People, The Gym and Church.
I am unashamed when I say that I am one of millions (billions?) of people who had “Get fit and healthy” as a new years resolution. I am also proud to say that, despite a very disruptive start to my year, I have managed to keep this goal going and as at the 6th of Feb, I have made it to gym at least 4 times a week this year. Part of what I enjoy about gym, is the people. People that go to gym are fascinating. Not because they are at gym, but because they are fascinating. It just so happens that gym brings out things in people that you don’t get to see all that often in other contexts.
I love it when I see similarities in seemingly unrelated things in life. Most recently, it’s occurred to me how similar the local gym and the local church are.
1. It takes a long time for people to realise that it’s a good idea to make friends
Statistically, a high percentage of ‘regulars’ at gym do more than just go to gym regularly. The go to gym at a regular time. If you are one of those, there’s a good chance that you’ll see the same people day in and day out. You’ll stand next to each other at the lockers. You’ll probably meet at the water cooler while filling your bottle. You are likely to have to wait for each other to finish benching at alternating points. Though, if you are the average person it will probably take you weeks before you make eye contact and greet each other. After two months, you’ll not only notice when Bryce the accountant isn’t at gym, but you may actually…cough… miss him. You’ll wonder if all’s okay. You’ll realise that even though you haven’t shared contact details, have had very superficial conversation and have a gym-related acquaintance, Bryce is part of your life.
Take this scenario to the church, and you’ll realise that it’s taken far too long for you to start a conversation with ‘Church Bryce’ – the guy who sits in the row in front of you at church every week. You’ve seen him many times. You’ve admired his ability to remain focussed through even the most boring sermon. You’ve seen how his car is clean every Sunday. But you’ve never greeted him. You know nothing about him, even though you wonder where he is on those occasional Sunday’s when the seat in front of you remains empty.
2. We are all there for the same reason
At gym, we all want change. Why else would we pay the absurd, unjustifiable Virgin Active fees? We are not entirely satisfied with our bodies and we want them to change. Bottom line – that’s why people are in the gym.
The church is not that different. We are in the church because we want change. We believe that within the structure, politics, programmes, community and frustration that is often criticised, is something uniquely special. We believe that the church is a facilitator of life change. We believe those who lead us through the services, courses, cell groups and other events, are able to guide us and be God’s vessels of life change.
3. Different things have driven us there
Even though we all want essentially the same things from gym and church, we want them for different reasons.
I spend hours a week at gym for 2 main reasons: I enjoy the ‘escape’, the ‘me-time’ and the ‘re-focus’ time it offers me. I do a lot of thinking at gym and there is seldom anything to distract me; and I want to be fitter and look better than I do now. I don’t want to have a high body fat percentage, and I don’t want to have to run for my t-shirt when people start taking photos at a pool party. I suspect the guy I saw on the treadmill this morning is there because his doctor has told him that if he doesn’t loose 50kg in the next few months he will die. I suspect, too, that the blonde lady in her tight adidas gym clothes is there because she believes that, unless her body fat percentage is under 5%, her husband won’t love her. (That could have something to do with the way he screams at her to do another rep when she clearly has nothing left to give).
Likewise, different things have driven people to want to experience the life change associated with the church. Some people are there because it’s all they’ve ever known, and their upbringing has dictated that “Sunday is church day”. Others are there because they are so broken, so hurt, that they have run out of options. If they can’t find change at the church, they will give up on life entirely. Others have learned that the best way of doing life is in community, and have found that the church community is different to, say, the Lions Club or the local running club. So while we are most likely sitting next to someone who is – like ourselves – at church because they want change, we have most likely been driven there by very different things.
4. Unless we give our all, we’re wasting our time
This is very true of the gym, but probably even more so of the church.
I have spent countless hours wasting time at gym. Picking up weights that are so light I know I may as well be watching TV because it gives me a false sense of progress; spending more time on my phone between sets than I do actually working out and on occasion, even not getting as far as the gym floor because the ever present treats of Kauai. I have seen the opposite is very true. When I go to gym, get to the floor, keep my focus, work hard, keep rests to a minimum and give more than I thought possible, I see results. My biceps grow quickly. My stomach shrinks a little. My back starts to feel a little stronger.
How does this look at church? Well, let’s talk about Joe. Joe lives 10 minutes from church. The service starts at 9. Joe leaves home at 8:52. He’s two minutes late, sits in the middle of the church on the same chair every week. He enjoys it when the songs are fast. When they sing slow stuff, Joe gets a little distracted and ends up checking his social media feed. When the band gets up at the end to do the song that is supposed to “bring everything together”, Joe quietly slips out. As far as Joe knows, after the service, the doors get locked and nothing happens during the week. Joe’s friend Sarah has grown very close to God and in her journey with God over the past year. Why? Because Sarah understands that the church is not a show to watch, but a celebration to participate in. She understands that she has a responsibility to prepare herself for the service before she arrives. She understands how important it is to focus on the presence of God during worship. She knows that the best way to grow in community is to attend a small group during the week, and she has been blown away by how much her life has changed since she has started using her abilities to serve others. Sarah gives her all – and it shows!
5. Sometimes it feels amazing and sometimes it hurts like hell.
I’ve started a new gym programme, and so far, 9 days in, I’m loving it. I particularly enjoy “arm day”. I think my body type just makes it easier for me to build muscle on my arms. So throw me some bicep curls, a bent over dumbbell row or two, some overhand curls and I leave gym feeling like I’ve owned the day. I feel good. I feel strong. I walk a little taller. I glance at my forearms in the side mirror as I take the turn at the robot. The next day though… you know, the one where I have to do back? It’s much safer if I don’t talk about that. In short, my injured back means that even the simplest bit of attention to my back muscles hurts like hell.
The same is true for church. Sometimes, we walk in after a great week of digging into scripture, connecting with our small groups, a great prayer life and we are in the presence of God after two lines after the first song pouring out worship. The sermon leaves us motivated, encouraged and ready to change the world. Then, three weeks later, we can barely crawl into church. We have been so busy that it’s been difficult to pray, let alone take time out to actually read the bible. Then, it just so happens that the pastor chooses that day to preach on how God should be our priority – and end up leaving feeling terrible because we know we are guilty of every transgression the preacher spoke about. And it’s very painful!
So, yes, I think there is a lot to be learned about the church in the chlorine fragranced (every V.A member knows what I mean), air conditioned, loud music playing, adidas branded space of the local gym. The difference, though, is this: Any change that comes at the local gym is temporal. What God does through the local church is life changing for eternity! For this, there is no comparison.
See you in the gym, and hopefully at church.