For those who know me, I have been on a weight-loss, health-improvement quest for the past 15 months. I am down a net of about 75 pounds and even running on a sporadic basis (one thing I have NEVER done). I have found myself struggling to lose the other 15 pounds I want to lose. I had been down a total of 83 pounds at one point but bounced back up a bit. It has been a real challenge to maintain my regular weight-loss progression.
At the same time I have been thinking about that issue, I have been pondering the work of the church. It seems that we run into the same cyclical issues in our life as the church. In my personal fitness I know there are certain keys to being as healthy as possible and making progress toward my goals. I may not always be attentive to them, but when I am change can happen. So, I thought, what might be the keys to “church fitness?” What are some things we can focus on that will help us make progress toward our goals?
Well, number one is just that – SET A CLEAR GOAL.
Stating that as number one on the list presents a bit of a dilemma for me. The problem is that while I see that as the first essential key, I am not certain I have helped make that happen well in the church I serve. Having made that confession, I still believe it is key.
So, what’s my struggle? Well, if I equate it to my health, the issue is this: Losing weight and looking trim is not the same as being healthy. Ask anyone who struggles with eating disorders. Ask your doctor. Ask me how healthy I was when I was younger and I lost 50 pounds due to methamphetamine usage. What appears to be healthy is not always healthy. My goals in personal fitness must be more about my internal systems working at their most effective and efficient. It’s why I don’t drink Diet Coke anymore – it inhibits my liver from being as effective as it can be because with Diet Coke it has to give too much attention to filtering out the artificial chemical stuff.
So, from a church fitness perspective, just having the appearance of being a “vibrant church” is not the best goal. There has to be something more, something deeper that makes the church healthier, not just better looking.
Our goal – the purpose that drives us at our church – is “Helping people experience the HOPE of Jesus Christ.” That is a great mission driver. However, it implies internal work and may not give us the greater clarity needed as a goal to pursue. In conversations with other leaders in our church I am coming around to the idea that we need to have some sense of outward goals – developing our church in regard to what people see when they look at us and developing a strategy for increasing the spiritual fitness of the community of faith.
I plan to do more praying about and wrestling with this aspect of our church. And again, it may seem odd to point this out as the number one key. But, just because I am working through this doesn’t mean it’s not true. Just as physical fitness truths are true even when told by someone who is not yet fully fit.
The second key to church fitness is CONVERSATION
I thought about naming the second key “communication.” But that is too broad a word for what I think is vital. What can often be lacking among the church (not IN the church because we are the church – we don’t GO to church) is real conversation. So often we tend to avoid real conversations – you know, the kind where we hash out our differences and yet remain close friends? I have been struck by the number of people I know who drift away from the church, from their small group, or even from their leadership position simply because they disagree with something that’s happening within the church community or leadership. Many times the issue only surfaces well after the relationship has grown apart. The problem with having a healthy church is that sometimes the unresolved issues remain just that, unresolved. People leave and don’t say anything because they don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, or they say, “Well, if others wanted to go that way it’s fine, but it didn’t work for me.” The problem is they never said so.
It seems we fear conversations that are real and honest. We fear vulnerability. And I guess the reason for that is we don’t think others will understand? Maybe? Is it that we don’t feel safe having real conversations and trying to work through the challenges?
The downside to the issue is that when people drift off, those who remain are left to wonder what went wrong. And if they later find out they’re hurt because they never had a chance to try to resolve the problem.
In my opinion having honest, real, meaningful conversations are key to church fitness. But, it must have one last key ingredient.
LOVE – love is the real key to church fitness.
It begins with love of God and love for all things that are of God. It is having a love for God that we live into daily through acts of worship and prayer and service. It is having a love for the Kingdom of God and seeking to make that a reality in our world. It is having a love for the people who were created in God’s image – yes, that means all people.
How often is our love mostly for ourselves and what makes us happy? Or how often is our love first and foremost for our family and then beyond that we try to figure out how to make God a part of what we do?
Do our children know how much we love God and seek to live into the joy and peace of God? Do our parents? Our friends? When I fell in love with my wife, Jan, people knew it. Is it the same with my love for Jesus? My love for the Holy Spirit?
Love, deeply felt and urgently pursued, is the love we need as the people called to be the church. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to love God, the Kingdom of God, and the people of the world in the same way he did – with our whole being and even our very lives. Can we say that we, as the church, love this way?
Again, these are essential keys to a healthy church. We may be much like I am physically – healthier than we have been, but not yet where we could be. We may be like I was, not caring about our health and just living and enjoying life any way we want. Maybe as a Church we’re mostly busy “doing what feels good.” Well, eventually that will prove to be misguided. We will be out of shape, possibly sick, and even potentially dead. I, for one, would rather not see us go there.
So, let me know. Is your church “fit?” What might be the main essential key to focus on right now? Maybe the first question is this – do you want the church to be healthy? Each one of us will need to answer that one for ourselves.
Holy high-five to you,