Back in college, when someone asked me what I was studying, I was proud to tell him, “Exercise science and pre-seminary studies.” Though this response made people a bit cross-eyed, the two disciplines were very closely related in my view. Christ and the forgiveness He won for us on the cross was the most important thing in my life, hands down. Yet the fact remained that our God is an involved God, a “with us” God, from the very beginning: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). The human body, both the mind and the flesh and blood, is a finite machine constructed like no other, and God Himself did all the knitting! So it made sense to me then, and it makes sense to me now, that the body cannot really be split from the spirit. God’s gifts that we receive in His Word and Sacraments (proclaimed from the pulpit and distributed from His fonts and altars) affect our bodies as well as our souls. Christ lifts our spirits and gives life to the lifeless through the gifts of His body and blood.
Following along this logic, many people may try to tell you that to be a youth worker (or any church worker) you must be fit, you have to be in shape and you need to frequent your neighborhood gym regularly. “Must, have to, and need” sound like such harsh words. Why would someone say such a thing?
St. Paul says in Romans 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Those sound like law words, so they must be wrong!
Actually, those law words are partly right. You don’t “must, have to, need” to be fit and in shape to work with the youth, but it does help. As I said earlier, the human body, both mind and the flesh and blood, is a machine. The human mind works so intricately with the flesh and blood that the work of either is affected by the health of the other. A healthy body makes your mind work better and a healthy, well-rested mind makes your body work better. That makes teaching and leading easier on you, but that isn’t the whole story.
A youth leader doesn’t have to look like a fitness magazine cover model to be an effective leader. However, youth leaders who take strides to care for their bodies and for their minds make better role models for the youth they lead. The youth see their leaders taking care of themselves. They see that their leaders care for the gifts that God has given to His stewards. Healthy, well-rested leaders who have the ability to hold meaningful discussions and take these strides are respected and admired by their youth. It isn’t the washboard stomach that gets them; it is the concern and love you have for all of God’s creation, starting with your own person and naturally extending it toward them.
How do you start? It is always a good idea to first make a visit to your physician for a health and wellness check and to receive the okay to participate in physical fitness and exercise. Your doctor should be able to give you some ideas for fitness that are specific to you. Good health begins with proper rest and a good diet. Good rest starts with a good night’s sleep. Other ideas that are easy and not too time consuming include an evening walk, jog or bike ride. Get moving! You’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel.
Ultimately, God, the one who did all the knitting of our bodies, will by His Word proclaimed through your work as leaders in the church continue to offer forgiveness and life in Christ our Lord!