The Story of Run for God

Event PromotionWhat would you say if someone told you that they wanted you to?

Print Some T-Shirts – Even though you don’t know a printer.

Teach a Class – Even though you’ve never taught before.

Write a Book – Even though you’ve never written before.

Quit Your Job – Even though you have no backup plan.

Build a Business – Even though you know nothing about the industry.

Talk In Public – Even though you’re terrified of doing so.

Form a Non-Profit – Even though you really don’t want to.

Give the Business Away – Because that just makes perfect sense.

Use the platform you’ve been given to tell others about Jesus.

What would you say?

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Mitchell Hollis.

I was born in Dalton, GA on February 7, 1978.  Growing up I liked about every sport.  I played football, baseball, basketball, and in high school I couldn’t decide if I was going to be a professional golfer or bull rider after I graduated.

I met the love of my life my sophomore year of high school when I convinced a shy girl from the west side of town to go to the Homecoming Dance with me.  And even though we never dated again until after high school, I never stopped telling my friends that I was going to marry Holly Elkins one day. I even made a $100 bet with her best friend that by our 10 year reunion we’d be married.  Yes, she paid up.

I grew up in the construction business.  From an early age I can remember marking and totting plywood for my dad.  College was not even on my radar, as I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  Taking something that was empty, like a vacant piece of ground, and changing it into something completely different is what drove me.  It was satisfying in that you could turn around at the end of the day and say, “I did that”.

Change was a good thing for me.  I’ve never been one who could stay focused on one thing for very long.  That’s why construction was perfect.  One day you’re building a floor system, the next day your framing walls, and before you know it, you’re installing the mailbox. Change in my world is a good thing, but it always had to be in my control.

In 2007 some of my friends and I got this wild hair to sign up for the Peachtree Road Race.  The Peachtree is a 10K running race (6.2 miles) that is held each year in Atlanta, GA on the 4thof July.  I look back now and wonder what I was thinking? This was 6 miles further than I had ever run, it was taking place in the hottest part of the year, in one of hilliest cities in the south.  Yea, that sounds like a great idea!

After that race, I hurt like I had never hurt, and I loved every minute of it.  Pain and I have a unique relationship.  Pain let’s you know that you’ve just done something pretty AWESOME. Whether it’s riding a bull or running the longest distance that you’ve ever run.  The pain that ensues is a vivid reminder of how AWESOME or CRAZY that thing you just did is.

Over the next few years I became obsessed with Endurance Sports.  I wasn’t very fast, but I loved it.  From 2008 to 2010 I completed a handful of 5K’s, Five 10K’s, Four 10-Milers, Three Half Marathons, Two Marathons, a 208-Mile Relay, a handful of Bike Races, Four Standard Distance Triathlons, a Half Ironman, and a Full Ironman (2.4M / 112M / 26.2M).

I was in the best shape of my life.  I loved this sport.  My son Lane was even catching the fever.  He qualified and competed in his first National Finals Triathlon at the age of 6.

Things couldn’t get any better; I was on the right track.  Or was I?

In the Fall of 2009 I was at our Day of Praise, many churches call it Homecoming.  We are the typical Baptist church in that if you invite a bunch of people, then you must have a meal.  And this day was no different.

That day I fixed my plate and sat down beside an old friend of mine HR Poe.  I have known HR for my entire life.  He was a deacon in the church where I grew up, and he was also a runner. Immediately our conversation went to running.  I was explaining what all I was doing, where I was running, and where I was headed next. HR was always willing to share running stories, but this day was different.  HR looked at me and with his stern yet calm voice said, “Mitch, don’t let this become your god.”

Wow, I thought.  Who is he to be meddling in my faith?  It made me mad, and over the next few days I couldn’t get the words of HR out of my head, and within a week, I knew what I had to do.  You see, I began to realize that it wasn’t the words the HR said that upset me, but rather a Holy God who was convicting me.  God had put someone in my life, someone in my running life, to get my attention.  I knew that I had to either give this sport up that I love, or give it to God.

