Learn to exercise while you’re in seminary. I’m serious.
The first time I was embarrassed of my Baptist (SBC) heritage was when we were identified by Jay Leno as the fattest denomination in the world. It was sad, but I believed it. It’s not just Baptists, either. Ever been to a pastor’s conference? Look around. Full faces, hanging guts, double chins are the norm… at least they were a generation ago. I have hopes that the rising generation of pastors will do better, but recent American obesity statistics don’t give much hope.
The unhealthy state of pastoral leaders raises two spiritual concerns:
1. Barrier to the gospel. In our culture, there is a hidden prejudice against overweight people. Say what you like, but when ambassadors of Christ are overweight and unhealthy, it becomes another obstacle for non-believers.
2. Stewardship of our lives. God calls us to ministry for life. We must manage our bodies in a way that they will sustain us and our mission over the long haul.
Robert Murray McCheyne, a nineteenth century preacher, misused his body by relentless overwork. Before dying at age twenty-nine he wrote, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.”
The wife of Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the U. S. Senate, said after his early death, “In Peter’s case, I am certain that it was not God’s ideal will that he die of coronary occlusion at forty-six.”
We must steward our bodies for long lives and long ministries, with a healthy diet and regular exercise. (We’ll talk diet later.) Wise financial stewardship requires planning for retirement; exercise is like a retirement plan for your body.
Physical exercise is a habit of a holy life. If you’re already in the habit, stay in it! Don’t let it get squeezed out by the multiple demands of seminary. If you’re not in the habit, then it’s important that you start now. Lay now the foundation for a lifelong discipline of health.
My story, briefly:
- I was bookish and utterly un-athletic in high school and college.
- At seminary I started lifting weights a bit, and found I enjoyed it.
- In Chicago, we had great bike trails, so I started riding like a fiend one summer. That August, I was twenty minutes into a pickup basketball game before I realized that I wasn’t gasping for breath. For the first time I knew what it meant to be aerobically fit.
- Here in Columbia I befriended and discipled a professional baseball player turned personal trainer. He returned the favor by dragging me into the gym and taking me to much higher levels than I ever thought I’d attain.
Now I workout 4-6 times per week, and love it. I’m stronger, more flexible, and in good aerobic shape. Most of all, I’ve noticed that I handle stress and illness much better than my more sedentary friends and colleagues. Physical fitness is completely worth the price.
I’m no personal trainer, but here are some ideas that hopefully will stir you up.
Commit to honor God with your body. Exercise is stewardship—maintaining well the body God has given us, for his glory. Rightly understood, it is a spiritual discipline.
Make exercise a permanent habit of your life. Some simple exercise, a few hours a week. Like brushing your teeth. Forever.
Schedule it. Block off time in your planner for exercise. Joining an exercise class or league sports team with set meeting/game times can help if you need more structure.
Start small. If you’re out of shape, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start gently, and increase your challenge level as your body adjusts.
Go for frequent, bite-size chunks. You’re better off with a 20-minute walk or jog three times a week than with an afternoon of basketball every weekend.
Find something you enjoy. Long walks in the park. Frisbee. Walk (or run) the dog! Dancing, tennis, power lifting, hiking… There are so many choices for exercise, you’re bound to find something you like.
Find something you can do for your whole life. You can swim and ride a bike long after the tackle football days are over.
Try to find some combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training.
Get a workout partner. The accountability is tremendous. I always work out harder with a partner than by myself. I like to find highly motivated people and then try to keep up with them. You can get this in a group, too. Many areas have local clubs devoted to exercise: walking, biking, distance running, roller blading, etc.
Join a gym. Hopefully, your seminary will have free exercise facilities. But if not, you should consider joining a gym, for these reasons:
- It puts you in the company of others trying to stay in shape.
- It gives you access to resources: exercise classes, sports leagues, personal training, special events like races, basketball competitions, family fitness days, etc.
- You’re much more likely to be able to find a workout partner at a gym.
- There’s something about going to the gym to exercise. I’ve been a more consistent exerciser with a gym membership than back when I was too cheap to spend the money.
Too poor for the gym? Walk. It’s free. Buy an old bike at a garage sale, and ride it. Play basketball (cheap ball, shoes, and a city park). It doesn’t have to cost much to be in shape.
Multi-task it. Walk with your spouse for some great one on one time. Play basketball in a league, and mix in fellowship or evangelism. Lift weights with a new Christian and disciple as you go. You get the idea.
Get professional help. If you’ve not been exercising, you should consult your doctor before you begin. If you workout regularly, a few sessions with a personal trainer can help by add variety and motivation.
Joint problems? Elliptical machines, riding a bike, or swimming might be right for you.
Do something! It’s not so important exactly what you do to exercise, as long as you’re doing something!