Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Big is not a synonym for healthy

I had my semi-annual meeting with my gastroenterologist last week. He told me that my Crohn's disease is still in remission (Yeah!), that I'm due for another colonoscopy (Boo! But it's been 4 years since the last one, so okay) and that I need to lose 30 lbs., minimum, before he sees me again in 6 months (Boo! Hiss!!). So I'm going to need to write down what I eat, including every bite of something, and spend a lot more time on the treadmill and the elliptical machine in addition to my usual practice of hitting the weight room. Those of you who have read this blog awhile know that I didn't exactly greet this news with shouts of jubilation so much as a resigned sense of "Well, he's right. It is for my long-term health anyway." So back I'm headed, into the breach, hoping that this will be the time when I not only lose some weight, but that I'm able to take it far enough into the wilderness that it doesn't find its way home. So y'all can pray for me as I suit up for battle...

But since I'm a pastor, I couldn't help thinking about how my situation is analogous to much of the modern evangelical church, which has very definitely concluded that Big is indeed a synonym for Healthy. When it comes to our bodies, we intuitively know this is not the case, yet when it comes the Body of Christ, we somehow think that different rules apply. At the risk over-generalizing, and of sounding either envious or simply self-justifying (since my church is of much more normal proportions), permit to draw out the analogy a little, if for no other reason than to challenge this unhealthy assumption.
  1. When you're too big, some parts of the body work overtime while others don't work at all. Big people have hard working hearts, lungs, blood vessels, livers, kidneys, and colons. But the rest of the body moves slowly when it moves at all. In fact, the bigger the person, the harder the vital internal organs work while the rest of the body becomes even less able to work, move, exercise, etc. In the mega- or even simply large church the same rules apply, with the paid staff working very hard along with a relative handful of dedicated people. But all the work of these organs within the Body doesn't improve its overall health, because to be healthy all of the parts have to move and be exercised.
  2. When you're too big, a lot of energy is devoted to consumption and expansion. Big people think about food and focus energy on it in ways that people with a healthier perspective usually do not. Moreover, they seldom need to buy bigger clothes to accommodate the results. In the same way, it's my observation that in the average mega-church, the vast majority of its members and friends spend a lot of time consuming. Thus, "What are they doing for people like me?" is a common question for people seeking such a church while "I didn't get anything out of it" is a common reason given for leaving the last church. Moreover, it's my observation that the average mega-church does little to actively combat this attitude, so the vast majority of the Body sits, consumes, and gives its money to be spent on bigger pants (er... bigger buildings) to hold the expanding bulk more comfortably.
  3. When you're too big, it's because you eat what you like rather than what is good for you. I'm not saying that every big person got that way via a diet composed exclusively of Ho-Hos, Doritos, and beer. But what I am saying is that being overweight is a result of taking in more than your body is using, and also saying that most big people probably have eaten far more junk food and far too little broccoli than we're typically willing to admit to ourselves. After all, who wants to think of himself as an unhealthy eater? Likewise, many of the people in mega-churches don't put into use what they learn, so that they become simply a repository for biblically based teaching with little or none of it used to further the Kingdom. Additionally, many big churches have gotten that way by feeding the flock a diet of theological junk food that tastes good but does nothing except expand the belt size. All the while, Sin, Judgment, the Cross, Grace, and Redemption go unpreached. This is not to say that the glory of God in Christ and salvation never are taught in such places, only that they are often appetizers or even garnishes instead of the main course, which is precisely the opposite of what is healthy.

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