But what does that look like?  I mean, you hear that a lot, that you just need to give it to God, but what does that look like in practice?  My mind immediately raced back to a picture that I had drawn in church almost 18 months prior.  For some reason I had drawn a funny looking stick man on a piece of paper, and below it, I simply wrote, “Run for God”.  I knew that God was telling me to take some kind of action.  To do something that would bring Him glory through this sport that I love.

The next day I dug that picture out of my files and walked into Advantage Sports and said “I need 12 t-shirts printed.”  My though was that I would get some goofy looking t-shirts printed that would force me outside my comfort zone and tell others what God was doing in my life.  It was quick, simple, effective, and was my way of giving this sport that I love to God.  Little did I know that this was only the first step.

You see, once I had the shirts printed, the first stop I made was at the home of HR Poe.  I walked in and handed him and his lovely wife Adrian one of these goofy looking T-shirts.  I explained to HR that he had really upset me the week before and that God made me realize that He had used HR to get my attention.

Once I started wearing that goofy looking shirt, it wasn’t very long until God began revealing the next step to me.  You see as people began to notice my shirt, there were those who began making comments like “I’d love to run, I just don’t know where to start” or “You should really think about teaching a running class at church.”  The more I dismissed these comments, the more they came.  I had never taught anything in my life.  I helped some friends lead RA’s at church, but that was about it.  There is no way I’m going lead a running class, especially in Church.  No way!

God is Good!  And He’s good at many things, including bringing you around to His way of thinking.  Within a couple weeks I found myself sitting in my pastor’s office explaining this crazy idea of teaching a running class that would draw the parallels of Faith and Endurance and take people who had never run to their first 5K.  Charlie Bridges is a great man of God.  He’s my pastor, and he’s also a great friend. Charlie is one of those who listens a lot and speaks a little so that when he does speak people listen.  It is for this reason that I was on the edge of my seat waiting for his response.

Part of me was hoping that Charlie was going to have some reason as to why we couldn’t do this class. Scheduling Conflicts, Budget, I’m not Qualified, something that would get me off the hook.  Instead his answer was pretty simple.  Do it.  Now his answer was a little more eloquent than that, but that’s what I heard.  DO IT!  It was almost as if I was Moses and the children of Israel standing at the edge of the Red Sea when God said to Moses, and I’m paraphrasing, “Stop Praying and Go”.

So I went.  God was once again moving me outside my comfort zone. By now, it’s November and I began to hang signs up in our church that said, “Learn to Run.  Run for God Coming This January”.  Catchy right?  By mid-December I had 14 people signed up.  This was enough for me to understand that this was really going to happen.  So what next?  I guess I need to head over to our local Bible bookstore and pick out a running program that paralleled faith and endurance.  I walked in and quickly realized that I had a problem. It wasn’t there!  Not, it wasn’t in stock, but it hadn’t been written.  I came home and searched the Internet, called running friends of mine, and had some pretty blunt conversations with God. “Here I am God, willing to teach a class of 14 people, a class that you led me to do, as a result of some t-shirts that you led me to have printed, which resulted from a sport that you led me to believe had become an idol.  And now, you’ve left me hanging with no resources to teach from.  Thanks a lot God!”

Monday Evening – January 4, 2010 at 6:00PM was an hour that had me gripped with fear.  I had 14 people who were going to be meeting me on the second floor of my home church for the first ever Run for God class.  In my mind, they were coming to hear from a great runner who was also a great Bible scholar, neither of which was me. They were coming to walk through a polished Bible study that had withstood all the necessary theological reviews.  I, on the other hand, had a stack of notes that would hopefully get me through the first two weeks.  Uncomfortable and Scarred were both understatements.

That night I stepped up to that podium and started with a simple question, a question that I still encourage other instructors to ask today.  “Why are you here?”

It was almost as if God stepped out of heaven at that moment and into that room.  A peace beyond understanding came over me as I listened to all 14 answers.  People opened up their hearts.  There were some who were struggling with depression and needing hope; there were others who had struggles in their marriage, while some had struggled with their weight their entire life.  And yes, there was one gentleman who just wanted to fit into a Speedo by summer. He was joking of course.  God let me know very clearly that I wasn’t the only one in that room who didn’t have it all together.

