Open Facebook or Instagram or virtually any website these days, and an advertisement on weight loss will likely jump on your screen, like dogs on a couch when you’re chomping on cheese puffs. Voluntary isolation memes on involuntary weight gain provide a good laugh as well as a harsh reality check on those extra pounds our bodies have carrying around. Let’s be honest, the scale of snacking on food we don’t need or consuming more than we care to admit has little to do with COVID-19. Those extra pounds have been collecting for months (if not years), burdening our bodies.
Well before this pandemic-imposed quarantine began, our bodies were getting weighed down. Busy living has led to easy living; home-cooked meals quickly turn into fast food drive-thrus. Daily exhaustion has led to more TV subscriptions – treadmill walking exchanged for Netflix watching. Quarantine has forced us all to evaluate the health of our bodies.
That goes for churches, too.
The harder truth is that these personal body realities reflect our church body actualities. Church people, both staff and lay leaders, have been snowballing down the mountain of ministry busyness. Weekly programming, constant congregational needs and efforts to enhance worship services have led to exhaustion and burnout. At the same time, the body of Christ has been packing on additional pounds, making it harder to move with agility and to find motivation for future possibilities. As frustrating and difficult as this time of quarantine has been, churches have been given the opportunity to shed those extra pounds of excess programs, ministries and activities in order to live out more fully the love of God.
Below are five steps toward a leaner, post-quarantine church body. But, before you consider any of these, remember that every body is different. Churches come in all sorts of unique shapes and sizes. To compare our bodies – or, worse, to shame other bodies – is unhelpful, even damaging. Every church body has a different bone structure and genetic make-up that at its best reflects the love of Christ in distinctive ways. There is no one-size-fits-all pattern for developing leaner church bodies.
Step 1: Practice fasting.
Fasting is not about starving your body. Don’t give up everything. Instead, do ministry in moderation. Fasting is about figuring out what your body actually needs and often times that means less is more. Fasting also is about mindful living. In our religious understanding, fasting connects to praying. Prayer is simply mindful living – keeping our minds centered on Christ, our souls aligned with the Holy Spirit and our bodies focused on sharing the love of God.
When we fast, we consume mindfully and slow down the excessive busyness.
Step 2: Quit adding sugar.
I grew up adding sugar to berries and then covering them with whipped cream. It wasn’t until adulthood that I tried fruit without additional sweetening. Guess what I learned? God-given berries are good enough, just as they are. The church needs to stop over-sweetening our ministries. We fear people won’t participate in our programs unless they are candy-coated (like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar with medicine).
Remember that our God-given bodies are good enough, just as they are. Allow your worship services to be authentic to your church body. You don’t need all the bells and whistles to sweeten your service. Trust that people will appreciate the natural flavor of God’s love that you offer to them.
Step 3: Build muscle.
Strong church bodies must build muscle on a regular basis. Weight lifting will tone your body and strengthen your bones. But remember that building muscle is not an overnight process. Younger churches often focus only on cardio; they need to start lifting heavier weights. These churches need to focus on the core muscle strengthening that will help produce a healthier, better balanced theological posture. Older churches face the challenge of osteoporosis. The bones of these churches are easily fractured or broken.
Engaging in safe and diverse weight lifting will sustain the longevity of muscles and ligaments leaving a legacy of strong bones for future generations.
Step 4: Increase cardio.
Cardio is key to healthy hearts. Like most people, churches would prefer to avoid intense workouts. However, it’s in the hard cardiovascular conversation of congregational life where we increase our heart capacity. Getting the church heart rate at a level that makes your body sweat is uncomfortable, and sometimes it hurts. But if your church wants to trim the harmful fat around the heart of God’s people, we must increase our cardio conversations to include race, sexuality, economic justice and the eventuality of the body changing.
Step 5: Get more sleep.
If quarantine has given us all anything, it’s rest for the church body. Our bodies need to sleep more. They need to periodically take naps that refresh and renew congregational energy. Suspending normal programming and ministry rhythms for a short season gives our church permission to sleep in and hit the snooze button on our busy schedules. Sleep allows the body not only to rest but to heal and recover. If we push our bodies too hard for too long, they will break down and become more susceptible to injury or illness.
These five steps are practical ways for our beloved churches to become healthier, thriving bodies for the kingdom of God. Whenever your church emerges from self-isolation and quarantine, “lean out” your body so that your congregation can be healthier, more agile and fit partners in God’s salvific work in the world.
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