“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
I've been on both sides of the physical fitness spectrum. For years I worked hard in my ministry, but ate horribly and didn't work out nearly enough. I've been in ministry on a part or full time basis for 25 years and most of that time I was out of shape and the BMI chart said I was "obese." I didn't think it was right because it didn't take into account muscle mass as apposed to fat. To be fair, I wasn't completely wrong, but I had deceived myself about how much was muscle and how much was fat. Now, as I look back, I was fat!!! But, nobody cared.
I don't need to go into the details of my story, but let's just say I got in shape, perhaps the best shape of my life (at the age of 45). That process wasn't just about my physical fitness, it impacted my spiritual life and my ability to pastor well in ways completely unexpected. Let me explain.
When I decided I needed to get serious about my physical fitness it was because I simply wanted to make sure I was able to play ball with my son, go hiking, hunting, and other active things for many years to come. I realized I wasn't able to do those things like I wanted to. My knees hurt when I went hiking, skiing became more difficult, and running a mile was out of the question. I also knew that more significant health concerns were just around the corner if I didn't do something about weighing 250 lbs. I wasn't thinking about how this could help me from a ministry perspective, but I think about it now!
Benefit #1: Discipline. Being disciplined in one part of your life spills over into others and this is a good thing. Generally speaking, I was not a very disciplined person for most of my life. I'm still not in comparison to some, but I have grown a great deal in that area. When I went back to school to get my MDiv I was married, had two kids, and worked at a church. I had never been a good student and I was nervous about whether I would be able to do the work, so I knew that if I stood a chance of doing well I would have to become disciplined. So I buckled down and worked hard (the key to discipline) to develop certain school habits in my life. For three years I focused on school and became very disciplined. Once I got through school I realized that discipline would help me in other areas. It wasn't that I didn't believe discipline was good prior to that, but I wrote it off as a personality trait...my mistake! I have become more disciplined in my eating, study of Scripture, time management, and working out. Don't get me wrong, I will never be as disciplined as some and being flexible with my schedule will always remain important to me, but I have come a long way, and you should think about where you can develop discipline in your life too. First Timothy 4:8 reminds us that physical fitness is of some value, but our spiritual fitness is more important than that.
Benefit #2: Credibility. Do you stand up and teach people or preach about being obedient to God? I hate to say it, but it has to be said, if you are obese you are participating in gluttony (unless there are some other medical things going on, but don't use them as an excuse if at all possible). If you want people to take you seriously you need to be in decent health. I am not suggesting you need to run marathons or compete in cross fit competitions. I am suggesting that you take care of your physical body. People who are in good shape or great shape will have a hard time taking someone seriously if they don't take care of themselves. That might not be fair or right, but it is true. By the way, skinny people can be in bad shape too!! Some people just have high metabolisms and others just don't have much of an appetite for junk food. That doesn't mean they are in good shape, it just means they are skinny.
Benefit #3: Stress relief. Leading an organization or part of an organization is often incredibly stressful. Not only is there often conflict, relational issues, and financial struggles, but if you are sitting at the top of the organizational structure, it's all your fault (not really, but that is how you probably feel). Working out makes your body produce chemicals and hormones that that help you relax and promotes feelings of joy and contentment. That doesn't mean if you do one work out you will feel better, but a consistent supply of those naturally produced chemicals and hormones will help you deal with stress.
Benefit #4: It keeps you in the game. Many pastors who are in bad physical shape will find themselves going to the doctor more, having less endurance in ministry, and perhaps having to retire sooner than they would like. Maybe you want to retire as soon as possible, but I want to stay in ministry as long as possible. I hope you do too. The better I take care of myself, the longer I can continue in ministry unless something unexpected happens. God didn't create us to retire, he created us to work! Take care of your body and your soul so you can stay in the game.
Benefit #5: It's good for your soul. Yes, I think physical fitness helps you spiritually. Not only does the discipline of physical fitness spill over to spiritual discipline, it can give you unexpected time to pray and meditate. I do several things for my physical health, but two of those things are running and lifting. You can do them with partners, but for me I like the alone time, so I do them alone or I should say without another human being. I often find myself praying, listening to teaching in my headphones, or meditating on Scripture. All of those things are good for my soul.
You might be thinking you aren't an athletic person and you don't enjoy running or working out...you missed the point. This isn't about your enjoyment, it is about your health and your ministry. I hated running when I started running. I still don't love it, but I've made friends with it. Sometimes I even enjoy it, but not most of the time. I have to force myself to run, lift, or whatever. Find ways to work out, don't get discouraged. Make it work for your schedule even if it means working out during the day when you have meetings at night. Fix your diet, quit drinking soda, and start eating greens. It's good for your soul and your ministry.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.