According to a Lifeway Research Study in 2018, pastors were once some of the healthiest people in society. Pastors lived longer, had deeper relationships, and contracted fewer diseases. Let’s bring back the good ol’ days!
Ministry has never been more stressful. Decision fatigue is a real thing. Burnout is occurring at high rates. Leadership addiction to substances, especially food and alcohol, has likely grown in the past three years. It seems like almost weekly another pastor leaves the ministry because of a moral failure. In the wake of pastoral dysfunction, congregants wonder if their church will ever be healthy again. At the same time, many young people are washing their hands of any connection to the local church.
This makes me so sad. Establishing pastoral health and wellness habits can hold eternal implications.
Sorry to be so frank. Actually, I’m not sorry. The Law is meant to kill. The Gospel brings life. Hear these words of Law: Too many pastors are undisciplined physically. Hear these words of Gospel: Jesus loves you. Jesus forgives you. Hear these words of encouragement: Your body can change. Why? The Holy Spirit lives in you. Your body is His temple.
Here are my five favorite benefits of physical fitness:
1. Reduced anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is inevitable. You’ll never get rid of it. It would be bad if you did. Acute anxiety is needed for a fresh vision, problem solving and restoring relationships. Chronic anxiety is to be avoided. Physical fitness decreases the low hum of chronic anxiety. Physical fitness helps us say, “I can do hard physical things.” Somehow, in the mystery of how God created our brains, perseverance through hard physical activity cascades to relational and emotional perseverance.
Your goal is not to get rid of anxiety. Your goal, in the midst of inevitable anxiety, is to be the least anxious person in the room. Physical fitness will help you achieve this goal.
Physical fitness gives the hormone dopamine. Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone. Trust me, and the science, natural endorphins are remarkably better than any drug to battle depression. I’m not denouncing antidepressant or antianxiety medications. Sometimes these are needed. But medication should never replace physical fitness.
2. Improved social interactions.
Physical fitness builds self-confidence. Some of you may theologically challenge me by saying, “You don’t need self-confidence. Our confidence is in Christ.” Yes, I know. I believe that I have nothing good within me. Yet Jesus did die and rise to redeem, forgive and make me His child. He bought my very body with the price of His blood. He came to give me life to the full. Please do not try to theologically justify negative self-talk. Okay, I’m off my soapbox.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. When I’m more self(Christ)-confident, I’m more open to learning from and loving others. I’m more curious. I’m awake. I’m ready to go. My mind is sharp. Physical fitness provides all of these benefits. Let’s go! Your family, church and ministry group will applaud your choice to sweat daily, embrace muscular soreness and experience the endorphin-induced high of stressing your body…and not dying.
3. Improved work focus.
Pastors should incentivize physical fitness. That is if they’re ready to take the challenge themselves. You can’t take someone someplace you haven’t been.
Our school has a health and wellness team. They’ve recently asked all staff members to write down one physical, emotional, and social goal as we begin our school year. Everyone who submits their goals is in the running for a gift card. (I forgot to where. But I heard I could win something. I was totally in.)
You don’t have to incentivize people. You can simply tell them about when you experienced your “green zone” (Google it) of work. No one can work at 100 percent focus for eight to 10 hours a day. Thirty minutes of straight work before a break is required is really good. I’ve found that my “green zone” of productivity is from 8:00 to 11:00 in the morning. Why? This is largely because I’m just coming off of my workout. Dopamine is coursing through my veins.
Some people have argued about working out later in the day. They may say their bodies take a while to loosen up. Nonetheless, I prefer morning workouts. Late in the day, after a productive day of work, your body should be winding down for a great night of sleep. Morning workouts prime your body and mind for maximum “green zone” effectiveness. Oh, and if you’ve never thought of yourself as a “morning person,” I’d humbly invite you into a morning fitness routine. It will take a while, but after the habit is formed, you might be more comfortable with the title “morning person.”
4. Improved interest in sex with your spouse.
Some of you might think I should have listed this as reason number one. But would you have continued reading if I had? Years of research have shown that physical activity naturally
improves testosterone and estrogen levels.
At the church I pastor, we often say, “God is good!” The congregation responds, “All the time.” A few years ago a pastor friend was talking with confirmation parents about God’s holy intention for sex within marriage. He boldly asserted, “Friends, sex is good.” From the back of the room, one of the parents shouted, “All the time!”
Sex is good. Married pastors have sex. At least they should. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. The ULC values honesty. Sex in marriage is better at night when physical fitness is valued in the morning.
Hopefully, these benefits encourage some of you to keep up your physical fitness routine. Hopefully, they inspire others of you to start one. Move your body. The rewards are immense and have eternal ramifications. Jesus loves you so much.
Let me know if you would like coaching on your physical activity rhythms. I love helping leaders improve their bodies, minds, and relationships. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Let the ULC know how we can serve you. uniteleadership.org