How To Make Runners {When You’re Not One} || Jill Zimmerman McFadden

Posted on August 29th, by Jill Zimmerman McFadden in Heart. No Comments

How To Make Runners {When You’re Not One} || Jill Zimmerman McFadden

Saucony or New Balance or Nike or someone like that should get my number.  In the last few weeks I have encouraged multiple people to start running.  I just talk it up, share my own experience and contagious enthusiasm, and non-runners start running by the next day.

But I should disclose the full story:

A few weeks ago I decided something needed to change in my life.  I wasn’t exercising or living very healthily.  I needed to do something drastic.  So for me, “drastic” = training for a 5k.  No doubt the shortest non-sprint race that exists.  And yes, I needed to train for it.  A lot.  So I downloaded this little app called “Couch 2 5k” (you know, because I was starting from the couch), and three times a week I go outside for 30 minutes and do what the lady in the headphones tells me to.  “Walk for 2 minutes.  Jog for 90 seconds.  Repeat.”  I don’t think about it, or convince myself to “make it to the next stop sign” – I just do what the lady says.  (And sometimes cuss the lady out in my mind.)  And that has been helpful for me.  So I’ve mentioned this to some friends, and several of them have downloaded the app and are jogging as well.

At first I thought, wow, I must be doing a really good job talking this thing up.  Or maybe I’m looking so healthy that it makes others want to be healthy too (I didn’t really think that).  And then it hit me.  I am an effective “evangelist” for running because I don’t look like a runner.  I don’t look I partake in any other form of exercise very much either.  I don’t look naturally gifted at running, or undeniably motivated.  My need for more exercise is obvious, unhidden.  But I, even I, have found a tool that is helping me slowly become a (slow) runner.  The kind you could easily pass while power walking.  But still…

And then I thought, maybe if my spiritual neediness – my areas of brokenness, my natural bent toward unhealth – was as obvious on the outside as my physical state, then others who need the gospel would really tune in when I mention the God who has rescued me and is healing and filling and transforming me.*

Put it this way – if some totally ripped exercise junkie came up to me and started talking up a new program that has really helped him get in shape, I’d tune out.  He and I are so dissimilar that even what he recommends as “helpful” or “easy” would feel unattainable to me.  Irrelevant to my life and my needs.  (I think this is why commercials for exercise machines and diet pills employ really attractive people but usually include “before” and “after” pictures – for some anchor point of identification.)  And when we Christians come to church on Sunday and try to be put-together, or when we interact with our non-Christian friends in a way that (intentionally or unintentionally) makes it seem like they’re OK all the time, we can inadvertently make the good news of Jesus’ rescue seem irrelevant to a hurting world.  “Maybe Jesus works for them, but their needs aren’t the same or as big.  They don’t understand the depth of my struggle.”  Or perhaps they see through our outward attempts at looking OK and decide they don’t want the gospel if it means living hypocritically.  Like if I talked to my friends as if I were an accomplished runner and wore all the most expensive running gear.  They could totally see through that.

One caveat – this doesn’t mean I have permission or justification to remain unable to jog more than 90 seconds at a time.  It doesn’t mean I can be complacent about my sin because obvious brokenness helps people see the good news of the gospel.  I am on a journey toward wholeness – physically and spiritually, but I’m totally and transparently not there yet.  I’m honest about my bent toward unhealth but not satisfied with it.

The gospel is good news for those who understand that they need rescuing.  And the gospel is heard as “for me” when the person talking about it obviously needs rescuing as well.  Maybe people will hear our testimony and run toward the Rescuer as well.

And now that I’ve publicly stated my running intentions, I have way too much virtual accountability.  Ugh.  Better go for a jog.


* Just to be clear, I am not comparing salvation to a do-it-yourself app, providing guidance and coaching while you put in the work.  I’m just talking about the relationship between the apparent state of the messenger and the attention their message receives.


Jill Zimmerman McFadden Jill McFadden is married to Ian, directs worship and arts at Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, and plays in the folk acoustic trio Ordinary Time. She studied Christianity and the Arts at Regent College.
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