Riders in the Tour de France (remember….the reason I’m tired and cranky this month!) spend a lot of time cycling in a peleton – from the french word for ‘herd’. A peleton is like a moving, living, breathing animal, snaking its way around the roads of France. In it are 180 individual cyclists, moving, riding, racing as one.
So why do it? Why not leave the front of the peleton and ride off to victory and glory?
The reality is that many try. There are many ‘breakaway’ moves off the front of the peleton as individuals or small groups of riders try to escape up the road and beat the peleton home.
On flat stages at least, they are rarely successful. The reason? Riders in the peleton, tucked up in the slipstream of the guy in front, save a massive amount of energy – anything up to 40% – compared with riding solo at the same speed. All that saved energy translates into capacity to travel faster together, than alone – and that’s a reality that comes to bear in the closing kilometres of a tour stage, when time and again breakaway groups are mowed down by a racing peleton coming home to the finish line at amazing speeds.
Riders on their own are vulnerable. Expending more energy to maintain the same pace, exposed more to the elements, and without the capacity to share the load that is such a part of riding in a peleton. A breakaway group always has more chance of succeeding if it’s a larger group with more capacity to share the load, shield each other, and make the most of the opportunity.
I reckon the comparison is obvious. Those trying to invoke change in the church, to bring about new ideas, new practices, new ways of being, are in danger if they strike out alone.
Alone there is the danger of exhaustion, the difficulty of facing the headwinds alone and without physical or moral support – and there is the very real chance sooner or later of being mown down by the pack.
It’s one of the reasons why the first question we ask when contemplating any new missional initiative should be “who will go?” Who will be the team that strikes out to make an attempt at a breakaway? Who will share the load? Who will provide the support necessary to give the best chance of success?
I’m all for breakaways from the peleton, but let us together ensure that the breakaway has the best chance of making the attempt stick. And let us, those of us in the main body of the church, be gracious enough not to try and drag every breakaway attempt back into our peleton – for sooner or later their success might just be our salvation.