I wish to thank one of the participants who attended the recent ELDI session in Orillia this summer. Matthew Bekkering, from Lethbridge, Alberta, used this expression during one of our wrap up conversations.