For Jesus followers, it's clear that spiritual training is of greater value than physical training. However, just because one thing is not as important as another thing, does not mean that it is not important at all. My guess is that you get that. I don’t know any sane person who would say that exercise has no value. However, I do know many who, although believing exercise has value, still choose not to exercise. Pastors included.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that if anyone should be diligent about their physical health, it should be pastors. When I say ‘physical health’ I’m not suggesting that Christians need to develop Steven Furtick’s size lats or Craig Groeschel’s size triceps (although good for them, that’s a lot of hard work!). Instead, I’m talking about being wise about our nutrition and, of course, exercising.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2013-2014, 70.7% of adults over the age of 20 were overweight or obese. I imagine that number would ring true for ministers as well. In fact, I bet that number would even jump a few points for church leaders. The irregular hours we keep, the emotional stress we sift through, and the lunch appointments we regularly keep, all lend itself to eating a lot of convenience foods. And if you didn’t know, those are bad.
Here are four reasons why every pastor should prioritize their physical health.
1. Being physically healthy gives you more credibility.
Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer, Ph.D., ran a series of experiments on weight bias in the workplace. His studies concluded that "People judge obese people to be less competent even when it's not the case.”
Those same people who judge obese people to be less competent are the people we stand in front of and preach to every week. So there’s that.
I can hear you googling the Bible verse that says something about God caring about what's going on in the inside and not our physical appearance. I'll save you the time. It's 1 Samuel 16:7 and it says: "People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
That’s kinda my point. People look at the outward appearance. And we’re called to reach people.
2. Being physically healthy gives your teaching more teeth.
You can be an overweight or obese preacher, and the Holy Spirit is still going to move in incredible ways when the Word is taught. Having 30% body fat does not negate Isaiah 55:11. But here’s what I am saying:
If you're teaching on self-control but it appears that you don't have it yourself, your teaching will have less bite to it.
If you’re talking about spiritual disciplines but fail to be physically disciplined, the message may be hampered by the messenger.
If you’re talking about not gratifying the desires of the flesh but you have a problem with over eating and laziness, your message may fall on deaf ears.
3. Being physically healthy is good stewardship.
We only have one body, one vehicle to complete the mission that Jesus invites us into. Only one. Why destroy it with inactivity and truckloads of sugar?
1 Corinthians 6:20 says this: "you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
We are not our own. Instead, we are managers. Physical fitness isn’t vain; it’s good stewardship. We can worship and honor God with how we treat our physical self.
4. Being physically healthy is deeply connected to spiritual health.
When I eat poorly or act lazy, I find I'm also spiritually sluggish. On the flip side, I'm more concentrated in prayer, study better, and have more energy for the tasks of my day when I care for my physical self. The revivalist Jonathan Edwards found the same to be true. In his biography, he noted that certain foods and activities greatly helped him to maximize his effectiveness.
So there you have it. These are my four reasons why every pastor should prioritize their physical health.
If you are overweight because of a medical condition or something beyond your control, please don't take any offense. This is not directed towards you. My guess is that you realize more than anyone how important physical health is. I'm more directly speaking to pastors who choose to not care for the physical bodies.
And if you are one of those pastors, I don't want you to be discouraged either. The great thing is that you can make small decisions today, and tomorrow, and the day after, that will lead you towards your preferred future!
It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of spiritual training. Just make sure you don't underestimate the importance of physical training. It does have some value.