The next few weeks seem to fly by.  We were having fun and I began to realize that I would make it through this 12-week process and God and I would finally be square.  I would have done my part by printing some shirts and teaching a class. Things were going to get back to normal. It was almost as if God knew I was getting comfortable.

At about the three-week mark, I received a call from a staff member in our church.  She told me that she had received a call from a sister church in the community and they wanted to start a Run for God class.  I politely explained that there was no such thing and that no one had written a program yet.  The next day a buddy of mine from another church called making the same request, then another, and another.  It seemed as though the more I kept pushing away these phone calls the faster they came.

Let me introduce Jerry Brooker.  Jerry is a friend, a deacon in our church, my Sunday School teacher, the guy I helped in RA’s, and a guy who will tell you straight up that he doesn’t like exercise. He played football in school and 40 yards is all a person should ever need to run. He and I were in the parking lot of our church one evening and I guess he had heard what was going on with Run for God.  Jerry of all people made the comment, “I guess you’re going to have to get this thing published.”  Why? Why would this guy tell me that? I’m not a writer.  I don’t know of any publishers.  After all, I’m a builder and I don’t have time for this.

Unlike my previous reaction to the words of HR Poe, I came around to the fact a little quicker that Jerry’s words may not have been his words at all? Maybe God was speaking through someone who was outside this class so that I would listen.  God was once more pushing me reluctantly outside my comfort zone.

Once again, I reached out to my friend and pastor Brother Charlie.  This time, Holly and I invited him and his lovely wife Lynn over for dinner. I caught him up on what had been going on and the interest that this loosely written program had received.  After that, I told him about the crazy comment that Jerry Brooker had made.  Now keep in mind that I’m still looking for a way out here.  Charlie is a very smart man, and there is nothing about this idea that is smart, in fact, from a worldly standpoint, it’s about as crazy as you can get.  But so have the past five or six weeks.  I no more got Jerry’s comments out of my mouth and Charlie simply said, “I agree”.

In the days following that conversation, God and I once again had some pretty blunt conversations. Here I am still trying to hold down a job building houses with my brother, I’m leading a Run for God class and group runs three times a week, still trying to write content for the coming weeks, and now I feel God is telling me to hurry up and get this program published.  “Wow God, You’re asking a little much aren’t You?” I thought.  My deal with God was simple.  Make this easy, because I have no idea what I’m doing here.  Don’t just give me signs God, give me billboards.

The next day I picked up the phone and called one of the largest Christian publishers.  Actually, it was the only Christian publisher that I knew of.  I remember being transferred to a gentleman who began to listen to my story and the crazy eight weeks that I had.  The whole time that I was talking, this guy was typing on his computer.  I know this because I could hear him.  My thoughts were that this guy is not listening to a word I’m saying.  He’s tuned me out and is letting me talk as a courtesy.  Little did I know, he was searching for this program that I was pitching. He also, just knew, that it had already been done.  He quickly realized that it hadn’t.  Long story short, within an hour and a half of me calling this gentleman we had agreed on the parameters of a book deal and I needed to get to work.

The next day I had come to the realization that this project would be dead before it even started. You see, one of the parameters of this deal was that I had to get copyright releases on all the material that I did not personally produce.  Obviously you can’t take someone else’s material and publish it without their approval. “This is the end,” I thought.  I had used some material from a variety of people including some big corporations and Olympic athletes.  There is no way I’m getting approval to use this stuff, and to prove my point, I picked the most unlikely person and fired off an email. The email was to Ryan Hall.  Ryan is an Olympic Marathoner who still holds the US Half Marathon record time of 59:43.  He’s a busy guy and there’s just no way that he’s going to get back to me.

The next morning, I had a billboard waiting in my inbox.  It was Ryan Hall asking what I needed.  “OK God”, I prayed, “You’ve got my attention, let’s start walking down this list of releases I’ll need.”  Believe it or not, I had secured every release I needed within two weeks. Everyone was 100% supportive and some even offered additional help should I need it.

