At its core ministry is about meeting the needs of others. Whether that means visiting the hospital for a 6 a.m. surgery, being a shoulder to cry on after a 2 a.m. break up, hosting an afternoon staff meeting, preparing a message, providing pizza for a late night study session, or making time for a date with your spouse and helping your kids with their homework, most of your day doesn’t belong to you.
The time constraints of ministry make it easy to justify the lack of attention we give our health. We are just too busy. After all, fast food is convenient. Gym memberships are expensive (especially if you don’t know if you can go consistently). And don’t even get me started on trying to get eight hours of sleep each night. Any ministry is stressful, but ministering to young adults can be especially draining. It often requires you to stay up late at an event just to get up early to head into the office the next morning. You have intense physical demands on your body, especially when you top that ministry off with a family. How are you supposed to have the energy to exercise?
No matter how realistic the justifications you use sound, they are really just excuses. Contrary to the belief that adding exercise into an already exhausting routine results in burnout, research shows that regular exercise not only helps control weight, but it reduces risk levels for various diseases as well as improves overall mood and increases energy levels to sustain activity.
Just as you are called to be a good manager of your money (Malachi 3:10), your time (Ephesians 5:15-16), and your gifts (Romans 12:6-8), God also calls you to be a good steward with your body. First Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.”
You might ask, But isn’t it selfish to spend that time and money on myself when there are so many others in need? Well, there’s definitely a line that can easily be crossed from health to vanity. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” If you work out to have six-pack abs or deprive your body of necessary nutrients just to squeeze into a size 0, that’s a completely different issue. But when you exercise to give yourself extra energy for your family and the ministry God has entrusted to you, you’re taking care of God’s temple.
Taking care of yourself also puts you in a better position to take care of those in your ministry, which is how Jesus said was the way to show your love for Him (John 21:15-17). Not to mention, it helps to set a positive example. A 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 57 percent of people between the ages of 20-39 were overweight or obese. If the young adults in your ministry don’t witness you making your health a priority, they are more likely to not make it a priority of their own.
So, what are five practical ways you can begin prioritizing your health without sacrificing the values already in place in your life?
1. I’ll pick on the men first: Recognize the difference between being a “growing boy” and a “grown man.”
I know when you were in college, you used to be able to eat a package of Oreos and lose five pounds. And I know that working with young adults makes you feel like you’re still as young as they are. But chances are, you’re not as active as you were then and that once hyperactive metabolism has slowed down. Most young adult gatherings involve pizza, brownies, sodas, and so forth. Practice moderation, and stop eating when you’re no longer physically hungry—not when the box is empty.
2. Now for you ladies: Don’t allow yourself to stress over the scale or compare yourself to other women.
Judge your health based on how much energy you have and how well your clothes fit. Every woman’s body is different. We all have trouble zones, even if they’re only in our imaginations. At the same time you’re wishing for her thin thighs, I assure you she’s wishing for someone else’s toned arms. Instead of weighing yourself every morning and getting hung up on the numbers, find an outfit that you feel comfortable in when it fits well and try it on regularly.
Finally, here are some suggestions for all of us:
3. Keep trying different workouts until you find something you enjoy.
It doesn’t matter what burns the most calories. The best workout for you is anything that you’ll do with consistency, which is much easier when it’s something you like to do! As a fitness lifestyle coach, one of my favorite parts of my job is helping my clients find their “solemate workout.” Working out is no longer something they dread or one more thing on the to-do list. It becomes something they look forward to every day.
For some of you, you may enjoy jogging outside with a friend or participating in an adult softball league. Others may want to join a gym and attend group fitness classes. Maybe you prefer exercise DVDs to do at home so you can save some time and money. Keep trying different routines until you find something that works with your lifestyle.
4. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you’re not sure where to start.
People come to you for spiritual counsel because you work at the church or you’ve been to seminary. Likewise, personal trainers, fitness coaches, and nutritionists are educated in their fields and are there to give you advice. Fitness professionals love to help people transform their habits into healthy lifestyle choices.
5. Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up one time.
So many people give up on their health and fitness goals after they blow their new routine just one time. Don’t let one unhealthy meal or skipped workout be a reason to quit. Just make a healthy decision the next time you’re given an opportunity.
If it’s motivation you need, here you go: Getting in shape is an incredible witnessing tool. Now, before you think I’m taking this too far, hear me out. If someone asks you for advice on their workout and it works, do you think they might ask you for advice again? Probably. Only this time, it might be because they have a tough decision to make in their personal life. Once someone trusts you in one area of life, it’s a very easy transition for them to trust you with more important issues. God may even open the door for you to lead them to the real source behind your strength: Jesus.