The Pulse of a Church

On June 7, 2010, I weighed almost 300 pounds. After years of stress, working two and three jobs, and crashing on the sofa for late night dinner and snacks, I checked my pulse… again.

I say again, because I had been checking my pulse all along.  I had borderline high blood pressure for years. My resting heart rate was in the high 70’s. I was shopping for size 48 trousers.  My XXL winter coat was too small. I couldn’t climb two flights of stairs without stopping for a few minutes to catch my breath – a problem that exposed how out of shape I was whenever I was late for a meeting on the 3rd floor. But for years, I had let my body win out over my head. You see, food was my comfort. I ate in response to the stress. The food tasted good and felt good. It is what my body craved, and so my head let my body have what it wanted, even though, in my mind, I knew this behavior was going to end up with a dead body, I still continued it, and my pulse told the story to anyone trained in reading the pulse. I don’t know of anyone that looked at me and said, “I’d like to be like you.”

I know it was June 7, because that is the day that I no longer accepted that my pulse was what it was, and let my head win. Today, 13 months later, I have lost over 100 pounds of fat. My size 36 trousers fit really well – and I even have a size 34 that I’ve been able to wear. (For those doing the math, that it almost 14” I lost in my waist.) I have some size medium shirts that I really like – and a size medium leather jacket I got from Goodwill for $25 that I really enjoy wearing when the weather calls for it. My resting heart rate is in the high 50’s. I can run up 2 flights of stairs and go right into my meetings – late or not.

This new “healthy” me is the result of change. I began doing some things that I don’t enjoy (and some that I do). I hate running. I run at least twice a week – sometimes three times. I enjoy weight lifting. I lift weights at least twice a week – sometimes three times. I also stopped doing some things that I really enjoyed – and would enjoy again if I ever started back.  I haven’t eaten bacon or sausage for over a year. I’ve had no more than 10 slices of pizza (chicken, mushroom, etc.) in the last 13 months. I eat a lot of salad. I eat nonfat everything. My body wishes this were not the case. My mind loves the result.

I had the privilege of being in a meeting last week where, among other things, it was said that the leaders of a church need to know the pulse of a church. And then something like “a church with no pulse is a dead church.” I couldn’t agree more. The leaders of a church do need to know the pulse of a church. But as the leaders of the church (under the authority/headship of Christ and called by Christ), leaders need to know what to do when the pulse is not healthy. For inaction in response to an unhealthy pulse will most certainly result in a death. (By the way, another indicator of a dead church is zero reproduction: no new lives saved, no new groups started, no new churches planted – see the posting on this blog: “Managers vs. Leaders: American Idol and The Voice”).

Spiritual Voyeurism

One cause of an unhealthy pulse is spiritual voyeurism – watching the pastor and other leaders serve and minister without doing so yourself. There is an unhealthy pulse in our nation that tells us that a church believes that it pays its ministers to do the ministry and pays its missionaries to do missions, instead of what the head says:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Eph 4:11-13

When I was fat, I watched a lot of sports. I watched strong and healthy people do what they were trained and expected to do. And I enjoyed it. I picked who I wanted to win– and rejoiced when “my” team won – as if I had done something to assist in the win. I was frustrated when “my” team lost – and decided in my own mind as to who should be traded and who should start – as if I truly understood the sport and the team as well as the leader of the team did. And I still huffed and puffed up 2 flights of stairs.

Diagnosing the Pulse

A healthy pulse can tell you to keep doing what you’re doing.  That’s what my doctor now tells me. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” I never before had a doctor check my pulse and tell me that. The expert on pulses told me I needed to do instead of watch. (He actually said that I need to exercise.) The expert on spiritual pulses would tell us the same thing – exercising your faith involves doing instead of just watching (James 1:22 – Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.)

My doctor told me I needed to eat more healthy food, eat a balanced diet, and stop eating the food that my body craved – the food that was going to kill me. Gossip is like potato chips – you can’t eat just one. Philosophy is like dessert – it may taste sweet, but contains very little that provides actual nourishment. And picking over my plate to only eat what I want is like proof-texting the Word of God. When you pick out only the pieces and passages that you like, and skip over what you don’t, your diet is not balanced. Your pulse will suffer.

What is the Doctor to Do?

Hopefully, the Doctor gets through to the patient in time, and health can be restored by exercise and eating right – bringing the behavior of the body in line with what the head knows to be right. If caught, but caught late, the doctor may suggest stints – a surgical procedure (some pain in that) to insert devices that can open up blocked arteries. Stints work by pushing the blockages out of the way – blockage that is caused by a lifestyle of inactivity and eating the wrong food.

However, if caught too late, there is one recourse other than death: bypass surgery (a lot of pain in this). Sometimes, the blockage is so bad, that there is no way to repair the damage done. If the body listens to the head, the surgery will be performed, and the blockage will no longer be in the path of the life giving flow. If the body doesn’t listen to the head, doesn’t want to endure the pain, doesn’t want to give up the fat and fast food, then the blockage wins, and the body will die.

I agree, as leaders, we must know the pulse. But we must not listen to the pulse. We must listen to the head, for the head knows what to do to get back to, and maintain, a healthy pulse.

Consequences of Obedience

Someone once said that no food tastes as good as thin feels. I’m going to have do what I’m doing for the rest of my life. I cannot slip back into ice cream, snacks, pork, and pizza. So, there is some consequence to my personal pleasure that I will have to suffer with.  However, at the small company where I work – no less than six individuals that I know of began a weight management system because I did. Each of them has lost more than 20 pounds. Lives are healthier. Families are healthier. Our company is healthier. Today, there are people who do say, “I’d like to be like you.”

Is that true of your church? Are there churches out there that look at you and say, “Whatever you’re doing, teach us.  We’d like to be like you.” Or are there churches that look at you say, “I’m glad we’re not like them.” The huge consequence of obedience is that a healthy church is a reproducing church. Unbelievers will see what Christ intended all along, and some will say, “I want what you have.” New believers will be trained and equipped to be a healthy part of a healthy body – the pulse will be strong. New small groups will start (reproduction). New churches will be planted (reproduction).

But the church can never stop exercising, and must never go back to potato chips and dessert. Oh yes, and eat everything that God puts on your plate – balance is the only way to sustained health.

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One Response to The Pulse of a Church

  1. Mark says:

    This goes right with a message I heard in Grand Junction, CO. two weeks ago. All throughout scripture we are told to do and we will be blessed. Somehow over the years we have turned that into when I am blessed I’ll do. Very much enjoyed this article. I have the pleasure of knowing Eli as one of my friends and while he is giving up pork and ice cream I am just cutting down on it.

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