Agony and the Thrill of Victory

By Howard Burkhart

At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Derek Redmond ran probably the most memorable race in Olympic history.  You would not be alone in not recognizing his name, but I bet you remember the race.

In the middle of semi-final 400-meter sprint, he tore his hamstring and pulled up unable to even walk. At that moment, his father, who had been in the stands cheering on his son, jumped from his seat and ran on the track to the side of his son. He joined the race, put his arm around his son and together they finished the race. The entire crowd in the stands and those watching on television cheered for both the runner and the father and for the incredible tenacity they had as they did what they needed to do to continue the race.

At a recent meeting, Associational Mission Strategist Bob Lawler compared that story with that of replanting.  A once strong and healthy church, running the race God has given it, now finds itself unable to continue on her own. That once-vibrant church needs someone from the stands to come alongside, wrap their arms around the church, and help it continue its race.

For the Olympian runner, this was not the finish Redmond was expecting. When he was injured, he had a couple of ways he could have responded. First, he could have tried to ignore the pain and attempted to continue running. He could have possibly crawled along not using that leg and somehow just hobble down the track. If help was offered, he could have brushed aside any attempt to help him. He even could have made the injury worse and done further damage by ignoring the pain, symptoms and the reality of the situation.  His injury, however, was such that it was just not possible. Second, he could have given up and just sat down and let the medical personnel carry him off the track. Or, third, he could accept the help from his father or others to come alongside and assist him as he finished the race.

How did he respond? Hitting his stride in the middle of the race, Derek Redmond pulled up and grabbed his leg, unable to continue running. He collapsed to the ground but his desire to finish the race was greater than the pain telling him to stop. He got up and hobbled along in great agony. His father broke from the stands and came alongside his son. Redmond accepted the help and together they completed the race.

Was there agony? Yes, without a doubt there was agony. Was there the thrill of victory? Absolutely, it just looked differently. It’s not what either of them envisioned as the race began, but they are most remembered for how they finished.

Sometimes churches find themselves in a similar situation. They started the race with great expectations. They have a long history of many wins and have worked hard along the way. Then either because of a chronic situation, or a sudden circumstance, the church is no longer what it once was. In fact, the church no longer can continue the race on its own and needs assistance. The church could continue to hobble along and brush aside any attempt to help. Or the church could reach out and accept help, sometimes from those nearby who have been cheering them on.

Sometimes we may be the person in the stands who sees a church struggling and in need of help. We can be the one who leaves the stands, gets on the field and enters the race, put our arms around the struggling church and say, “We got this and we are going to continue this race together.”

In the world of church replanting, it is crucial to recognize the reality of the symptoms, acknowledge when help is needed and find the best way to continue on the journey. It’s also essential for healthy churches to come alongside of struggling churches and run the race with them. The ultimate goal is to reclaim God’s glory for his church, redeem people and transform communities.

The writer of Hebrews wrote with similar imagery in chapter 12, in which a race is set out before us and many witnesses are surrounding the runners. We are told to keep our eyes focused on Jesus – the mission comes first and foremost. Sometimes we need help; sometimes we are the helpers.

If your church may be showing signs of possibly needing help, we have an on-line survey that will be helpful.

Could God be calling you to be a replanter?  Take this survey to see if you might be a good fit.

For more resources go to our Replant homepage at or contact us directly at [email protected].

Published October 12, 2020

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Howard Burkhart

Howard served as a Church Planting Catalyst with NAMB for 36 years and now serves as a Replant Specialist covering several states in the West. He is a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway). Howard lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.