Sweating to the Gospel — Ryan Altheus

In 2015, the inaugural McCormick Prize for Innovation was awarded to Sweaty Sheep Ministries, an endurance athletic and recreational ministry rooted in existential and experiential faith practices.  Ryan Altheus, founder, reflects on innovation and creativity in ministry. Learn more about the McCormick Prize for Innovation and apply for the 2016 award here!

Socrates proclaimed, and many in the world of nontraditional ministry would concur, that “there is nothing stable in human affairs.” Thus, he counsels us to “avoid undue elation in prosperity or undue depression in adversity.”  That may be easier said than done for an innovative soul inclined to roller coaster rides and this past year has indeed seen its share of mountain top elation and ocean floor depression (literally as I pen this from the mountain-lined surf mecca of Santa Cruz California… home to Sweaty Sheep’s newest chapter!)

Newness fades, but the cravings of a creative spirit are eternal.  So when the “depression” of complacency (the truest adversary of creativity) began to overshadow the “elation” of innovation, I found myself thrust into a quest for a little newness under Louisville’s ecclesiastical sun.  Some of us are catalysts, called to make waves and pave paths, and some of us are called to maintain, gifted with the ability to ride waves, tend paths, nurture, and manage.  I am working on waveriding here in Santa Cruz, but my energy derives from pushing boundaries and taking risks; so as my work began to shift from innovative development to maintenance in a maturing ministry, I found I was losing my “why” without quite knowing why.  That made for some hard and far too introspective months teetering between the fear and excitement of the unknown, but clouded by the sorrow of the perceived ending. It wasn’t until I finally accepted that it was time for the ministry I’d sowed and cultivated to spread its wings and step out from the shadow of my leadership, that I once again began to spread my own.

Ryan Altheus and members of Sweaty Sheep ministries ride into General Assembly in 2014

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings,” wrote Lao Tzu; however, painful endings are nothing in comparison to missed opportunities. That said, upon receiving my Master’s in Business this past May (a recognition that though a seminary education is valuable, mine needed a touch of relevancy,) I made a leap to the left coast to see if I could rekindle my creative spirit, start a new chapter of our community utilizing six years of experiential wisdom and study, and simply remember how to play.

I write to you six months a Californian, and peering with “due elation” into my rearview mirror at a Louisville program whose continued in the spirit of innovation, most recently breaking the barriers between worship and mission by relocating their service into the local shelter we had been hosting an athletic training program for local homeless and/or addiction recovery program participants. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate between coasts and Sweaty Sheep California’s kickoff service made front page news. The service, an interfaith Sunset Christmas Eve gathering set in an organic garden, united Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions around the humility and homelessness of Christ, in recognition that the most innovative and fruitful concepts of religion are collaboration and open-mindedness.  Our weekly Yoga worship series are stretching faith perceptions in both Kentucky and California and we are excited to share an open invite (to all who read this) for a 10-day cycling retreat and tour from Santa Cruz to Portland Oregon this June!  The tour, with its nightly stopovers and worship alongside a diverse grouping of churches, will be themed around experiential and existential worship practices throughout and beyond the Christian tradition (email me at runningmango@msn.com if your interested!)

Creativity requires cultivation and the soul requires constant nurture and stimulus. We could live our lives in our comfort zone, dancing the dance of complacency and accepting that there is indeed “nothing new under the sun.”  Far too many pastors do, having long since left our call, but not our pulpit.  We should never allow the fear of “painful endings” to thwart the “new beginnings” God has in store, nor the risk of depression to numb our elation. I feel blessed to again find myself a mere wave away from an epic ride and/or a monumental wipeout (literally, metaphorically, spiritually, and professionally) but moreover, I’m elated to know that I am in the company of all of you!  Seek on and Godspeed my “innovative” friends!


267903_225050644185652_1918998_nRyan Altheus is the founder Sweaty Sheep Ministries, as well as a Louisville based homeless running group, runPossible, which utilizes athletic training as a tool of addiction recovery; empowerment; and spiritual growth. You can find out more about the Homeless Garden Project at www.homelessgardenproject.org or Sweaty Sheep at www.sweatysheep.com… and make sure to “friend” Ryan and Sweaty Sheep on Facebook before turning off your phone for worship!