Pastors, director of missions say physical fitness helps them persevere

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Ryan Whitley says for him, it comes down to this — he doesn’t want to quit before he has to.

“I never want to be the guy who must retire early due to poor physical health,” said Whitley, pastor of Crosspoint Church, Trussville. “I want to serve the Lord with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. I want to be strong until the end.”

That’s why when he turned 40 he decided it was time to start prioritizing his physical fitness.

“It was about then I started gaining unwanted weight and knew I needed to do something to take better care of myself,” he said. “I was spiritually fit, but my physical fitness was nonexistent.”

So Whitley started walking, and walking became jogging. Then jogging turned into running marathons. Now he has run at least a mile for more than 1,000 days in a row and he does CrossFit, an exercise regimen that adds muscle strength.

All of that has helped him in several ways, he said.

“First I sweat to forget. Sweating takes my mind off of the stress associated with shepherding a family of faith,” he said.

He also runs to endure, he said. With three sermons each Sunday, exhaustion happens, but “exercise helps me press on.”

And it helps him stay focused, he said. “I often practice my sermon or memorize Scripture when I run. In doing so, the exercise helps me think more clearly.”

Staying disciplined

Exercise also keeps Whitley disciplined in other areas of his life, he said.

“The pastor must be the most disciplined person in the church. And people know whether or not he is disciplined by the way he takes care of himself physically and spiritually.”

Physical fitness matters, he said.

“A call to ministry is a call to excellence. It is also a call to be prepared. It should also matter that as men and women of God, we should do our best ‘to present our bodies as a living sacrifice’ (Rom. 12:1). I work on my physical fitness in order to glorify God in all things.”

Otis Corbitt, director of missions for Covington Baptist Association, said the fitness regimen he does three days a week benefits his ministry too.

“Twelve-hour days are common in the ministry and I have the endurance to negotiate those easily because of my fitness level,” he said. “Also, I believe physical fitness supports both emotional and spiritual resilience, as well as helping us maintain mental acuity.”

Corbitt said he believes it even helps pastors resist colds and other illnesses.

“I believe the beneficial results are worth the time and effort,” he said. “Exercising is a commitment, no doubt, but it maintains the temple of the Holy Spirit in good working order, so it is definitely worth it.”

John Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pell City, said that’s why he does strength training too.

“My weight has gone up and down over the years, but I think it sets an example when pastors are healthy,” he said.

It also keeps him able to do the ministry God has for him, he said.

“It helps me keep going for longer and able to keep going on missions trips and do other things I wouldn’t be able to do if I was in poor physical shape,” Thweatt said.

He said going to the gym also provides his best opportunity to build relationships with the lost.

‘Great ministry opportunity’

“It’s the only place I’m around lost people on a regular basis,” he said.

He’s there five days a week for about an hour and a half, lifting weights and talking to people. And over the months and years he’s built relationships, answered people’s questions about life and the Bible and seen some of them start coming to church.

“It’s a great ministry opportunity,” Thweatt said.

_______________________________________________________________

Where do I begin?

• One of the safest ways to get started is to try brisk walking (or some other low-impact activity) for spurts of 10 minutes.

• Aim for a pace where your breathing and heart rate are elevated but you can still talk in sentences. (This is called moderate intensity.)

• Next try building up from one brisk walk of 10 minutes a day to two brisk walks of 10 minutes (or 10 minutes plus five minutes). You can do it in one long block or two shorter blocks at different times in the day.

• Start doing this every other day and work your way up. If 10 minutes a day seems too easy, start with longer, but you should still move up gradually. You can step up the time, intensity or both if you can handle it.

• Your goal is to get to 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

• Including some higher-intensity exercise (where your heart and breathing rate mean you can speak only a few words at a time) will bring extra health benefits once your body is fit and strong enough to do it.

Source: ABC News