This run club is running for a higher purpose
Simon loves to run. He says passion is the best starting point for meeting other people and building community.
There are five people inducted into the BT Run Club’s “Hall of Pain”. They’re people who’ve truly encapsulated the club’s motto: “Run with endurance”, and they’re presented the award at the annual “Black Toenail” ceremony (black toe nails are a rather nasty sounding, common running injury).
Running is hard, says the club’s founder Simon Elliot. But it’s a great metaphor for the Christian life. And that’s fitting, because the BT Run Club is an initiative of Perth’s The Big Table church. And Simon Elliot is a minister who just happens to relish long distance running, black toenails and all.
“We’ll often talk about our tagline, ‘run with endurance’ which is from Hebrews 12:1. The notion of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ is helpful when speaking to someone about to run in a race, and you can say there’s this whole cloud of people who want you to do well. That verse isn’t about running, but it’s got such application to runners.”
“I’m a runner, I run anyway. So I thought, what if I start inviting other people to run with me? If you’re running anyway, the weight that you hang on it doesn’t need to be that heavy. What if no one turns up? It cost me nothing.”
BT Run Club started almost at the same time as The Big Table church, says Simon, in 2010. The club is ultimately a series of running sessions through the week, offering opportunities from learning to run from “couch to 5km” to preparing for a marathon.
From the very beginning, Simon says The Big Table was “intentional” both in its relationship with God and its relationships with other people. It doesn’t want to be a big church. When it gets to 50 or 60 people, it plants another group. The first church, which Simon oversees, is in South Perth. Another church has been planted in Carlisle, a little further west, and another is in the works.
Within the church, Simon says he’s encouraged each person to discover what their “thing” is and add a “missional impulse” to it.
“I grew up with an understanding of ‘outreach’ that’s like we do things that we’ve never had any actual interest in and then try and get other people interested in it too, for the sake of the gospel.”
Instead, he wants his church to do things they’re already passionate about, figure out how to include more people in those interests and “use that to glorify God”.
He challenged his church to write down a bunch of people they were in relationships with who didn’t know Jesus.
“You always hope or imagine that the impact of a ministry will be instant and extensive. But, like so many other relationship builders, it’s slow work.”
“The lists were really short. I think the older you get the more focused you become on people who look like you, think like you, gather like you. And if you’ve been in church a long time, they tend to also be people who go to church. But we want to create spaces to attract people who don’t know Jesus, not so we can turn them into Jesus followers tomorrow, but so we can love them.”
Simon has a background in competitive running, but says he’d never considered it as a missional space. But he’s leading by example.
“Sometimes the best things are incredibly obvious.
“I’m a runner, I run anyway. So I thought, what if I start inviting other people to run with me? If you’re running anyway, the weight that you hang on it doesn’t need to be that heavy. What if no one turns up? It cost me nothing. I’d do it anyway.”
The “thing” itself – whether it’s a running club or a motorcycle club, a community garden or a writer’s collective (all of which The Big Table are dabbling in at the moment) – doesn’t have to be huge, says Simon. If it’s already significant to someone, they’ll want to do it anyway.
“It’s not the ‘what’, it’s the ‘why’ that matters.”
The “missional impulse” is the why. Simon describes it as “a desire and readiness to share Jesus with others”.
“While I’m walking down to meet the runners of a morning, I ask Jesus to open my eyes to any opportunity to show people his love. That opportunity might not be proclaiming the gospel in a full and complete way. It might just be hearing someone, listening to someone, showing compassion.
“The great thing about the run club is it’s not an event. It’s three or four times a week. There are continual opportunities because you’ve got relationships with people.”
The run club has introduced several people to church over the last five years. “A few have been baptised from the run club,” says Simon.
The run club isn’t bait and switch. Simon doesn’t give mini sermons whilst hitting the pavement. But Jesus is the primary motive for the club, and he’s upfront about that. “The reason we’ve started it is to meet people and come across as many opportunities as possible to love them.
“You always hope or imagine that the impact of a ministry will be instant and extensive. But, like so many other relationship builders, it’s slow work.
“A lot of it, just like running itself, is just turning up. Once you turn up, then stuff might happen. But nothing will happen if you just stand still.”