There are two kinds of body worship.
BODY WORSHIP #1: The ultimate body – You’ve seen the models for Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein. You’ve followed the exceptional performance of top athletes or movie actors. They grace the covers of magazines as the “World’s Most Beautiful People”. With perfect muscles, flawless skin, exact proportions, and looks that just beg you to keep looking, they have the bodies worthy of the highest admiration. As writer Evelyn Underhill said, “Worship is the absolute acknowledgement of all that lies beyond us.” These people have bodies that go way beyond the average person.
With non-stop daily coverage of cleverly crafted images, prize-winning accomplishments, and celebration of their do-gooding we’re compelled to join in giving them honor. Most people don’t admit to worshiping a body. Popular media does it for us. We’re awestruck by the creation without ever considering the creator.
Photo by David Ford. Used by permission of the model.
BODY WORSHIP #2: The average church worship service includes the congregation (the audience) singing or just listening to a few short songs (that you may or may not know) led by genuinely earnest and often gifted people (the worship team). In some cases the worship may be a very high-tech and highly scheduled performance. You get to do this kind of body worship once a week if you’re a regular church-going sort of person – you may do it passively even more often if you listen to “Christian radio” or watch “Christian tv”. The church congregation and church leaders make up a portion of the larger total Christian population or “body of Christ”. According to research by the Barna Group, “three out of five U.S. adults who don’t attend church are self-described Christians”.
It is no wonder that everybody thinks God is so cool these days. What kind of body worship do you do: Body Worship # 1, Body Worship # 2, both or neither? While this may be a different way of thinking for you, it isn’t news to God. In fact, more than an assessment of the state of culture today, this article is an examination of God’s design for humanity, a critical look at our disconnect from that intended purpose and a simple yet practical approach to worship for you and your community. This is a conversation about body worship and why you should do it.
THE GOD DESIGN AND THE HUMAN RECONNECT
Take a moment and consider your understanding of God. Perhaps you view Him as an all-powerful nebulous somewhere out there in space. Perhaps you don’t believe in God at all or you do believe but have, by your own estimation, a limited understanding of God. Disengage from “you” for a moment to consider this: In one of the earliest accounts in the Bible of God interacting with man, God simply says, “I am”. It is a statement of “being”. Take that at face value and God exists regardless of what we believe or understand. That may take a lot of faith or a little faith for you… It is faith nonetheless and requires you to not depend on your own understanding.
Now take a moment and consider something that for most people is more tangible: everything around us that is physical. This includes the universe, planet earth, the smallest components of the atom and most intimately YOUR physical body. This is all stuff that you can feel, see and touch. Because it is physical it is not only very real to you but very much a part of your existence and everyday experience.
Consider one more thing now: This God that “is” didn’t have to create a physical universe, world or human body for your spirit to exist. Consider that you are more of a spirit than a physical body AND that your body and everything physical around you is designed by God so that you can have a deeper, richer and more thorough spiritual experience.
This is the design but we’ve become disconnected from it. We’ve taken the physical that was given to us to enhance our spiritual experience and elevated it to our sole mode of existence. Christians, those who identify as the “body of Christ” can live out the tremendous physical/spiritual connection that God intends by making worship and daily physical fitness one in the same. Doing this will not only help Christians connect with God more closely it will help others see God revealed through the activities they are already doing.
Evelyn Underhill went on to say, “Worship is the absolute acknowledgement of all that lies beyond us —the glory that fills heaven and earth. It is the response that conscious beings make to their Creator to the Eternal Reality from which they came – God.”
Physical fitness IS WORSHIP. Most Christians are familiar with the Bible passage that says, “Let everything that has breath praise God”. Through fitness each breath can be praise to God. If you seldom engage in vigorous physical activity you may not understand that. Go get active and you’ll be keenly aware of your breathing. Is that pretty church singing? No, but it certainly is your physical body celebrating life --- with every breath and every drop of sweat and every pounding heart beat and every muscle movement.