I still had a pretty big problem.  Time. My brother Jerome and I were partners in a construction and development business.  At the time, we both worked together on the job and each of us played a critical role in the day-to-day activities.  Getting this project polished and where it needed to be for publishing was going to take a lot of time.  Time I simply didn’t have.  So, I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I mustard up my courage and told my brother I needed to take a few months off to pursue this crazy idea.  Thinking this would go not go over well, I was prepared to make my case. But once again God provided yet another billboard when my brother simply said, “Ok.”

God offered billboard after billboard and by July 2010 we had a polished program, a new and improved logo (not the seemingly 2ndgrade hand drawn version I had done), and the ability to replicate The 5K Challenge on a much bigger scale.  I remember calling everyone who had shown interest in teaching this in their church.  At this point, there were 16 other churches in my community who had shown an interest.  We all met for lunch one day and cracked a plan to all start this program together in Whitfield County, GA.  We would all have classes at our own churches, but on certain nights, we’d come together.

I remember the first night of our second 5K Challenge.  It was going to be much bigger.  That very first 5K Challenge had 14 start and 21 finish.  You see, a funny thing happens with Run for God classes.  There are those who are brave and sign up the first time around.  But there are also those we call “shadows”.  They are the ones who don’t sign up but observe from a distance. They may have a friend or family member who is in the class, and they just watch.  They make the mental call that if they can do it, I’ll do it next time. And that they did.

77 people were signed up for this second class, and I was a nervous wreck.  I had never been in front of that many people.  I’ll never forget Shannon Coker, a good friend of mine, could see the uneasy look on my face.  He knew I was not ready for this.  Yes we had 77 signed up, but there were more than 77 coming through the doors. Shannon and another deacon in our church Rick Cobb grabbed me and took me to the most logical place to pray over me, the bathroom.  Once again, God’s spirit moved into that place and my nerves subsided.  As I took the stage, God took the mic.  That night we had over 200 in attendance at my home church.  Two weeks later, we had over 500 people come together from 16 other churches to learn about shoes.  We had Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist; we had almost every denomination from our small town represented coming together to learn about Shoes and Jesus.  That must be a picture of Heaven!

The race we all graduated at that September was a local 5K and Half Marathon.  Over half the field had on Run for God shirts.  What a statement.  God can do amazing things if we just follow a few simple billboards. I remember thinking, “16 churches, wow, how can this ever get any bigger?”

I’ve never been one to fully embrace technology.  I tend to see the bad before I see the good, and in 2010 I saw no good that could come from Social Media.  I was against it, I wanted no part of it, and I wasn’t going to have it.  It wasn’t until Mrs. Gaye Coker came on the scene that I changed my thinking.  You may know Gaye now as one of the faces of Run for God, but in 2010, she was one of my first students.  Gaye was a schoolteacher who was not having fun in that first class.  She despised it when I would come along side her during those three-minute runs and offer a rebuttal to her “I can’t do this” response. She could, she did, and now she’s better for it.  I’ll never forget Gaye coming up to me one day and making the statement, “You need to get with the times and get Run for God on Facebook.”

I really wonder where Run for God would be today if it were not for Mrs. Gaye’s blunt comment.  I began making posts about Run for God. Those posts began to be shared. People began calling. Orders for Instructors Kits began coming in.  A website was built, a company was setup, and things started to change quickly.

One of the first products we had made for Run for God were car decals.  Early on I remember seeing those in my community and always speeding up to greet the person in the car because I knew who they were.  One day I saw a decal on a car, I sped up to offer my greeting, only to realize I had no idea who that person was.  Right then it hit me, God is moving this thing beyond Mitchell Hollis and onto where He sees fit.  Almost overnight it seems that God took this ministry from a class to a full time business.

A Giant of a Man

Through the years God has given me some tremendous billboards.  Billboards like HR Poe, Charlie Bridges, Jerry Brooker, and Gaye Coker, but none of those compare in size to Mark Yoho.  By size I mean literally.  Mark Yoho is a giant of a man both physically and spiritually. Standing at 6 foot 4 inches tall it may be Mark’s height that catches your attention, but after just a few minutes talking with him, it’s his giant love for telling people about who Jesus is that will hold your attention.

