You can wish this weren’t true. You can be really upset about it. It can hurt your feelings. You can express how unfair this is, but … your listeners make judgments about you based on your appearance.
I gained about 30 pounds of excess weight a few years ago. For some people, excess weight is unavoidable for a variety of reasons. For me, it was the result of sloppy eating and a nonexistent workout plan. After getting married, I got lazy and started letting myself go. I knew this was wrong, but it was hard to correct course after bad habits had been developed.
A good friend of mine, who is also on staff at my church, confronted me, “Lane, the world doesn’t need any more fat preachers. Your head looks like a marshmallow. You might want to work on that.” After slicing and dicing me with insults, he told me how, like it or not, people make decisions about whether they should listen to a preacher by their appearance. I realized my credibility as a preacher was on the line because I had a sloppy, indulgent lifestyle and it showed.
Weight is not something we talk about very much. Even just saying the word “fat” makes a lot of people uncomfortable. For some, it conjures up a lot of hurt and pain. My intent in this post is not to hurt your feelings. I only want to offer a perspective on something that I believe hinders the effectiveness of a lot of preachers.
You may be thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t be saying these things. You may be angry at me because it shouldn’t matter what a pastor looks like and people should just be more spiritual. You may be ready to quote 1 Samuel about how God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. And you may be surprised to know that I agree with you.
It shouldn’t matter what a pastor looks like. People should be more spiritual. And God does look at the heart and not the outward appearances. But I’m not talking about how things should be. I’m talking about how things are.
God looks at the heart, but most of your audience is judging your outward appearance. On most Sundays, you have individuals in your audience who are grabbing for any reason to not listen to you.
You can judge them for judging your appearance, but that won’t get you anywhere. I think a better approach would be to understand the importance of what excess weight can communicate. Especially if it is weight that you could lose if you were to put down the donuts and pick up a dumbbell.
If you’re overweight, it gives people an opportunity to dismiss what you say about certain things.
Try preaching about the dangers of drinking too much when you eat too much.
Try preaching about spiritual disciplines when you have no physical discipline.
Try preaching about self-control when you continually overeat.
It doesn’t work.
I grew up in super conservative where every pastor I had was fat. They would rail against the “sins of the flesh” and talk about living lives that were set apart for God. In the same breath, they would describe what they were having for lunch, which included large portions of fried, refried and deep-fried stuff. Nothing was ever steamed or grilled. Just fried. The result was a 350-pound man who was unwavering in his opposition to alcohol consumption, but strangely silent about health and wellness.
To me, this communicated a strong disconnect. Fitness isn’t everything, but a complete lack of effort and total indulgence is far from helpful for a preacher’s credibility.
This is why I decided to do something about my weight. I lost 30 pounds and have kept it off for a couple years now. It was not easy, but it has had a positive impact on my life and ministry.
I also wanted to stop dishonoring my wife. When she married me, I was a fit guy. Overnight, I turned into a fat guy. This was classic bait and switch, and I was guilty. Especially now that I’m a dad I want to be here for my daughter for many years to come and pass along healthy habits to my children.
Do you think how much a pastor weighs is important? Why? Why not? Do you agree that people judge preachers on appearance? Does this matter?