Mythbuster #8

Mythbuster #8:  Christians are the type of people who are overweight

Conviction can be a hard thing to be hit by, but it can be a quite positive impact when we respond properly.  I was listening to a top secular radio station in a larger market area when I heard some surprising news.  I learned that recent research has shown that Southern Baptists were the fattest of all denominations and were on average much fatter than the general population.  I had heard this before, but it really sunk in this time.  The show hosts were also going on and on saying stuff like, “I guess since they don’t drink or do anything else, they just stuff their faces.  Everyone has to have a vice.”  I found myself thinking, “Shut up and play some music” because I didn’t like what I was hearing.

Being a Southern Baptist I soon thereafter attended our state convention, and I saw evidence that the research was correct, especially when I looked at my fellow ministers.

 It hit home even stronger when it got personal.  I thought I was doing pretty good, in comparison, especially as I had dropped about 20 pounds in the previous few months. Then at a doctor’s appointment I heard the nurse call out my weight.  241. OUCH!  Even though I am a pretty big guy, and former college football player, that was just too heavy.  I was one of those Southern Baptists with a weight problem.

I thought about the pastors at the convention.  How many of them have preached that their church members, and especially our students, needed discipline while their stomachs literally slapped their thighs when they walked in some instances?  I know I have encouraged my students to be more disciplined. How hypocritical! We call on our students to do the things we are not willing to do.  Were the radio hosts right?  Are our lives so miserable that we have to stuff our faces to get real pleasure? I didn’t believe so, but that is what we are showing to the world.  Many who are not Christians view those who are as fat and ignorant people.  Too often when they look at us we confirm that they are at least half right in their beliefs.

Now before you think it is only a problem in the Southern Baptist Convention, think again.  There were several other denominations who were also packing way too much unnecessary body weight, according to research, and Christians on average were fatter than the general population.  To quote Paul, “this should not be!”  Now before some get understandably upset with me, please hear what I am saying.  I know that there are some who have medical conditions which cause them to gain and retain weight.  However, these medical conditions are relatively rare (and being a Christian is not one of those conditions). The biggest condition for most of us is we put too much food into our mouths.

I then realized that change needs to happen and it needed to start with me.  I have known for years it was a bad witness, but I had overlooked MY responsibility.

I have tried successfully to lose weight many times in the past.  I have worked out hard and built muscle only to have the muscle slip away again.  I needed to do something and I wanted to do something that would last.  This time I started with committing myself to being a better steward of the body God has given me and started working on this process in HIS power.  With the encouragement of my wife I didn’t go on a diet or start an exercise regiment, I CHANGED MY LIFE!

I love to eat.  It is hard for me to eat properly.  I, like many other ministers, have a family along with a demanding ministry which makes it difficult to find time to work out.  However, I realized that if I were in better shape, I would be a better husband and father as well as be a better minister.  I began to eat less and better.  I will admit, for a while it was hard.  Then it actually became easy.  Cereal is often a great snack which is a much healthier substitute.  I substitute yogurt for ice cream.  When I go out to eat, I avoid places where I tend to overeat.  I began walking with my wife.  A mile at first, now nearly 4 miles, and now wearing 10 pounds of ankle weights with my doctor’s blessing.  Not only did this improve my cardiovascular health, it also strengthened our marriage with the extra time together.  I also try to work out with weights at least 30 minutes a day 5 days a week.  If I miss a day, I move on and work out as soon as I can and do not obsess over missing a day.

I admit, some days it is a chore to wake up a little early to work out.  But by days end, I am glad that I did.  If you think you do not have the time, look at your schedule.  Are there time wasters in your life?  TV, unnecessary chatting on the computer, etc. Are you doing things God never called you to do?  I didn’t think I had the time, and on rare days I do not, but overall I am able to find the time because along with my quiet time, it is a priority.

As a result I have lost 41 pounds and I feel great.  I no longer need steroid shots in my knees for pain.  I sleep much better and am snoring a lot less.  I tend to get more done–even though I am spending several more hours a week exercising. I have more energy and serve my church with more efficiency.  People I come into contact with say it is like I am a different person.  It has opened up many witnessing opportunities for me, especially when people want to know “my secret.”  I truly say it is a God thing and then tell them how it has happened.  It is amazing how the physical is a bridge to the spiritual for many people.

For many of you, this may not be a problem.  But for those for whom it is, NOW is the time for us who work with students to be leaders in showing discipline.  When we show our students that we struggle but God can give us power to overcome those struggles, they can relate to us in a better way.  Obesity is a problem like never before among the poor and young in our country.  We need to show them how to live in a world saturated with unhealthy food options (often in our youth rooms) and still maintain a healthy weight.  I do not completely deny myself of food which is not healthy, but I partake sparingly.  I can enjoy a Krispy Kreme chocolate covered crème filled doughnut (my favorite) on our once a month doughnut Sunday, but I do not eat 5 of them as I have done in the past.  If the food is fattening and my only choice, I eat a smaller portion.  If I have a healthy choice, I take it.  When my students see me doing this, they realize they too can make wiser choices and that can filter into other areas of their lives.

Again, many people may hold on to their belief that most Christians are fat and ignorant.  If we do not make them half right at first sight, then maybe they will give us a chance to change other impressions as well.

Brian Farmer is the formerly fat Associate Pastor and Minister to Students at the First Baptist Church of Salisbury, NC.  He has been there since 1988 and is a 29 year veteran of Student Ministry.  He is happily married and the parent of two college students.  He also likes doughnuts, not donuts.