Banish the Unofficial Luggage of Foster Care

Fitness Lessons for the Church

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, January 29, 2018

Fitness Lessons for the Church

I’ve been on a bit of a fitness kick of late. In the process, I’ve been introduced to four fitness truths that have proven to be extremely important to remember:

  1. There’s no secret – much less shortcut – for losing weight. You have to eat less or workout more. Ideally, both.
  2. It’s difficult to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time, even though it’s the holy grail of fitness to achieve both. The reason it’s difficult is because they encompass two different diets and two different strategies. To lose weight you have to cut calories, to gain muscle you have to feed your body protein (which is often high in calories).
  3. You can’t spot-lose fat (unless you have liposuction), but you can spot-build muscle.
  4. It’s a myth that a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat. A pound is a pound. But muscle is more concentrated, so a pound of muscle is smaller than a pound of fat. So you can look like you’ve lost weight yet weigh the same if you’ve exchanged fat for muscle. That’s why there were so many memes following Donald Trump’s recent physical examination that revealed he was 6’3” and weighed 239 pounds, putting him beside others who have the same dimensions but with vastly different visual results.

Interestingly, these four truths are extremely relevant to the church.

  1. Just as there is no secret shortcut to losing weight, there is no secret shortcut to growing your church. If losing weight involves eating less and working out more, then growing your church involves inviting people to attend and then having a wide-open front door that serves them when they do. That front door involves friendliness, a practical message and a high-quality children’s ministry. And while it really is just that simple, there is no shortcut.
  2. Just as the holy grail of fitness is losing weight and gaining muscle, the goal of the church is reaching the lost and discipling the believer. Or perhaps, more to the point, reaching new people while keeping older ones. At first glance – like losing weight and adding muscle – these dynamics can seem to be in tension with each other. But just as you can have a high-protein, low-carb diet to lose weight and add muscle at the same time, you can reach the unchurched and develop the believer at the same time. As I often quip to people who try to pit evangelism against discipleship as either-or: “Then Jesus lied.” By that I mean that His Great Commission calls us to both. If we can’t do both with equal fervor, then we’re implying Jesus called us to a false mission. But He didn’t. He just called us to an intentional one. We may have to do cardio and strength-resistance, cut carbs and eat protein, but the point is that we can do both.
  3. Just as you can spot-build muscle, but not spot-lose fat, within the church you can spot-build strength where there are areas of weakness, but you can’t spot-lose things that are more systemic. For example, you can build a building or add staff to address “muscle.” That’s just lifting in a certain way with a certain weight. But there is nothing you can do physically or materially to address the “fat” of a lack of missional focus, misguided values or blurry vision. That needs the holistic approach of serious cardio or even liposuction. 
  4. And while (as mentioned) a pound is a pound, there is a big difference between two men who are both 6’3” and weigh 239 pounds, but where one has the bulk of that weight in fat and the other has it in muscle. One is “ripped,” the other just has ripples. Many churches would be well served to trim down and get in better shape by losing the excess fat of multiple ministries, and building the muscle that comes from doing a few ministries well. I confess I can’t remember whether I read this or had the pastor himself tell me, but recently, I heard of a church that had only about 25 or so people left in attendance, but had something along the lines of 50 committees and ministries. That’s crazy. It’s better to do five things really, really well than carry the weight of 50 things done in mediocrity. Trust me, your “body” will look the better for it.

As for me, I’m down 40 pounds and have added muscle in ways that make me look as though I’ve lost 50 or more. I work out ten times a week in a combination of cardio and strength-resistance training. My diet is low-carb, high-protein.    

Oh, and the church is looking pretty good, too.

James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Fitness Lessons for the Church