When I was in college, my pastor was discussing with me the ins and outs of the recent district gathering.  His first statement was not about the great theological discussions or the times of fellowship, but he said, “Brady, our Synod is expanding, and not in our weekly attendance!”  Unfortunately, he was referring to our Synod’s waistline. In a recent study, it was reported that over 79% of all male protestant clergy are considered overweight (Christian Century, March 27-April 3, 2002, p.14), with LCMS pastors, DCE’s, teachers, and even youth not lagging far behind. This statistic is staggering, but it is only a glimpse into how the fitness and nutritional habits practiced by LCMS youth church workers are not only affecting their own physical well-being, but also their spiritual lives.

One night, when I was watching an infomercial about a weight-loss program, a woman who had lost over 150 pounds said, “I am a new creation since I lost all this weight.” When I heard this statement, I was reminded of similar words stated by Paul, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).” As believers in Christ, we know that God has restored us to his original purpose at creation through the blood of Christ and the waters of Baptism. He has recreated us as spiritual, intellectual, and physical beings. However, due to many things that weigh us down (mainly stress), our restored essence becomes warped.  Church workers all too often neglect their physical well being.  When one denies their physical health, they not only increase their risk of obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, colon cancer, diabetes, and depression, they also affect their own spiritual health.  Tending to physical set backs takes time away from daily devotionals, continuing education, and ministry opportunities. Through this imbalance, a youth worker can quickly become run down and burnt out.  Ignoring physical health can additionally hinder youth workers from doing the most important part of their ministry: bringing Christ to youth.

As a new creation in Christ, make changes for a healthy balance.  The most important intervention when on an unhealthy path is physical activity.  In 1996, the U.S. Surgeon General recommended increases in moderate physical activity for 30 minutes or more on most, if not all, days of the week.  This includes such activities as walking, running, swimming, weightlifting, and biking.  To increase one’s activity level can be as easy as taking two 15-minute walks to begin and end your day, or taking three 10-minute walks throughout the day.  You can also keep track of your mileage by investing in a pedometer which counts your daily steps, eventually leading up to a goal of 10,000 steps a day (approximately five miles).  It is also vital to make nutritional interventions.  Instead of consuming a typical American diet consisting of high fat, high-sugar, low-nutrient foods, eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day and cut down on the intake of soda, candy, hamburgers, and french-fries.

Youth workers have been given the opportunity to do one of the most important ministries in the church. When they are able to maintain a healthy balance, especially with their physical health through exercise and nutrition, they are able to lead more efficient and Gospel-centered ministries. They not only find more enjoyment from their jobs, but they are also able to grow in their faith as baptized children of God and in communication of the Gospel to youth and the surrounding community.

Vicar Brady Finnern, currently serving at Calvary Lutheran Church, Topeka, Kansas, holds a degree in health fitness and has worked as a fitness consultant to employees at the LCMS International Center.