Pastor, Get Off Your Butt and Exercise

by Chad Ashby

When I took my first pastorate, the comment I heard most frequently was, “You’re too skinny to be Southern Baptist.  We’ll do something about that.”  The sad thing is that pastors have a reputation for being some of the worse offenders when it comes to physical health.  Long hours sitting at a desk and attendance at too many free pastors’ lunches and prayer breakfasts work against vocational ministers. From the deep recesses of their studies they cry, “I’m called to the ministry of the Word and to prayer!  Both are sedentary.  Being out of shape–or even obese–is just an occupational hazard.”


Do pastors get to pass Go and collect $200 when it comes to exercise?  Are these excuses really valid?  Below are five reasons pastors–and all Christians–should include exercise as a regular part of their weekly activities.

1. It Builds Mental Toughness.

When writing to the young pastor Timothy, Paul says, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Now, some would say, “See, Paul says we should focus on training for godliness, not training for physical health.” Not so!  True, Paul does say the greater good is training for godliness because it lasts for eternity.  However, he asserts bodily training “is of some value.”  Godliness and physical health are not either/or.  Just because training for godliness is more important does not mean exercise is unimportant.  When dealing with greater and lesser goods, Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).

In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul describes his relationship with his physical body: “But I beat my body and make it my slave, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  Exercise is a very practical way of telling your flesh who is boss.  When your lungs are crying out for you to quit at Mile 3 and you choose to push through for two more miles, you are building a mental toughness that bears fruit in all areas of life.

When ministry gets discouraging, or members are complaining, or obstacles keep piling up, you will be better prepared to navigate these difficulties because of the miles spent toiling in the extremes of summer heat and chillingly dark winter.

2. It Sets an Example.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).  As pastors, we are to live our lives as an example to brothers and sisters in the faith.  Paul’s exhortation essentially encompasses all of life.

A pastor who chooses not to make exercise a priority is setting an example, consciously or unconsciously, to the rest of his congregation about the value of our bodies.  Exercise is all about self-denial.  Jesus, Paul, the prophets, and the apostles all knew a thing or two about that.  A pastor who chooses to exercise sets an example to his congregation that self-denial is an all-of-life attitude, not just a “spiritual” attitude.

3. Jim Elliot Syndrome.

I trust you are familiar with Jim Elliot, the famous missionary who was martyred in Ecuador in 1956.  Perhaps what you didn’t know about Jim was that he was preparing for his missionary expeditions all the way back in college–by joining the wrestling team.  Here’s why: “I wrestle solely for the strength and co-ordination of muscle tone that the body receives while working out, with the ultimate end that of presenting a more useful body as a living sacrifice” (p. 16, Through Gates of Splendor).

Jim knew he wanted to be a missionary, and he realized regular exercise would better fit him for that ministry.  Pastors, missionaries, heck, all Christians have a lot of daily demands.  If we are going to be able service God will all of our might, to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices, we need to condition them for the work.  If you don’t practice, how will you succeed come game time?  The demands of ministry will destroy you if you do not prepare both physically and spiritually for the rigorous gauntlet of Christian life.

4. It Aids Unconscious Communication.

I have a close friend who weighed over 300 lbs. less than three years ago.  As a youth minister, his ministry was going okay.  However, he came to a point where he realized, “I’m asking these kids to exercise self-control in their lives when it comes to sex, school, and other things, but look at me!  Why would they listen to a guy who clearly has no self-control?”

Three years later, he is on a regimented diet, he runs dozens of miles a week, and he does extensive weighlifting.  He has dropped 150 lbs.  Why?  So that his kids will be impressed with his physique?  No.  He realized that his appearance was undermining his message–whether he liked it or not.  I believe God will reward this man’s ministry for the hard work and discipline he put in for the sake of his work in God’s Kingdom.

5. It Provides Ministry Opportunities.

A physically fit pastor opens doors that were previously closed.  He can meet non-Christians at the gym and build relationships for sharing the gospel.  He can run for 40 minutes with a ministry partner, church member, or non-Christian and use it as a time for mutual encouragement and discipleship.  The time you spend exercising shouldn’t be seen as time lost.  You can exercise and do ministry at the same time.  It just takes intentionality and discipline.

A healthy pastor can become all things to all people–he can sit with the elderly, and he can keep up with the younger generation.  For all believers, physical health is not about being able to post exercise times on Facebook, having more attractive selfies, or impressing the ladies at church.  It’s about treating your body as a gift–a gift that God expects you to maximize for his Kingdom’s sake.

-Chad Ashby,

Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, and Why God Cares About Sports

“Isn’t it degrading to suggest that God cares about sports?  Isn’t that anthropomorphizing?  Are we, like the ancient Greeks with their stories of gods who did all sorts of silly and petty and naughty things, really supposed to imagine that God dons a cheese-wedge upon his head and roots for the Packers?

With war and famine, death and disease, doesn’t God have better things to do?  Aren’t sports beneath his dignity, unworthy of his time and station?

In the process of writing Jeremy Lin: The Reason for the Linsanity (official release date is May 8th), I had abundant opportunity to reflect upon these things.  Tim Tebow had been congratulated by many in the media for not talking as though “God gave us the victory.”  He thanked God less for the outcome of games than for the opportunity to play in them.  When Jeremy Lin first came upon the scene, there were some criticisms even when “Linsanity” was at fever pitch.  Jeremy seemed to talk as though God were involved in his basketball career in very intimate ways — as though God not only gave him abilities and opportunities, but gave him successful outcomes — hitting a shot, having a great night, getting the win.