When you do exercise with others then everyone together discovers that laboring with their hands is a good thing. Together the gathered body has good conversations that edify and minister grace. Physical fitness as worship is a portal between the physical world where we find ourselves and the realm where our spirit already resides. Physical fitness breaks down barriers and helps you grow and engage with others on a spiritual level of kindness, compassion and forgiveness. Fitness is body worship where indeed as the Bible says, “the whole body is fitly joined together.”
This isn’t a call to end the traditional weekly church service. It is a plan to begin and grow a church ministry that facilitates body worship the other 6 days. Communities become more vibrant physically, spiritually and in many other ways when churches provide an environment for people to engage through fitness.
How do you do it and do it well? Search for “church fitness” on the web and you’ll find ChurchFitness.com. Founder Rob Killen says, “Church Fitness is a consulting service and resource for churches that offer or want to offer fitness centers. Over the past few years the fitness industry has seen a trend with more churches beginning to add fitness facilities. Many churches need professional consultation to assist with launching a fitness ministry. Churches don’t have the same level of support and resources to draw upon the way other larger organizations such as YMCA’s, Gold’s Gyms and JCC’s do.” He notes that this lack of professional help creates a couple of key problems:
1. Many churches lack proper planning and guidance in the building, design and operations of their fitness facilities,
2. Churches often don’t select the correct exercise equipment for their facility, and often overpay on the equipment they purchase. I combine my past background in health club operations and my current position of selling equipment with Gym Source the world’s largest commercial fitness equipment supplier. This combination allows churches to receive the much needed support their fitness ministry needs in order to achieve long term success.
Churches often have a significant and ongoing focus on their once-a-week music worship service. They allocate a large amount of space and make a costly investment in the audiovisual equipment to support it. They often have a fulltime worship leader and a worship team. Churches often become known in their communities for their music worship.
Body worship is a way churches can expand their influence in a community, and for the investment, dramatically increase their ability to fulfill their mission. Churches that plan for and do a music worship service can also plan for and do body worship. Killen explains, “There are several important areas to consider with regards to church fitness ministry. Thorough planning before launching your fitness ministry is important. Form a fitness committee, do some surveys (both in the church and surrounding community), and establish some clear goals and objectives for your fitness ministry. Determine who your core clientele will be, and then make sure that your facility has the services and equipment to best serve these members.”
Rob says that the three biggest challenges that churches face are space, budget and staffing. He helps churches consider their options and develop a plan. Is there some existing space the church can use, either within the church or at a location close by? How will the church fund the fitness center. How much money will be needed to both start the fitness ministry and sustain it each month? Once you determine the services, programs and size of you fitness ministry, Rob helps churches determine what the monthly overhead will be for the church to operate its new fitness center. He helps them plan for how it will be staffed and maintained in the coming months and years ahead. The goal is to have your fitness ministry be 100% self-sustaining through revenues generated by monthly memberships, personal training fees, and other related services.
Rob says that while a fitness ministry can be started at any time, it is best to do research and planning early, ideally before budgeting, staffing changes and renovation/construction planning. He’ll help your church with that critical first step with a free initial phone consultation. He elaborates, “This provides your church some background information and feedback to help in your early planning stages. It allows me to learn more about the church and its mission, while we explore together how body worship can help grow and accomplish the larger goals of the church. Since my background includes opening new health clubs, I can share with you lessons that have been learned through the past mistakes of others. Our goal together will be for your church to save time and money in the process.
According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association there are 51.4 million Americans over the age of 6 who are health club members. When you consider that the total U.S population is well over 300 million people, there’s plenty of room in the market for church based fitness centers. Obesity and diabetes are at epidemic levels in our country today.
Churches can play a pivotal role in helping our country reverse this unhealthy trend. Rob encourages, “The church can play an important role in leading more people to lead healthier lives. Even smaller churches that don’t have the resources and space to put in fitness centers with the latest exercise equipment can still start a weekly walking program, weekend bike trail rides and group exercise programs. What your church does to influence members in your congregation and your surrounding community to lead a healthier life has both an immediate and eternal impact.”
Christians can shape culture by doing fitness ministry and celebrating a biblical definition of body worship.