God has charged pastors and church leaders to take care of His body. Most of us steward well the congregational body of Christ, but what about our personal physical bodies?
This week marks one year since my heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery. I’m eternally grateful to God for His divine intervention, a loving family, and supportive church. My cardiac issues were not due to an out of control diet, being overweight, or a sedentary life. The doctors believe that my issues stem from a genetic predisposition for heart disease. However, I have surmised that the stress of pastoring and leading a church has also been a contributing factor to the complications I experienced. Leading in ministry is rewarding but it can be a risk factor and challenge to our physical well-being.
For me and most of us, it is time to stop making excuses and start making the necessary lifestyle changes to better health. It begins with surrendering your whole self to God and developing a pattern of daily disciplines and making healthy choices. One significant key is to remind yourself that one day you will have to give an account to God for how well you maintained His temple.
Focus on 3 primary areas for good physical health. Improve what you ingest, how you rest, and how you physically progress:
What you Ingest
Pay attention to the quality of what you eat and the quantity of what you eat. Consume the foods that will provide the best nutrition your body needs instead of the foods that contribute to weight gain, chronic disease, inflammation, and fatigue. Here are a few suggestions:
Eat more foods that are formed closest to God’s original creation. For instance, eat more bananas, peaches, and fish rather than more banana pies, peach cobblers, and fish sticks.
Regulate the amount of animal proteins you eat. I’m certainly not suggesting you become a vegan, but you need to reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume. Fill up on more beans, vegetables, fruits, and grains.
Drink more water. Start your day with water and learn to drink it all day. In time your body will start to crave it as you wean yourself off soft drinks and sugar-based beverages.
Food is not the only thing we ingest. As church leaders, we ingest the hurts, hopes, and heartbreaks of the people we serve. We need to be sure to limit the amount of stress from others we allow to have an adverse bearing on our lives.
It’s important to aim for progress not perfection.
How you Rest
Sleep is fundamental to a healthy body, sharp mind, and consecrated spirit. Church leaders stay up late, rise early, and run nonstop throughout the day. We have convinced ourselves that we need to push through our fatigue because God and the people demand it. But we violate the fourth commandment of sabbath rest when we fail to slow down, take a day off, and relax.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial things a leader can do for their physical and congregational bodies is to create a rhythm of rest. Ministry flows best to others when it is delivered from a full vessel. We must learn to give to others from the saucer that holds the overflow from our full cups.
Learn to step back weekly for a time of reflection, recreation, re-creation, and restoration. Reflection– This is a time to look back and reflect on the past. What did I learn? How could I have done something differently? What do I need to give God thanks for?
Recreation– This is a time to stop and enjoy the present. It’s a time to enjoy yourself, reconnect with family and friends. Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself.
Re-creation– This is a time to look ahead and think about the future. Where is God leading me?
Restoration– This is the nightly time to restore the body to have energy to face the work ahead.
How you physically progress.
Church leaders are committed to exercising our soul, spirit, and mind but are not as disciplined to exercise our bodies. It’s time to get moving!
Meet with your doctor to set a weight goal and develop a plan to get there over the next year.
Start with a walking routine. Set a goal to walk 2-3 miles a day. Buy a pedometer and count steps. Create a friendly competition with family, friends, coworkers, or other pastors/leaders to count steps per day. Listen to music or use the time to pray and think.
Take the stairs, park the car at the furthest spaces, conduct walking meetings, etc…
At least three times a week get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes either at a gym or at home. Slowly increase the activity over time and vary the activities.
For some of us it is a real struggle to make the necessary changes and we seem to forever stay on the “woulda-shoulda-coulda” treadmill. My encouragement is to not give up. The doctors told me that I had several blockages in my heart for many years. Although my heart issues were caused by a genetic predisposition to heart disease, I also have a rare gene that causes my body to produce collateral veins or natural bypasses when there are blockages in my heart.
For the past five years I was unaware of the many collateral veins that kept me alive. My prayer is that we will make the changes in our behavior that will result in better physical health. However, when we don’t, I trust God’s Spirit to give us grace and produce the spiritual bypasses for a healthy body, soul, and spirit to further His work and advance His kingdom.
Pastor Tyrone E. Barnette is a native of Roxboro, North Carolina. He is the senior pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. This article first appeared on churchanswers.com.