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Sometimes the Problem with the Gym can be a Problem with the Church

Going to the gym at my age can be brutal on the ego – if I try to compare myself to others. 

After we became empty-nesters Cheryl and I sold the house where we raised our boys and moved to a downtown condo. It was an intentional life change and we loved it. Part of that move involved changing gyms. I started to workout on the campus of our local university, Austin Peay State University. I loved the facility and the school. Cheryl and I both graduated from there, but there was only one problem with my new workout location.

Most of the people in the gym don’t look like they need to be there.

They were young, lean, fit, strong, beautiful college-aged gym people.

It was so much more so than my last gym where lots of people looked like me. 🙂

I remember one day, as I was sweating like the oldies, it got me thinking.

Isn’t that the perception of the church at times?

I can’t go there, because everyone looks like they don’t need the church. They have the right clothes. They have the right lives.

They are smiling, joyful, seemingly have-it-all-together kind of people.

If my life is falling apart, why would I want to go there? I don’t fit in. I have nothing to offer. My life doesn’t match their life.

When the reality is if my physical body is out of shape the place where I need to be is in the gym.

And as I understand a primary purpose of the church, when my life is a mess, I need the church. Jesus came to call sinners. God is close to the broken-hearted.

By the way, something else I’ve learned is that behind the beautiful bodies in the gym may be some messed up hearts and minds. And the reality is behind those smiling faces at church may be some mixed up hearts and minds.

Let us never make people who attend our church feel like I felt at the gym. The church should be a place where when you’re hurting most you feel the most at home. Someone once said what you do when you sin reveals what you know about God. Those who know Him well run quickly into the arms of grace.

What if church was a place where we could take off our masks, be who we really are, share our joys and our sorrows, and still be loved regardless of how we look, feel, or are behaving at the time?

Let me make a deal with you if you have ever felt unwelcome in the church. 

I’ll keep going to my gym even when I feel “out of place” if you’ll give church another chance.

Be honest, have you ever felt you didn’t belong in church because your life was a mess?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • 9569953625 says:

    Being an older pastor who works hard at being healthy; that is a great analogy. Thanks for the insight.

  • Kristen says:

    Not long ago, I was married with three adorable children. When we attended church, people would smile approvingly, sometimes telling us that we were the perfect couple and family.

    And then he “came out” as gay.

    I left that town and church in shame even though our marital break-up wasn’t my fault or doing. Now, the kids are in college, the divorce is still in process, and I’m alone. I must say, Ron, that I dread going to church. I’m an “add-on,” not an integral part of the church body: I know it. Church is geared toward families. The rest of us are “ministries.”

    When I attend church, I sit in the back, on the very end of the pew, and am the first out the door. When the service is over, I feel a sense of relief — “Phew, I survived another Sunday.” Women’s ministries, too, are for the married, not the single. The women in my Bible study are polite and sometimes kind, but there’s a definite social gap between the “well married” and those who are divorced or never married.

    As I read your essay, I thought about how callous I had been toward unmarried people in the past. They were invisible to me. I don’t recall any long, meaningful conversations with divorced, widowed or single individuals, probably because I assumed they had their own set of friends, just as I had my happily-married-with-kids friends. I wasn’t rude, dismissive or arrogant, but blind.

    I’ll remarry, in time, but have learned, during this horrible season, to notice those who are quiet, reserved, unmarried, sad and lonely. Churches should be most welcoming to those who most need fellowship, but it’s not that way now. Not at all.

  • That's great analogy Ron! Gym and the church . I can relate that personally.

  • ronedmondson says:

    That's so true.

  • A. Amos Love says:

    Ron – Your new home downtown sounds delightful. 😉
    I also belonged to a gym attached to a University. And I have grey hair. Oy Vey!!! 🙁

    You write…
    “And, maybe it’s why, when my life is a mess, I need the church…”

    Sorry, but, that’s what I was taught. Even taught it myself when I was in leadership.
    Found out the hard way, through many tears and many years – When life is a mess – I need Jesus. 🙂

    What most today call “the church” (Sunday morning meetings, heirarchy, institution, rules and regulations,) can only provide a momentary fix. Even when you know “The Church” is the body of Christ, God’s people – and you go to God’s people when your life is a mess. It’s comforting to know folks who care and will go through tough times with you – BUT, it’s still only momentary – We need Jesus. We always need Jesus. In good times and bad times – we need Jesus. 😉

    Only Jesus can heal our broken hearts. Only the Blood of Jesus can forgive and cleanse our sins.
    Only Jesus can tell us, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Only Jesus has “Words of Life.”
    Only Jesus is “The prince of Peace.” Only Jesus provides “The peace that passes understanding.”
    People can come and go. And disappoint us. Organizations can come and go. And disappoint us.
    Only Jesus can be trusted – to remain faithful, and – to never leave us, and – to love us always.

    I’m Blest – I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    • ronedmondson says:

      I agree. We need Jesus. I hope the church's number one goal is pointing people to Jesus.

  • Eldon Kelley says:

    I heard another comparason about the gym the other day that may be the case with church too. Often the gym doesnt really care if you show up, so long as you pay your dues. They get the money and arent really concerned about the outcome. I believe that both the church and the church goer can fall into this same mentality way too easily. Either we are just too happy to get the tithe check and dont bother checking up on the health of the person or we claim we belong to a church and dont bother going and getting healthy ourself. Dangerous any way you look at it.

  • Jon says:

    I think a lot of times it has to do with the approach of the church. Not that we should parade everyone's dirty laundry across the stage on Sunday morning or in the bulletin to make us feel better, but I think the church (local) can do things to feed or defeat the perception that every thing is just so beautiful and wonderful – except for you.

    An example. I know that there are probably families or couples in my church who are struggling with marital issues, or drug issues, or kid issues, or porn or whatever. I assume that because I know that none of us are perfect. But I don't "know" that because there is no public forum or outreach to those people. When my wife and I started having marital issues that required me and then us to start counseling, I was surprised to learn that I wasn't the only one, even though I kind of knew it. I started in a men's group that had been meeting for ages for guys in difficult situations; mostly marital, but not completely. I knew many of these men and had no inkling that there was an issue. And in truth I suppose that I shouldn't have known; but it was the way the church didn't approach this problems that really caught me off guard. I had no idea that this group existed until I needed to be in it.

    Over time my wife started to go to a different church…which is an issue in itself…but there they make no bones about realizing that there are specific needs that they know exist and they have ministries set up to deal with them. Now, my guess is that anonymity is still the name of the game, but in that environment I think I'd be less surprised to find someone that I knew who was having an issue and I'd be less afraid to approach the pastor about my problem. It's obvious in that body that not everyone is 20 and fit.

  • After I had been out of church for about two years, I finally got the courage to try again. I was paralyzed by the question, "What should I wear?" I remember walking down the sidewalk, crying, wondering if everyone would be able to tell I was visiting because I hadn't picked out the right clothes.

  • Liz says:

    also you never know how those people started they could've started 20 pounds heavier and worked at it. you have to maintain that health by going to the gym/church. but i agree just because you look like you don't have to be there doesn't mean you shouldn't be…looks can be deceiving

  • Dave says:

    Being an older pastor who works hard at being healthy; that is a great analogy. Thanks for the insight.

  • Paul Loyless says:

    Wow. Great post Ron. Right on the money.