Jeremy’s spiritual mentors and teachers have generally been Reformed.  The books he cites as favorites are from John Piper and C.J. Mahaney, and Jeremy’s reflections on his life and career consistently refer to a close and careful divine sovereignty.  It’s what theologians have called providentia specialissima, God’s most fine-grained care in the minutiae of our lives.

When people protest the notion that God should care about sports, they tend to be (1) atheists or agnostics who doubt God’s existence in the first place and find the notion of God caring about sports particularly ridiculous, (2) de facto Deists who believe that God created the order of things and then sits back to watch it all unwind, (3) people of faith who believe that God guides history (through natural or supernatural means) in the broadest sense but does not get involved in the sordid details, or (4) just people of faith who really haven’t thought it through.

Of course God cares about sports.  The Christian God is not a God who refuses to get in the trenches, not a God whose dignity prohibits him from getting involved in the sordid details of human life.  The single most distinctive doctrine in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Incarnation.  Not that God drinks and frolics in the heavens, but that God entered into history as a human being, fully God and fully man, sinless but suffering, enduring all the meager indignities of human existence.  This was the scandal of Christ in the ancient world — a God who stooped into the muck of our common condition, who entered the world in the blood and detritus of birth, an incarnate God who (not to put too fine a point on it) had runny noses and infections and diarrhea and who got that goop you get in your eyes in the morning.  He died naked and mostly abandoned, with spit and blood and grime upon his body, with thorns puncturing the crown of his head and nails piercing his hands and feet, and…well, I could go on.

God cares about the details, if for no other reason, because God cares about us.  We should affirm common grace: that just as God ordains the sun to shine upon the righteous and the wicked alike, God ordains victory for believers and unbelievers.  God does not simply give the victory to the most righteous individual or team upon the field.  We should make clear that we cannot manipulate the outcome, as though the right formula of prayers and genuflections and “aw shucks” humility can compel God to grant victory.  But we should also affirm, whether or not we’re Reformed, that God cares about the details and working through sports is not beneath God’s dignity.

Perhaps we can be a bit more precise.  God does not care about sports in themselves.  God cares about the people who play them.  God cares about the people who watch and enjoy sports and whose lives are affected by sports.  And God works through sports, as God works through all things, for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  Training the body is, or can be, a profound and necessary school for the spirit.  And in today’s age, when so many Christians live lives of comfortable complacency, when the rigor and striving of faith have been so terribly deemphasized, sports can serve an important role in reminding us of the importance of discipline and collective sacrifice in the pursuit of a greater goal.

So if sports can help us grow closer to God and more mature in our faith — and they can — then yes, God cares about sports for what can be accomplished through them.

What, then, can be accomplished through them?  How do sports help us, as athletes and as spectators, to understand God, to witness God, to love and live with God better?  Tune in tomorrow for my thoughts on that question.”

Timothy Dalrymple, 03-29-12

Tebow and the Point of Christianity

“So how would Tim Tebow, the person, respond to a question that clearly highlighted one of the main theological misconceptions surrounding Tim Tebow, the cultural phenomenon?

I thought the Denver quarterback’s response was excellent and worth noting. He said this:

Well, something I pray before games, during games, and after games is regardless whether I win, whether I lose, whether I’m the hero or the goat — it doesn’t matter — that I still honor the Lord and give Him the glory because He’s deserving of it. And just like my effort shouldn’t change, neither should that. So that’s how I try to approach it. Sometimes even in a loss you can honor Him more. And so, for me I just pray that my character and who I am doesn’t change. Even though you can be dejected, you can still feel hurt, you can be disappointed; but you can still honor the Lord with how you handle things.

For a professional athlete who just lost the biggest game of his pro-football career in a landslide defeat on a national stage, that was an admirable response. He didn’t cry, as though football were more important than it really is. He didn’t blame his teammates or his coaches. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t fault God or say something silly about not having enough faith. Instead, he gave an answer that was theologically sound and inherently God-honoring. In essence, Tim was telling the media that they were missing the point:Christianity is not about winning football games; it’s about honoring the Lord in every situation, even when you lose the football game.”

-Nathan Busenitz, Full Article Here:

Playing Football for God’s Glory

“I don’t know enough about the technicalities of playing quarterback in the NFL to discuss whether Tebow can make it. And I’m not interested enough to learn. But he is a brother in Christ who seems to “get it” on two important fronts: 1) his relationship to Jesus is more important than football at any level; and 2) how to be humble in public.In a hilariously tongue-in-cheek columnabout how Tebow is a colossal failure because “all he can do is win football games,” we catch this profile of the man that every Christian should aspire to be:

You can see why Elway’s unconvinced. Tim Tebow can’t do it the normal way. Tim Tebow can’t get through an interview without mentioning his faith. Or giving credit to his teammates. Tim Tebow never sounds full of Tim Tebow.

He doesn’t even get mad when people say nasty things about him. When people say Tim Tebow needs to improve, Tim Tebow says he needs to improve. Who does that?

Nothing seems to rattle him. He smiles and doesn’t sulk. When Tim Tebow is bummed, he doesn’t pull down the blinds, blast the Fleetwood Mac and drink red wine out of a Mason jar, like everybody else does. He’s a total weirdo.

Whether he makes it in the NFL or not, Tebow has thus far shown a grace-filled balance of having a good reputation with unbelievers and yet being stubbornly different for the sake of Christ. And this at the same time that other young men his age—yes, even Christian young men—seem to have no higher goal than reaching the next level of CoD.”

-Andy Snider,