• Peter Sholl
  • 20 June 2016


Lately I’ve been thinking about shortcuts and whether or not to use them. Perhaps it’s because life in Mexico is not known for its bureaucratic efficiency. Perhaps it’s because I’m travelling a bit at the moment and airport security lines are long and dull. Maybe I’m just impatient. But then two things happened that made me re-evaluate my desire for shortcuts.

The first was that I ran a marathon. I’ve run a marathon pretty much every year for the last 25 years or so (although now my doctor is muttering about this one being my last). I can definitively say that there are no shortcuts in preparing for a marathon. Without long hours of preparation over many months, race day and the days after will introduce you to a whole new level of discomfort.

The second was that a number of advertisements for Christian resources caught my eye. These were not just any resources, but ones that would save me time. I could receive my theological degree in X hours (where X is less than other institutions). I could use this study material to halve the amount of time it takes to prepare Bible study. I have to admit that while these ads seemed attractive and appealed to my “We’re all busy people; we should make ministry and preparation easier and more time-efficient if we can” attitude, these ads made me feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure that we would want to be shortcutting theological education, Bible study preparation or, for that matter, any other component of ministry life. If our desire is to shortcut our preparation, we will end up like the runner who turned up to run the marathon without putting in the miles beforehand—revelling in the excitement of the starting line hype and the cheering crowds, but 25 kilometres in, pulling out with cramps and exhaustion.

As I read Paul’s letters to Timothy, I read imperatives like “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7), “devote yourself” (1 Tim 4:13), “practise these things” (1 Tim 4:15), “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (1 Tim 4:16), “persist in this” (1 Tim 4:16), “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11), “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12), “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Tim 6:20), “share in suffering” (2 Tim 1:8, 2:3), “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (2 Tim 3:14), “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). These are not the words of shortcuts—of “efficient use of time” or “making the best use of the limited hours available, given everything else I have to squeeze into my already busy life”. These are the words of long-term hard work and step-by-step faithful service. These are the words of the reality of ministry.

Whether you are studying the Scriptures carefully in order to teach the story at playgroup each week, or meeting weekly with that one person to read the word and pray, or learning a new language to share the gospel with people from another culture, or faithfully preparing a weekly sermon, the ministry we do requires an investment of time and relationships. In a culture of the instant and the fleeting, yet again as Christians, we are to be different, not looking for the next shortcut, but persisting as faithful disciples.