Mark is a self-described “street preacher”.  Yes, he’s the guy you’ll hear preaching when you pull up to a red light in a big city. Mark feels as though he’s not doing his job if he’s not getting threats and insults hurled at him from passersby. I always had my doubts about “street preachers”.  Not necessarily about their message or sincerity, but about their method.  I just didn’t see how that method could actually work.

Mark was in my second 5K Challenge, the one that I previously discussed being so large.  I knew Mark and his wife Gynnette, and I knew what Mark did, but that was about it.  They had been members of Grove Level for years, but I didn’t know them well. For some reason Mark loved sitting right down front in my class, which really made me nervous.  Here I am, a guy still fumbling his way through this Bible Study, and I have a student who is both intimidating to look at and he’s probably forgotten more scripture then I’ll ever memorize.

The more I got to know Mark the more I became intrigued in his straightforward approach to sharing the Gospel.  I was often drawn into the Facebook posts that Gynnette would make about where Mark was sharing the Gospel.  Mark even told me once that after working a crowd at a Christian music festival that it just didn’t feel right because he didn’t get ridiculed or attacked.

One night after our class Mark asked me to join him the next Saturday.  He was going to be walking the streets of Chattanooga, TN and simply telling people about Jesus.  I agreed, but I’ll admit that I was nervous, very nervous!  That Saturday we loaded up and headed north.  We started the day at a homeless shelter passing out tracts and just talking to people.  Keep in mind; Mark was doing all the talking while I watched in amazement.  We continued on for a couple hours, but it’s what would play out later that really impacted me.

We walked up to the Walnut Street Bridge.  This bridge in downtown Chattanooga is roughly a mile long and is closed to traffic, it’s for pedestrians only.  As we were walking Mark zeroed in on a young lady who was propped up on the rail looking out over the river.  No one was with her and she just seemed to be lost.  I saw a person who might be lost in direction, but Mark saw much more, he saw a young lady who might be eternally lost.  Mark approached her and within five minutes this young lady was praying to receive Christ.

I’ll never forget that encounter.  Mark was hypersensitive to the Holy Spirit in that moment and he was armed with Good News. The simple yet powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That day changed me.  It showed me that there are people all around us who put on a good act as if they have it all together, but inside they are screaming for a Peace that only One can provide, and His name is Jesus.  All it takes is us making the introduction.  That day Mark didn’t do anything special, he didn’t have a prepared sermon, he simply told this young lady about a man named Jesus.

The Change In Focus

 Run for God continued to grow.  Classes were popping up all across the country and we became very busy.  When it came time to hire someone to help Holly and I hold on to God’s coattails, we went straight to the lady who had told me to get with the times.  Although Gaye Coker was still teaching, she agreed to hang up her Home Economics Apron for what would sure be an adventure at the Run for God camp.

As we continued to grown, God began to impress on my heart that we needed to make a change.  We began getting feedback from Instructors all across the country that a large percentage of students attending Run for God classes were unchurched.  They were coming to learn how to run and didn’t give much thought to the Bible Study part.  At first impression that sounds great.  I mean how can it not be a good thing getting unchurched people inside the doors of the church.  On it’s face it is good, but once in the church are they being introduced to Jesus?

In the case of The 5K Challenge – Volume One the answer was no.  You see this program was built for 14 people at Grove Level Baptist Church. To my knowledge all those people has trusted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and there was no need for Evangelism.  It was written as a discipleship program, helping those in the church do better in there walk with Christ.  In 2010 I was not ready for Evangelism and God knew that.

It was about this time that Dean Thompson came on the scene.  We were getting to the point where we needed some help writing running content.  I knew of Dean through the running community. I knew he had run a 2:27 marathon, so he was fast, but I also knew that he was pretty outspoken about his faith. I asked Dean to meet me for lunch one day.  I really had no idea if this guy could write his first name much less help write content for a growing ministry.  Well, wouldn’t you know that Dean had always dreamed of being a sports reporter, but because he was on scholarship at Georgia Tech and they didn’t offer journalism at the time, he let that dream go.  Funny how God works!  In the winter of 2014 work began on the new version of The 5K Challenge.

