Lessons from an Ironman

By Peter Meier   |  August 15, 2017

Our son, Daniel, completed his first Ironman on July 23 in Lake Placid, NY. The Ironman is a Triathlon covering a total of 140.6 miles – First you swim 2.4 miles, then you bike 112 miles, and finally you run a marathon, 26.2 miles. As we watched him train and prepare for the Ironman, and as we cheered him on during the competition, I realized that there were lessons here which correlate to church planting and starting new ministries.

I wasn’t alone in learning or thinking of these lessons. While Kathy and I watched and cheered Daniel, we were joined by his wife, Jessica, his one-year old son, Jack, Jess’s sister, Sara, and her one year old Levi, and also her parents, John and Connie Denninger. As we watched and talked and shared before, during and after the Ironman, we realized that we had learned some powerful lessons for life, for mission, for multiplication. Here they are:

The work begins long before race day. At least a year before race day, the athlete visualizes the goal and develops his plan to achieve his goal. Daniel researched and developed a timeline and task list (training plan). Successful church planters and mission leaders start with the goal in mind, and develop a detailed timeline and task list to achieve their goal.

Never attempt this alone! Successful athletes seek and use the support of a coach, a team, and their family throughout a year of training and preparation. Jessica’s support, encouragement and sacrificing through a long year of training was vital for Daniel to reach his goal. While the rest of the family sometimes thought he was crazy, yet encouraged him from a distance, he and Jessica worked as a team – everyday. Daniel was also blessed with a coach and connected with a team, the MMRF and BASE Performance teams. While church planters are the lead person in a new start, they cannot be a lone ranger. Support of a spouse and family, larger team and a coach is vital.

Proper Nutrition is Essential. Throughout his training, and especially on race day, Daniel paid careful attention to his nutrition. Nutrition makes a huge difference when it comes to endurance in such a long race. Church planters and mission leaders know that proper spiritual nutrition is essential for the long-haul. Time spent with the Lord, in Scripture and prayer, in worship with other believers, and receiving the Lord’s Supper is absolutely necessary for endurance.

In it for the Long Haul. 140.6 miles is a long race. Daniel finished in 10 hours and 42 minutes. The professional Ironmen took just over 8 hours. The final finishers took as long as 17 hours. No matter how you look at it, it’s a long day of competition. Not to mention the long days and weeks and months beforehand of preparation. The long view is needed. Finishers take their final big steps based on lots of little steps in preparation and training. Each little step is one step closer to the goal. Church planters must be in it for the long haul. The planning, the recruiting, the discipling, the training, the launching, the growing – the long view is required!

Transitions are Critical. The transitions between the swim and the bike, and between the biking and the run are all important. You don’t want to waste a moment. Daniel prepared his transitions carefully and executed them precisely. Church planters realize that transitions from the dream or conception stage to the planning or pre-natal stage to the launch or birth stage to the growth or adolescent stage to the reproducing or multiplication stage all require careful planning and execution.

Fundraising is required. For an amateur athlete, costs are involved which require raising funds… equipment, nutrition, clothing and gear can be quite expensive. Daniel also joined the MMRF Team (Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation) which required fundraising. Creativity, technical support, and hard work are involved! He used social networking, family and friend relationships, Jessica’s Lutheran School (St. Matthew’s Lutheran, Walled Lake MI) and more to gather the needed funds. He raised over $10,200 for MMRF, thanks to many supporters. Church Planters and their teams also use every available network and relationship to gather needed funds for their new start. Mother churches, Partner churches, crowdfunding, their District, family and friends are all part of their financial support.

It can be Brutal. The first leg of the Triathlon is the swim. When nearly 3000 swimmers are released, wave after wave after wave, you can imagine all those strong bodies bumping, kicking, punching, pushing their way through the water. Church planting can be brutal too. Sometimes the bumping and punching and pushing comes from area churches who are threatened by a new church. Sometimes it comes from other pastors and lay leaders who have different ideas of what a new start should be. Sometimes hits come from launch team members who leave and financial supporters who pull back.

Cheering and Encouragement Makes a Difference. We brought our cow-bells along, and I nearly lost my voice cheering the athletes on. As a family group, we came together on the hour throughout the day to pray for Daniel, for energy and endurance, for safety and protection, for focus to compete and finish strong. And we cheered for everyone – not just our Dan! That’s the whole idea – a whole host of cheerleaders along the way gives encouragement and new energy to the Ironmen. Church planters need encouragement! They need a cheer section! People from the sending church, from partner churches, pastors, friends and family can all make a difference by praying, sharing words of encouragement and faith, showing up, helping to promote. Never underestimate the power of encouragement!

The Finish Line Welcome is Huge! At Lake Placid, as the athletes near the finish line, they enter the Olympic Speed Skating Oval where Eric Heiden took home five gold medals for the US in the 1980 Olympics. As they come around the corner of the oval, the crowd cheers, claps, rings their cowbells, bangs their BAM Sticks or hands against the sides of the track stands. The excitement and thrill can hardly be put into words. You can only experience it! The Ironmen are buoyed across the finish line by the cheers! And the familiar voice of Ironman Announcer Mike Reilly welcomes them with these words, “Dan Meier, from Canton Michigan, YOU   ARE   AN   IRONMAN!” The support team gathers the athlete in their arms, the medal is placed around his neck, and he’s off to a tent for medical or some food, and a massage. Then he finds his family for another huge welcome and celebration! After some rest, he and his family join the rest of the cheering crowd at the finish line to welcome home athlete after athlete until the last one comes home. The day after the race, I asked Daniel what words heard along the route encouraged him the most. He told of one guy on the MMRF team who cheered, “Keep going Dan, your wife and kid are waiting for you at the finish line!”

This is WHY we do it! Church planters and churches who start new know that this is why they do what they do. Not for themselves, but so that they can bring the last one home! As the skies grew dark and the mid-night final deadline drew near, I couldn’t help but think of all those who plan and work and train and coach and cheer and partner so that every possible soul can be brought Home. I thought of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15, telling of the great celebration when one repents – and of Hebrews 12:1, portraying the great cloud of witnesses surrounding God’s people. I thought of Jesus words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” and “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” And again, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This is why we do it.

This is why we make disciples and send and support and plant and multiply and pray and partner and encourage church planters and every-day missionaries.

We do it so that none are lost.

We do it so that each one will be brought home.

We do it so that they will join with us and all those who endure to the end so that together, we will praise and worship the Lamb, our Lord and Savior!

Moment Extras

Questions for Discussion

1. God intends to use every believer in His call to “make disciples.” What’s your role? How will you join that crowd of encouragers, workers, and team-members?

2. When are the times when you need most encouragement? What is the most encouraging thing someone could say to you to keep you moving toward the goal?

3. What multiplication goals are you thinking about and acting on? Who is partnering with you?

Resources You Can Use

For help along the Church Multiplication race, contact The Center for United States Missions. We can help with training, coaching, cheering and more!


Mission Moments is the e-newsletter sent by the Center for U.S. Missions to bring information and encouragement to all who desire to share God's great love in Jesus Christ with others. Permission is given to copy this article for distribution within your congregation or organization. Please credit the author and the Center for United States Missions. For more information contact the Center at (952)-221-0362, or visit our website: www.c4usm.org

Center for U.S. Missions – Contact Information

Email us at: | Rev. Dr. Peter Meier, Executive Director; peter.meier@cui.edu  | Rev. Eric Wenger, Director of Mission Coaching; ewenger@livingraized.com| Kathy Meier, Coordinator; kathy.meier@cui.edu  | Mil Behnken, Office Manager; mildred.behnken@cui.edu