I don’t run triathalons or marathons. Nor am I a fitness freak. But, as a 47 year old preacher, I’ve become increasingly aware of my mortality and the ever sagging effects of gravity.
It was early on in my ministry experience that I began to realize that I had better start working out or bad stuff was going to happen to me. Heart attacks, diabetes and strokes happen to preachers too.
It was easy for me to dismiss my out-of-shapeness in ministry because for years I was in excellent shape. In my late teens and early twenties I was a roofer by trade. The results of 10-12 hour days of manual labor was me being slim, tan and quasi-ripped. In college I had 8% bodyfat and could hang with the best of them when it came to push ups, sit ups and the like. But then something strange happened. I went into ministry full time.
My roofing hammer was exchanged for a commentary, my ladder for a desk and my once rigorous manual labor job for a sedintary calling. To add injury to insult I tore my ACL while dancing to a Michael Jackson video (don’t ask.) My injury gave me an excuse to be even less active.
Soon I ballooned from 155 to 223. The closest I came to working out was sprinting to the kitchen and curling a fork full of food to my face. But worse than that my blood pressure spiked up while my energy shot down. In the middle of the day I began scheduling what I nicknamed “fat naps” to try to compensate for my lack of energy.
To be honest I felt guilty ever time I preached on self-control because it was obvious that I wasn’t controlling my own appetites. I coped with stress by eating. I coped with ministry frustrations by eating. I coped with the guilt I felt from eating by eating.
Although I came from a very health conscious family who worked out with weights, ate healthy and took vitamins I had kind of dismissed all that as “unspiritual.” The body, I reasoned, was temporal. Why would I spend time going through the pain and strain of working it out when I was going to get a new one in heaven someday?
But what I came to realize was that if I didn’t do something really soon my body was going to be really temporal. If I didn’t do something drastic I was going to die sooner rather than later.
As 1 Timothy 4:8 reminds us, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” As church leaders we rightfully focus on the importance of eternal values. But if we don’t stay in basic shape we may enter into eternity sooner than we think.
So, with all this as a backdrop, here are 3 reasons for church leaders to get/stay in shape physically:
1. Getting in shape gives you endurance to face the rigors of ministry.
“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5
Ministry is hard. It is mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing. So when you are physically strong it enables you to face these challenges with a sharp mind and strong body. There’s something about enduring the hardship of doing those extra sit ups that prepare you for the pain you are going to endure in that extended elders meeting (and at least if a rogue elder punches you in the stomach he’ll hurt his fist against your rock hard abs.)
2. Getting in shape gives you the physical discipline to help drive your spiritual disciplines.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:23-27
Guys like the apostle Paul didn’t need to work out. They walked hundreds of miles and ate fish, bread, veggies and fruit. But Paul used sports analogies so often in his epistles that I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul did some kind of work out routine (Paul 90X?)
But whatever the case the Apostle Paul seems to understand the connection between spiritual disciplines and physical ones. This thread of connection reminds us that our bodies do matter. Healthy bodies means sharper minds. Sharper minds means better study. Better study means stronger sermons. There is a connection. We don’t want to over-spiritualize the connection. But we don’t want to under do it either.
1 Peter 4:7 reminds us, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” It’s easier to be alert as you pray if your heart is strong and your body is healthy. Take it from me sweet hours of prayer can turn into fat naps if we are out of shape physically.
3. Getting in shape will help you face down temptation more effectively.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan he was tempted when he was at his weakest physically (Matthew 4:1-3.) Jesus had just completed a 40 day fast and Satan attacked when he knew Jesus’ body was worn down. I’m sure that he figured that if there was an ideal time to see if he could get Jesus to sin it was when his body was at its weakest physically.
I am convinced the Tempter does the same thing with church leaders. He knows that it is when we are at our weakest physically that we are most likely to let our guards down spiritually. Obviously working out doesn’t give you an automatic victory over Satan’s temptation but it gives you an advantage over your more saggy cohorts.
How can you start getting in shape? Try walking or running. I’ve done both P-90X and, most recently, Insanity and have seen good results. But, whatever you choose to do, do something. Do anything. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
Either that or get used to them fat naps.