Each Thursday Dean and I would meet at a local coffee shop and sit across from each other while our writing ensued.  I was working the evangelism side while Dean was tackling the running side.  Dean had his people on speed dial that he would bounce ideas off of while I had Mark Yoho on speed dial that I leaned on heavily. What came out of those weeks of coffee infused writing was a well though out, all new, 5K Challenge.

It’s the perfect mixture. Early on in the study, we kept it light on spiritual content and heavy on running and discipleship.  This is the time where everyone is getting comfortable with each other and relationships are being formed.  But starting in Week 9 things begin to change.  We begin discussing our testimonies and how to share those with other people.  This is where discipleship meets evangelism.  While we are educating those who have a testimony of how to effectively share it, we are also helping others come to the understanding that they may not have a testimony to share.

There is no better way to learn to share the Gospel than by hearing the Gospel and there’s no better way to accept the Gospel than by hearing the Gospel.  Week 10 is simply presenting the Gospel clearly and boldly. Instructors are both teaching and sharing all at once.  The new version of The 5K Challenge was released in January 2016 and since that time God has been using chapters nine and ten in powerful ways.

Who do you say that I AM?

God used the seven simple words “Mitch, don’t let this become your god” spoken in love by HR Poe to kick start this ministry, and in the fall of 2016 He was beginning to lay seven more words on my heart.  Who do you say that I AM?  These are seven words that Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 16:15.  I would argue that this is the most important question ever asked.  Why, because the answer has eternal consequences.

When confronted with this question you must answer it.  Yes, it may be answered in your head, but you answer it non-the less.  The answer to this question determines where you’ll spend eternity.  Billy Graham used to say that Jesus Christ came to this earth claiming to be the Son of God and that there were only two conclusions that people could have drawn back then.  Either He was crazy, or He was who He said He was.  What is your conclusion?

Before long, God began making his plan obvious.  I was to take this verse and share in a way that would capture as many eyes as possible. But how, how do you share a verse of scripture with as many people as possible, and then what do you do with those people who want to respond to that verse of scripture?  Publish the verse in Runners World Magazine, and build a webpage for people to respond that clearly leads them through the plan of salvation.

“Now that’s just crazy”, was my thought.  And my thoughts were confirmed when I brought this idea to our staff.  All I got were crazy looks.  Ok, let’s assume that we had the money to take out an ad like this, which we didn’t, and let’s assume that we had a webpage built that could handle this, which we didn’t, and let’s assume that we were all prepared for the barrage of hate mail and threats we would surely receive, which we weren’t. Even if all that were in place, there is NO way that a magazine like Runners World, a very secular magazine, would even allow this to be put in front of their 2.8 million readers each month. We live in such a PC world today and that would surely kill the deal before it even started.

I didn’t have to look back to many years to know that God loves taking the impossible and saying, “Watch This.”  I prepared an email along with the copy of the ad that we’d like to place and sent it on to the powers to be at Runner’s World Magazine.  The initial response was, “I’ll have to check.”  I knew it I thought.  This is out of bounds for a publication like this and the young lady on the other end of my email was going to have her boss confirm that.  The next morning I opened my email and was shocked at what I saw.  Another Billboard.  It was an email from this young lady that simply said, “They said yes, and we can get that in next months issue.”

God is good.  God laid this on my heart and opened this door, but we didn’t have the $7,000 it was going to take to run one ad much less multiple. We are a small ministry who has trouble some months even making ends meet, this can’t possibly work.

Have you ever read stories in the Bible where you wondered how people had a lack of faith?  Like the children of Israel.  God guided them with a pillar of fire and smoke; He parted the Red Sea and allowed them to walk through on dry land only to have it close back on their enemies as soon as the last Israelites set foot on the bank. You read these stories and you ask yourself, “How?”  How could these people have so little faith?  Then you go through the exercise of writing out your own story only realize that you’re no better.

Within a couple weeks of asking around we had secured the funds not only to run one ad, but several. Now we wait.  The first ad was to run in January 2017.  We built a webpage for people who responded, we partnered with organizations making it possible for people to reach out to someone live 24 hours a day, seven days a week, should they need to talk.  Everything was in place.  God had opened all the doors necessary for His plan to come to life.

