“Beware of church potlucks!”
These words of advice were shared with me, over a heavy calorie laden fajita meal, by an old preacher who took an active interest in my education towards becoming a full-time minister. It was the last in a series of lessons that involved gems of pastoral wisdom and the purchase of a dress shirt and two cool neck ties. The ironic part of this last great lesson was that the man was overweight.
“Don’t end up like me” he lamented. His disregard for health was cutting short his energy and effectiveness as a minister. He also felt others judged him because of the extra weight he carried.
I showed empathy, but did not want to totally share in his lament. To be honest, what could I say? It was rather awkward. I thanked him for his advice and gifts throughout the day. I also told him I would beware of church potlucks, and assured him that I would pay attention to my health. It may not look like it at times (I love my red meat) but taking care of my physical health is something I have been attempting to stay on top of for close to thirty years now.
Disclaimer. I am not suggesting that youth ministers bow at the altar of power lifting, cross fit, marathons or latest work out video craze. I am also not advocating a certain body type to
qualify one for ministry to teenagers. I am highlighting the importance of striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle in one of the unhealthiest vocational ministry positions in the Church.
Truth. Physical Health Matters.
Physical health is a matter of daily discipline. Again, there is a context to the following verses, but each of them mentions the need for intentionality in maintaining a healthy lifestyle:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (I Corinthians 6:12-13).
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1).
After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:29).
I will go ahead and say it, out loud, “It can be a real joy kill to live a healthy lifestyle!” Here’s a little personal secret: I actually love me some McDonalds on youth trips (any trips actually). I learned long ago that drivers eat free when they bring a group of students into their restaurant. I feasted and capped off many a youth trip stop with a hot apple pie. As I get older, and the “responsible” calorie intake continues its journey downward so my waste will not expand outward, letting go of the hot apple pie is a bummer. Regardless of my feelings, if I want to remain physically healthy, I have to make disciplined, intentional choices in my eating and other areas of my life. I am not a health guru nor do I want to present myself as someone who can provide medical advice, but I can share a few things that can help you maintain your physical health amid the pizza, cokes, late nights and long days of youth ministry.
Get a yearly physical. It is important to know the health of your outside and insides. You may look great on the outside, but the standard blood work that comes with the yearly physical can let you know your real health score. Yep, that“score was what ended my McDonalds visits.
Get moving. With all the activity of Youth Ministry, why do I need more movement? Because of cardio and flexibility. A youth minister can spend a great amount of sitting and staring at computer screen every day. As with all limited mobility jobs, it is important that you get moving.
Take the stairs.
Walk around your office or building when making calls.
Walk to nearby appointments.
Get up and do some intentional stretching (You may want to close the office door).
Make good food choices. You do not have to eat the greasiest, cheesiest, bacon filled red meat item on the menu (that sentence made me hungry). Most eating establishments provide healthier, baked, white meat, turkey bacon options on their menu (I am no longer hungry). Youth ministry food is typically not healthy food. Be smart. Instead of eating six pieces of pizza, eat two pieces and a salad. Instead of drinking a six-pack of soda while driving, drink one soda and a few bottles of water. Balance is the key.
Get on a regular exercise plan. Before you buy that gym membership or purchase the latest exercise program or equipment on QVC, spend time thinking about what works for you. What type of plan will you enjoy enough to continue when the going gets tough? I train with a friend at a gym because I know that friend will encourage (or shame) me when I miss workouts. I need that competitive encouragement. I walk with my wife regularly because it is a constant source of cardio and opportunity for relationship building. By the way, we have a piece of workout equipment sitting in our room that rarely gets used.
Get rest. Your body, mind and spirit need to rest. Take a day off a week (it is called Sabbath and it is in the Bible). Take your vacation (never leave vacation days on the table). Turn your phone off (it is a great interrupter of time and space). Sleep in when you need the rest. If you go and go and go because you feel the world will fall apart if you rest, you have other issues that need addressed. Rest!
Youth ministers are keenly aware that their students remain at the same age year after year while they continue to age and race toward Oldsville. You understand that physical health matters to those wanting to remain in youth ministry for the long haul. Start making healthy decisions today.
Make the appointment. Schedule a yearly physical. Schedule a visit to a nearby gym. Schedule a time to visit with a friend who can keep you accountable to your physical health goals.
Start. As with any lifestyle change, starting can be the most difficult. Starting can be intimidating and the challenge seem too impossible to conquer. Even so, make the decision to start your journey. Most of us know what we need to do to improve our physical health. Review the practical steps given above, gather advice from a trusted advisor, check out helpful websites or follow the recommendations given from the appointments you made. Start!
Do not give up. There are many ups and downs, twist and turns and victories and challenges on the road to physical health. Setbacks are expected. Do not give up.