26 Oct 2011

The Author

Pastor, Author and blogger at www.preacherontheplaza.wordpress.com living and working in the DC Metro area. Hoping to find conversation partners about church, faith, good books, great locations for my next vacation and Duke basketball.

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I Can’t Get to Either: the Church or the Gym
Exercise_class

“Though I know the going to the gym is a good thing to do, I just can’t make myself go as often as I would like.”

Such was the sentiment of a conversation I shared recently with a member of my congregation’s leadership council. And, I agreed with him. I too have the “I can’t make myself go to the gym syndrome.” For as much as I know in my head that the health benefits of regular exercise long out weigh the inconvenience of finding time to schedule it in, I just can’t seem to make myself go there as often as I know I should. Excuses are easy to come by, as they may be for several of you too.

Welcome to the internal struggle within my pastoral life: a hospital visit must be made, so I can’t go this afternoon. We might want milk for our cereal tomorrow so the grocery store might just be a more essential stop over after work other than meeting with a trainer. Catching up with tv on the couch with my husband sounds more exciting than the treadmill tonight. Or, the always appropriate and best excuse of all time: I am just tired and need sleep more. I exclaim, “There is no way that I can go to the gym this morning.” While even I see the gym membership fee debited out of my account month after month, not even the financial strain is enough to make this investment worth the bang for my buck.

Yet, as this church leader continued to talk and bonded over our lack of enough exercise, we also made a connection together that grew in me compassion for those who frequently tell me as a pastor, “I want to come to church . . . I’m coming this Sunday” but then never show up.  As much as I hear these empty promises in a given month, it wears on me and frustrates my hopes for what I know a faith community can be if people simply attend.

I am a pastor of a congregation that uniquely welcomes in those in whom regular church participation is new. Many of those who sit among the pews each Sunday are coming back to church again after decades and decades away for a variety of reasons but mostly because a  local church along the line hurt them by conveying the message that who they were was somehow not good enough for God.  So, when someone attends first time, likes the welcome they experience and then decides to stick around for a while, they are coming because they’ve come to believe being a part of a faith community is good for their soul. They get that church is as good for the soul as the gym is for the body. Contrary to those for whom church attendance is part of the life and cultural rhythm in a week (with the percentages of these types decreasing all the time), those who come to Washington Plaza come because they have made a conscious decision to be here. But, even with this true, many only come on a every six weeks rotation basis. Out of town trips, football games, and Sunday brunch are things that come up.  And so it is hard to build a community of people who truly know and love each other well, when not everyone is here which is what I believe makes the sacrifice of  Sunday church worth it in the end.

I have to think this unique pastoral challenge of mine– getting butts in the pews as the old saying goes– is not so unique to my context. In our over simulated, over scheduled world especially among urban dwellers, attending to our soul through church involvement is often valued by the spiritual as important, but not important enough when sleeping in on Sunday morning seems all the better for life/ work balance.

One of my favorite authors, Pearl S. Buck is known for saying, “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” Yet, without intentional committment to anything, it is our moods that drive us all day long.

Maybe one day soon, I will stop depending on my mood to get me to gym more often. And maybe, person by person, from some personal intention deep within, my congregants will make an appearance in worship more often.

Until then, I’ll keep plugging away– pastoring with all the energy I can muster up those who are around. And, as I do, continuing to see coffee meeting dates at Starbucks all across my neighborhood to those for whom church community is just too much to ask them yet as an important part of my calling as a faith leader.

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