As a teenager, I dreamed of becoming an exercise scientist and nutritionist. When I was nineteen, I had one year of college under my belt and was on my way to earning a couple of degrees in these fields with hopes of one day opening my own practice to help others build healthy bodies. However, in my second year of college, God radically changed my life when I became a follower of Jesus. Almost overnight, God transformed not only my life but my calling. Soon, I found myself desiring only to study and teach the Bible. It became clear that God was drawing me away from pursuing a career of helping people build physical health and into a calling of another kind of body-building—a lifelong calling of building the body of Christ as a pastor.
As I discovered a new passion for Christ and his Gospel, I deserted my old aspirations of exercise and nutrition. Unfortunately, I developed an unhealthy view that prioritized my spiritual well-being to neglect my physical health. Since becoming a pastor, however, I have realized the importance of both. To be sure, Paul did say, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). The pursuit of godliness must be our highest priority as Christ-followers, and especially as pastors. But don’t overlook what Paul said. “Bodily training is of some value.” He didn’t say it had no value, but some value—just not as much value as godliness.
So, as I have tried to find the balance of valuing both my spiritual and physical health as a pastor, I have developed three reasons why pastors should take their own physical health seriously as well as seven helpful tips for gaining and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
3 Reasons Why Pastors Should Take Their Physical Health Seriously
1. We are stewards, not owners of our bodies. As our Creator, God owns our bodies. “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100:3a). This means we do not have ownership of our bodies, but God has entrusted our bodies to us that we might steward them well. The primary responsibility of any steward is faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2). Thus, God not only expects us to be faithful spiritually but also physically. We are called to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1) and to “present our members to God as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). Therefore, we have a moral obligation before God to take care of our bodies, because they are not ultimately ours, but God’s.
2. Our bodies are blood-bought and Spirit-indwelt. Not only do our bodies not belong to us because God is Creator, but also because he purchased them with the blood of his own Son and now indwells them by his Spirit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Although in the immediate context Paul was addressing how we should handle sexuality with our bodies, his command to “glorify God in our bodies” is broad enough to infer that we should take care of our bodies in every way to bring glory to God. We ought, then, to ask ourselves: What shall I feed the body which Jesus purchased with his blood and how shall I exercise the body which the Spirit now indwells?
3. Physical health can optimize spiritual service. God alone determines the number of our days (Psalm 139:16). We don’t have control over the quantity of our days, but we do have control of the quality of our days. As Wayne Grudem states, “In the ordinary course of life and ministry when we become physically weak or seriously ill, we are not able to do as much kingdom and ministry work.” Why would we not want to optimize the days God has given us that we may be used by God to our maximum potential in ministry? We ought to view our physical health like we view our finances—as a lifelong investment. The more we invest now, the better the dividends will be as we grow older. We simply cannot afford to not take our physical health seriously. We don’t want to be sidelined in ministry because we did not give adequate attention to our bodies.
7 Tips for How Pastors Can Take Their Physical Health Seriously
1. Move! Pastors are at a disadvantage when it comes to physical activity because we (rightfully) spend a significant portion of our time sitting behind a desk buried in the Bible. This means we are vulnerable to a sedentary lifestyle. Thus, intentional, daily movement is crucial for us. Whether it’s walking, running, yard work, swimming, weight training, or other forms of activity—move! Find what works for you and do it. Any movement is better than no movement at all.
2. Seek accountability, inspiration, and encouragement. Find other pastors who share your goals of becoming healthy. My wife and I give one another accountability, inspiration, and encouragement. However, I am also part of an online Facebook Group where I find accountability, inspiration, and encouragement from like-minded pastors wanting to live healthily. Finding a group of like-minded brothers will help you stay committed to a healthy lifestyle.
3. Remember, self-control Is a fruit of the Spirit. Jerry Bridges has said that lack of self-control has become a respectable sin among Christians. Has it not become respectable among pastors? One survey has shown that 76 percent of clergy are either overweight (46 percent) or obese (30 percent). The Bible has a term for the sin of overeating—gluttony. Pastor, I know this question often hurts us, but do you find it easy to preach against drug abuse and alcoholism while being guilty of overeating? The Bible has another word for this sin—hypocrisy. To be sure, being overweight is not always linked to gluttony (e.g., some people suffer from conditions like hypothyroidism where weight is difficult to control without extreme measures or medication). But for many pastors, being overweight is a result of gluttony.
The good news is that God has a cure for the sin of erratic food consumption: the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is … self-control” (Galatians 5:23). Overeating is a theological issue before it is a biological issue. By the enabling power of God’s Spirit, pastors can—and indeed must (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)—find moderation in all things, including caloric intake. “All things are lawful for me,” Paul said, including food. Nevertheless, by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit we “will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
4. Exercise and rest are two sides of the same coin. While God doesn’t need sleep (Psalm 121:3-4), we do. Exercise and healthy eating can almost become pointless if not combined with the right pattern of sleep. Without rest, our bodies do not have adequate time to recover, which, over time, becomes more detrimental to our well-being. The Bible warns against both laziness (Proverbs 26:14) and willful restlessness (Psalm 127:2). We should find the balance between the two with a healthy rhythm of exercise and rest.
5. If possible, invest in exercise equipment. Several years ago, my wife and I canceled our gym memberships and used the money we were spending at the gym to invest in our own equipment that we now use in a building behind our house. I understand this is not possible for all, but we made this investment for three reasons. One, because in the long run, it has saved us money (all our equipment is now paid for, and we have no monthly dues to a gym). Two, having equipment at home is convenient for a pastor’s irregular schedule (no more trips to and from the gym and we can work out anytime we want). And three, the accountability level is now much higher (it’s hard to make excuses for missing a workout when you only have to walk across your backyard to your little gym!).
6. Be creative. I understand the demands of ministry. There are seasons in which exercising becomes more difficult because of the pressing needs of our ministries. Because of this, I try to be as creative as possible. For example, on Saturday afternoons, I often get on an exercise machine with my Sunday sermon notes. Instead of reviewing my notes at a desk, I exercise while I look them over. Also, when I spend time praying for our church, I often walk while I pray. This means I’m doing ministry and burning calories at the same time. Think outside the box. Work smarter, not harder. Be creative.
7. Be consistent. I believe the most important element of getting and staying healthy is consistency. Dietary choices and exercise strategies will vary among pastors. But one thing we must all have is the continual execution of our plan. A mere season of healthy living is easily followed by a season of unhealthy living. Pastoral ministry is a lifelong calling. Longevity hinges upon daily decisions to doggedly stick to our plan for physical health. Little by little, day by day, we must be consistent.
When I was nineteen, God changed my path from helping people build healthy bodies as an exercise scientist to helping build the body of Christ as a pastor. Building Christ’s body is a spiritual work. But if I do not take care of my body, I will not be able to minister spiritually with maximum effectiveness for Christ’s body. Godliness is indeed more valuable than physical training. But, as Howard Hendricks once said, “Bodily exercise profiteth little … but what little it profiteth, you needeth.” Indeed, we need physical training for these bodies that God has entrusted to us, purchased with Christ’s blood, and indwelt with his Spirit. Pastors, let’s build the body of Christ. But let’s also invest in building physical bodies that are healthy enough to build Christ’s body for the long haul.
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 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 658.
 Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007), 105-110.
 Joe E. Trull and R. R. Creech, Ethics for Christian Ministry: Moral Formation for 21st-Century Leaders (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 61.
 Howard Hendricks, quoted in Trull and Creech, Ethics for Christian Ministry, 61.