The January issue of Runners World hit newsstands and we were ready for the hate mail.  But it didn’t come.  People were seeing the ad, our web traffic numbers showed that, but no hate mail?  Instead, we began to get God winks.  These are simple emails that we receive anytime someone responds to the Gospel on our website.  It’s a conscious decision they make to let us know that God used this website, that God used that ad, and that God used those dollars effectively.

Let Go of It All

By the summer of 2017, it was obvious that the plan God hatched was working.  God winks had become common, people were sharing their stories with us of how God used those seven words and that website.  We even started a “God Loves You” campaign on Social Media where we purchase ad space for these three simple words and offer up our website as a place to learn more.  God was working in a mighty way.

In the world of marketing, a company only has one “main” platform that it can promote, while all others become secondary.  Historically Run for God’s main platform was The 5K Challenge.  All our time, marketing capital, resources, and passion went into promoting The 5K Challenge which is what got this ministry to where it is, but in 2017 that began to change.  Our platform was quickly becoming the Gospel.  This began to produce some unique challenges.  Run for God since its inception had been a “for profit” company.  It was set up this way because Holly and I had no idea it would ever be what it is today. We simply needed a company to run this ministry until it was no longer needed.  We talked about a non-profit early on, but the cost of forming one was just too high.

So here we are, eight years after God had convicted my heart with seven simple words and we were at a crossroads.  We had built a company and a brand that had substantial value.  God was using this platform to reach people with the Gospel of Christ.  But we were finding ourselves in the red month after month because our focus was no longer building Run for God bigger, but reaching more people for Christ.  It seemed as though we were in a lose lose. If we increased the product to boost revenue then our focus would come off evangelism.  If we continue on the track we are on by focusing on the evangelism then the ministry would continue to operate in the red, which can’t last.

God began to once again speak to me through His Word, through prayer, and through others.  You see, I began to agonize about how this could work.  How we could shift our focus from selling the program to sharing the Gospel.  One avenue helped the bottom line while the other hurt it.  I knew what God was telling me, but I wasn’t clear on how we could do that.

The Lord once again put someone in my life that seemed to make things clear.  In the summer of 2017 God put a very smart businessman in my life that made me step back and take a simple look at a situation that I had turned into a big problem.  I was trying to figure out how I could fix this instead of simply handing it over to God. My story seems to be riddled with situations just like this.

I have always said that this ministry was not mine.  It was God’s. God birthed it, God grew it, and God is the only one who could take credit for what it had become.  But my name was on it.  And because my name was on it, then this ministry was forced to operate as a traditional business.  We had to generate revenue just like any other company, which meant more promoting the product, and less sharing the Gospel.  So what do we do?  How do we create a shift in focus without breaking the bank?

Give it away.

Give it away is what God was laying on my heart.  Create a nonprofit ministry, give the assets of Run for God to that Nonprofit, live by faith, and let God work out the details.  Now, I have no doubt that the gentleman who shared this idea with me was simply sharing what God had laid on his heart, but that was little comfort at the time he was sharing it.

So let me paint this picture a little more clearly.  Not only had God already called Holly and I away from the only careers we had ever known, but he was now asking us to form a nonprofit and give away all the assets of a business that we had spent the past 8 years building.  Not only that, but he was asking us to become employees of a ministry that is run by a board that could fire us at any time.  I was looking for my comfort zone, but it was nowhere to be found.

2 Corinthians 5:7 tell us to walk by faith not by sight.

We were at a crossroads in our lives.  Holly and I could honor what God was asking us to do, or we could say, “Not now God.” I’ve always been amazed at people who take radical actions to follow God.  The Queens who are members of our church sold everything and moved to Africa to be on the mission field.  Paige Queen was a successful radiologist who made lots of money as a partner in her own practice.  Another couple in our Church, The Rickman’s, also sold everything and moved to Africa to be on missions.  Jennifer was a successful graphic designer while her husband Brent was a schoolteacher and coach.  They had two young children and were living “The American Dream”.  Both families dropped what was normal in their lives to go and be a part of what God was doing.

