I don’t run triathlons or marathons. Nor am I a fitness freak. But, as a 52-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 20s 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 percent body fat 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 stopped roofing and planted a church.
I exchanged my roofing hammer for a commentary, my ladder for a desk and my once rigorous manual labor job for a sedentary calling. To add injury to insult I tore my ACL while dancing to a Michael Jackson video (don’t ask). And I let my injury give me an excuse to be even less active.
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 and my energy dropped down. In the middle of the day I began scheduling what I affenctionately nicknamed my “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.” My body, I reasoned, was temporal anyway. 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.
1 Timothy 4:8 reminds us, “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 may want to.
Here are four 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 prepares you for the pain you are going to endure in that extended elders meeting (and, 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 and Peter and the boys didn’t need to work out. They walked hundreds of miles and ate fish, bread, veggies and fruit.
But, although he probably didn’t work out personally, Paul seemed to understand the connection between spiritual disciplines and physical ones. This thread of connection reminds us that our bodies do matter. Healthy bodies make sharper minds. Sharper minds make better study. Better study habits make stronger sermons.
There is a connection. We don’t want to over-spiritualize the connection. But we don’t want to underestimate 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 that sweet hour of prayer can turn into a fat nap pretty darn quick if you’re out of shape physically.