Out of Shape Churches

By Rev. Bill Wolfe

My eyes were wide awake this morning at 5:45, so I pulled my AARP body out of bed and went to the YMCA to get some exercise on the basketball court. It was the second eye-opening moment I had experienced within the past twenty-four hours. The first one was when I stepped onto a scale and weighed myself. I thought I heard a cow mooing behind me!

So, I laced up my Adidas’ and played some roundball…ooo, that term “roundball” has a different definition for me today!

It’s been a while since I’ve played with the early morning geezers. My substitute teaching gig has affected my physical well-being. Two times up and back and I was gasping…and that was playing cross-court! Understand that I used to run marathons! I captained my college cross-country team. Now I shoot baskets in my driveway. It slopes downhill so the ball usually even rolls back down to me!

I’m out of shape! It happened…one candy bar and Dr. Pepper at a time. So today was my first day of trying to recover some of what I lost…or should I say, “lose some of what I gained!”

It hit me as I was searching for oxygen this morning that my physical condition mirrors where a lot of churches are. They are wheezing and thinking more about what once was than about what might still be. Now…I can’t take the comparison between my physical condition and a church’s state too far. I’m not suggesting that a daily regiment of activity is the cure for out of shape churches. Filling up the church calendar with church activities may lead to death faster than anything else.

Let me suggest a couple of parallels, however! I slowly came to this point where I am. It didn’t happen overnight, or even in a month. When I ran cross-country in college I weighed 120 pounds my senior year. I wouldn’t say I was chiseled, but I also didn’t have to wear any clothes that had an “X” in front of their size. My energy level was high. I remember one Saturday morning in the Spring three other teammates joined me on a 25-mile run for charity. I think we went out for dinner afterwards. In like manner, most out of shape churches don’t get to that point overnight. It occurs over a period of time. I fondly remember my 120-pound physique, but I also realize that it was who I was FORTY YEARS AGO! It is not the reality of who I am now. I’ve been in a number of congregations that talk about how it was “back in the day!” But some of them don’t realize those days are long gone. It isn’t who they are anymore, but perhaps they can begin a new journey that will lead to a new kind of health and wellness.

This morning the first step for me was to get out of bed. I’ve played a lot of basketball recently…in my dreams! For me to recover some of my physical conditioning required my willingness to take that first step, that first roll out from under the warmth of my blanket. Out of shape churches need to take that first step before they take a second step. What that first step is differs, but it must emerge out of a willingness to change. We advance a gospel that transforms, but we so often think of transformation in regard to those people who aren’t walking with Jesus yet. Transformation, however, relates to congregations just as much…and maybe even more…than individuals! Transformation comes out of a congregation that has a willingness to recognize what kind of shape they are in, admit to it, and roll out of bed!

Two hours after my early morning exercising my body is saying to me, “What did you do to me? Never do that again!” Getting back in shape, especially for a guy who is 63, will not be without discomfort. The Advil bottle got opened this morning! My willingness to change will be tested tomorrow when I do some kind of exercising…or not! Getting in shape will involve some pain and suffering.

Out of shape churches face the same dilemma. Are they willing to endure some discomfort to recover their ministry and realize their purpose? Most are not that willing! Many would rather die in peace than lose the fat that has accumulated around their calling.

Some hard words for today that might tweak our warped understanding of reality, just like my knees will remind me all day long that I don’t run like I used to!

Bill Wolfe

First Baptist Church

Simla, CO

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