God had already given me a glimpse of what He was planning to do.  He was going to use this ministry to reach out to a community that is over 65 million strong in the US alone and draw them in to His saving grace.  The only question was, “Am I going to be a part of it?”  There wasn’t a lot of thought or discussion.  Holly and I both knew what we had to do.  Within days, we had attorneys and accountants working on getting a nonprofit started, stock transfers drafted, appointing a board of directors, and simply ripping the Band-Aid off that we had always known as comfort.  By November, I was no longer an owner of a construction company, Holly no longer had an active license to practice ultrasound, and we were no longer the owner of book copyrights and trademarks.  We were simply domestic missionaries working to share the love of Jesus to a lost and dying world.

Now you may be thinking, that’s just crazy.  Who in their right mind would do that?  These were the exact thoughts I had.  There have been many periods where I question everything, but God never lets me question long.  It seemed as though every time I slip into questioning, a simple God Wink comes through.

Today, Run for God is a nonprofit ministry who’s goal is to “actively” spread the love of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world through the sport of running.  Yes, we still have classes all across the world that parallel faith and endurance and take those who have never run to their first 5K. That’s where this ministry was born and that’s what continues to build its platform, but God is calling us to do much more than that.

There is a day that I could see the “Who do you say that I AM” campaign as a Full Page ad in every running magazine in the world, not just a few.  There is a day that I could see the “God Loves You” campaign plastered on billboards on every interstate in America.  And there is a day that I could see both campaigns canvasing Social Media platforms of all kinds.  But we’re not there yet.  We need your help!

Mass Media is effective. Billy Graham proved this in the 1950’s with his Hour of Decision show.  During his ministry, Billy Graham reached over 2.5 Billion people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ resulting in over 3 million salvations.  Will this be the result of God’s influence through Run for God? The flesh in me says, “That’s a lot of people.”  But I’ve also learned never to underestimate God.

All I know is that God has taken this ministry from one small church in Dalton, GA to over 3500 churches around the world.  He’s taken a builder who was terrified to speak in public and put him before you today. He’s taken seven simple words from Matthew 16:15 and used them to draw people to His saving grace through the pages of Runners World Magazine.  And He can take the gifts of a generous people just like you and multiply then in ways that we can’t even imagine.

You see, God may be speaking to you today.

He may be asking you to partner with us financially.  If that’s the case then visit www.RunforGod.com/Donate.  Since our change in focus, monthly partners are vital to the needs of this ministry.  If that’s you, then I’d ask you to follow God’s lead and give.  Maybe its $20 or $100 or $500 a month.  Whatever the amount, if God’s laying it on your heart then give.  There is no way that we can do what we do without partners like you.

He may be asking you to step out and do something crazy.  Maybe you’ve heard my story and thought, “Wow, that sounds a lot like what God’s been prompting me to do.”  Maybe it’s something like talking to someone at work who need’s encouragement, or sharing Jesus with that family member.  Or maybe it’s something as radical as selling everything and going where He leads. What ever it is, DO IT.  There is nothing more peaceful than living where you know God wants you.  Now don’t hear what I didn’t say.  I didn’t say it’s always easy, but rather peaceful.  People may think your crazy that you’ve gone mad, but many times that is what sets us apart from the world and draws people in to what we’re saying.

Maybe you’re sitting out there and God’s convicting your heart to surrender your life to Him. Maybe you’ve realized that you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Maybe when you saw the slide that said, “Who do you say that I AM?” you didn’t have an answer.  Please, please, nail that down today.  Stop right now and visit www.RunforGod.com/PeacewithGod.

This story that I told is a great one.  At time’s, it’s unbelievable.  It’s full of twists and turn, ups and downs, excitement and disappointments.  It may be my testimony, but it’s God’s story, and you all have one.  Some may be shorter, some may be longer.  Some may not have even started yet.  But we all have one.  Are you ready to leave here and share yours?  Are you ready to start yours if you don’t have one?  Nothing is more powerful than the influence of our testimony, and my challenge to you today is to formulate yours, bath it in prayer, and share it.

Look back on what God has already done in your life, at what He has brought you through, at where He’s already lead you and know that Hindsight is always 20/20.  Then look ahead at where He’s calling you and simply take that first step.

Mitchell