Normally the questions I receive from “Ask a Pastor” are more Biblical in nature. What does the Bible say about women in the ministry? When do the end times start? Is the vaccine the Mark of the Beast? These are the sorts of questions I normally get. But this week’s question is more of a personal nature. According to a study by Baylor University, more than one third of American pastors are obese. In light of that trend, one reader found it interesting that I stay fairly fit and wanted to know, “What got me a pastor into working out?”
Well first of all, I should point out that my journey is definitely a “before” and “after” story. Like most people I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with exercise. Those who have only met me within the past few years, may assume that I’ve always been into weight training. However, there are people who have been a part of our church for decades and have seen my journey with their own eyes.
I got back into the gym about seven years ago when one of the members of our security team, Jason Wernly, invited me to workout with him at the rec center. Previously, I had not really been in the gym for over ten years when I was in my thirties. Like many men, I was busy. The ministry had a lot of demands. I made it a point to be active and involved with my family. Over the years Amy and I were busy taking the kids to various activities from Karate to swim team, fishing club, Brownies, and flag football. To be honest, I was using “being too busy” as my excuse not to be healthy and active.
Now in my teens and twenties, I was very active with things like weightlifting, volleyball, and football. But as the years went by, I would exercise less and less, and eat more and more. There were ebbs and flows, and highs and lows. By that I mean that numbers on the scale kept getting higher and higher. At one point, I tipped the scales weighing in at two hundred and forty pounds. The thing with weight gain is that it’s subtle. You don’t put on fifty pounds overnight. It happens inch by inch. A pound here and half a pound there. One day, after a family vacation, I was looking at photos of our trip to George Town. Suddenly, I came across a picture I not so affectionately refer to as my “Fat Picture.” As I stared at what I thought was me in a “fat suit,” I exclaimed, “Why didn’t anybody tell me I was this fat!” That wake-up call helped to motivate me to make a few changes. Things like rather than eating the entire half-gallon of ice-cream in one setting, trying to make it last a week instead.
However, the big change came in 2014 to 2015. The church just purchased this building and so I was involved in an around the clock construction project as we remodeled this building. During that time, Amy was hearing about a low-carb, high protein diet from a handful of ladies in the church called “Trim Healthy Mama.” Up till then my diet program was “Fat Happy Daddy.” I really didn’t think I had that much weight to lose. But in a matter of a few months I went from 186 pounds down to 156 pounds. It was at this point that Jason invited me to workout with him. So, at the age of 45 I got back a routine of exercising and eating healthier. Now, seven years later I’m 52 and the routine continues.
“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” 1Timothy 4:8 NKJV
So, why do I workout? There are some who misunderstand the verse above and take it to mean that “working out is bad, and unspiritual.” But the apostle Paul did not say that “exercise profits nothing.” In fact, the contrary is true, he’s saying that it has some benefits. In effect Paul is saying, “It’s good to be physically fit, and it’s even better to be spiritually fit.” Don’t allow a “fit lifestyle” to become so time consuming that you’re not growing spiritually. However, my problem was that I was letting myself go physically and justifying it by saying, “it was better to grow spiritually.”
1Corinthians 6:19 says, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” Now that verse should have motivated me to take better care of my body, because after all it was God’s temple. Instead, I neglected the temple and allowed it to become a “Mega-Church” built on a faulty foundation. A survey by Lifeway Research says that “41% of pastors are obese. Pastors have higher cholesterol, higher rates of asthma, and hypertension than other Americans.” Obesity isn’t the only risk factor for pastors either. Stress, depression, and financial worries also take their toll.
That’s why I workout. I had allowed myself to become a statistic. My cholesterol has always been genetically high, so I do what I can to control it with a healthy diet and exercise routine. Here are 3 reasons exercise and fitness have become a part of my lifestyle.
Number 1: A More Vibrant and Healthy Life
Job 14:5 reminds us that God has numbered our days. While my days might be numbered and I don’t think I can add years to my life, I believe it’s my responsibility to make the most of the life He gave me. Staying in shape will hopefully allow me to have more energy to serve the Lord and care for my family for years to come.
Number 2: Reduced Stress
One survey revealed that 70% of pastors suffer from chronic depression, 75% of pastors report being “extremely” stressed. As a result, 80% of pastors will not be in the ministry within 10 years because of the toll that stress and depression have taken on them. However, according to the American Psychological Association, working out can reduce stress levels by 30%. Likewise, a 2018 study by Frontiers in Psychiatryfound that 75% of the participants in their study showed that exercise reduced depression, improved sleep quality and cognitive function. Studies aside, I personally feel better both physically and mentally as a result of a regular exercise regimen.
Number 3: Exercising My Body Can Be Spiritual Service To God
Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” As strange as it sounds, going to the gym gives me the opportunity to glorify God. It’s not uncommon to have a conversation with a fellow gym rat and the question of “what do you do for a living'' comes up. As you may imagine, there’s usually a degree of shock when they hear that I’m a pastor. In fact, practically everyone who comes to the rec center in the morning knows that I am a pastor, even if I have no idea who they are. I’ve had people who I do not personally know come up to me during my workout and say, “I heard that you’re a pastor, I’m really going through something right now, could you pray for me?” People in the gym who aren’t even Christians have asked me questions about the end times, life after death, and even life on other planets. Over the years, people I have met while working out, have come to check out our church. Therefore, while exercise has several personal health benefits, I can also bring glory to God even while I’m working out.
Finally, the second half of Hebrews 12 verse 1 says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” In the “race” God has for me, which is pastoring His church I want to run this race well. I seek to serve the Lord for years to come. Exercise hopefully will enable me to do that. John Wesley, a preacher from the 1,700’s inspires me. Wesley traveled over 4,000 miles on foot or by horseback and preached more than 40,000 sermons, and was faithfully preaching into his 80’s. At the age 78 John Wesley once said, “By God’s grace, I have the same energy I did when I was 28, chiefly because of exercise as well as preaching both morning and evening.”
So, that’s my personal journey of what got me to workout. A friend of mine Kevin Utile, who pastors Reach Church has nick-named me “Holy-Swole-y.” For those who don’t know, “Swole,” is a euphemism for someone who is muscular. So, you might say this is my story of how I went from “Rollie Pollie” to “Holy Swole-y.” As I conclude, I want to remind you that God has a race set before you as well. He desires to use you for years to come for His glory and His good pleasure. Hopefully, my journey to be a better steward of the body He gave me, will inspire you.