Embodied: A Dream of a Healthier Church

Come with me on a visit to First Christian Church of Anywhereville, USA. The pastor greets us at the door. He’s overweight, but that’s not really surprising. Seventy-five percent of pastors are overweight1 (compared to just 30% of the general population2). He is among the 68% of pastors with high blood pressure, the 50% of pastors with two or more chronic health conditions, and the 75% of pastors who report being highly stressed.3 (That shouldn’t surprise us either since 90% of American pastors work between 55 and 75 hours each week).4 Is it any wonder that pastor burnout has reached the level of a five alarm fire, up almost 400% in the past ten years?5

Inside the doors of the church we meet “Lisa.” She’s friendly and her love for Jesus is evident, but she greets us from the back row. For years she served her church. She taught Awana and Sunday school, started a ministry for single moms, and was on the team for several mission trips overseas. But now, though she’s only in her sixties, she’s essentially benched from service because she never prioritized caring for her body. She didn’t pay attention to her nutrition, didn’t exercise, and never learned to rest. Though Lisa would love to keep serving, she just doesn’t have the energy anymore. 

Then, you meet me. If this imaginary scenario happened five years ago, you would see me holding one baby, with a toddler and two elementary-aged sons nearby. Ten years of pregnancy, deliveries, and nursing took its toll on my body in the best possible way (I’d have those babies again in a heartbeat!), but it wouldn’t just be my boys making me tired. Up until recently, I saw rest as weakness, stress as normal, my body as inconsequential, food as a reward, and health as something I just didn’t have time for. 

You might have been impressed by all I was managing and said something like, “I don’t know how you do it all.” In that moment, my pride would affirm that I was somehow superhuman, able to go and go and go without limits. 

In a story too long to tell in this post, God graciously exposed my flawed thinking. His Word and His people began to help me rethink almost everything I thought I knew about bodies. Like the signals I’d long ignored from my body that told me something was wrong, I suddenly had eyes to see that I wasn’t the only one. As God’s children, holy and beloved, we’ve collectively adopted a set of ideas about our physical selves that simply do not line up with God’s Word.

Consider this and be sobered:

A disproportionately high number of Christ-followers are unable to engage in the ministry of the Church due to compromised physical health. For too many in the church, the present and future maintenance and upkeep costs of our physical bodies have become an oversized burden that impacts our finances, our sense of confidence and self-worth, and, most significantly, our ability to effectively love those we are called to serve. Our prayer lists are weighed down with entreaties for God to heal self-inflicted wounds instead of for the lost and hurting outside our walls.6

Body Bad, Spirit Good

Read the apostle Paul’s words recorded in 1 Corinthians 6:18–20.

Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Don’t you know that your body is a temple 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. So glorify God with your body.

If we wanted to give this epistle a title, we could call it “The Body Book.” Paul mentions the body more than thirty times in sixteen chapters. In the verses above, he addressed sexual immorality within the church. Though Christians struggling with sexual sin is nothing new, the reasons why this particular group of believers was engaging in unbiblical sexuality is worth noting. They had embraced the lie that what they did with their bodies didn’t matter much: after all our bodies are just kindling right? It’s our inner man, the spirit, that counts. 

Except that’s not what God’s Word teaches. Many Corinthian believers were functional gnostics. That set of beliefs can be summed up this way: body bad, spirit good. That showed up in their sex lives, but it can show up in other ways too. Look again at Paul’s argument for why the way we treat our bodies matters:

You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. (verses 19–20)

If that’s the what, here’s the so what:

So glorify God with your body. (verse 20)

In 1 Corinthians alone, we receive Spirit-breathed message after Spirit-breathed message that our bodies are not inconsequential. God created our whole selves—body, mind, and spirit, and we are called to glorify Him with our whole selves: body, mind, and spirit. God declared His creation good (Gen. 1:31), which means: body good, spirit good. This truth lines up with the teaching about bodies we see all through God’s Word. 

Health for Gospel Sake

Again, consider Paul’s words from his “Body Book” epistle:

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown. So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)

Haven’t we seen this principle lived out over and over? Christian leader after Christian leader starts running their race with such devotion, such good intentions, such love for the Lord and others and then falls off the track in some sort of moral failure or simply succumbs to the burnout that comes from ministering while pushing your body beyond its limits. Maybe going off course begins with forgetting what Paul wrote two chapters earlier: “You were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.” 

Keep reading Paul’s letter and you’ll find that he disciplined his body to avoid being disqualified from the race of running hard after Jesus (9:27). He wasn’t healthy for health’s sake, but rather for the sake of the gospel, and he served Jesus faithfully well into old age, until he crossed the finish line. 

There is more to say here. That’s why we’re releasing a whole season of The Deep Well on rethinking our body theology (more on that below). For now, if you’ve bought into the wrong thinking that your body is best ignored and neglected, I pray that God’s powerful Word would redirect you. The Body of Christ needs strong bodies: we need endurance runners. Perhaps it starts by daily living in the reality that we have been blood-bought at a high price. Let’s get busy honoring God with our bodies. 

As Erin mentioned, a new series of The Deep Well is out now! The “Embodied” season will help you consider what God’s Word really teaches about our bodies. Listen now at ReviveOurHearts.com/TheDeepWell or wherever you get your podcasts.

Roger Alford, “Too Many Pastors Are ‘Digging Their Graves with Their Teeth,’” Lifeway Research, April 11, 2022, https://research.lifeway.com/2018/04/19/pastors-are-digging-their-graves-with-their-teeth/.
“Overweight & Obesity Statistics - Niddk,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, accessed March 5, 2024, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity#.
Meghan Baruth, Sara Wilcox, and Rebecca Evans, “The Health and Health Behaviors of a Sample of African American Pastors,” Journal of health care for the poor and underserved, February 1, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6252276/.
Jannik Lindner, “Must-Know Pastor Burnout Statistics [Latest Report],” GITNUX, December 24, 2023, https://gitnux.org/pastor-burnout-statistics/#. “5 Shocking Realities about the Real State of Pastor Burnout,” Homepage, accessed March 5, 2024, https://www.wnccumc.org/resourcedetail/
David Bush, Fit for the King Coaching Playbook, 4.

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager … read more …

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