Exercise for the Church

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:16-17, 26
Cardio exercise increases the heart’s health. Digital illustration.

Diet & Exercise

No matter how many fads come and go in the personal fitness industry, one reality remains constant…personal fitness always comes down to diet and exercise. Certainly, the kinds of diet and the kinds of exercise come and go. But physical fitness will always be a function of those two things.

When it comes to church health, the same is true. Through every generation and all the variations of worship and programming and metrics, a church’s “fitness” is still–and always will be–a function of diet and exercise. To the church, “diet” is about how it receives, hears, studies, and contemplates the Word of God. “Exercise”, then, is all the ways it mobilizes those scriptural truths. That is, how it becomes “doers” of the Word. But in both cases, diet and exercise, the critical catalyst for the church is God’s Spirit working in and through us.

What We Take for Granted

I often wonder how much we, the church, take for granted the miracle of the manifest presence of God’s Spirit among us. I wonder if we have any idea how amazing and wonderful and, frankly, unimaginable it would have seemed for most of the heroes of the Bible to have God’s very Spirit living within them on a day-in, day-out basis. Even the men sitting with Jesus as he spoke these very words would have marveled at the notion of His spirit within them guiding them, directing them, and empowering them to do the very kinds of things he did. It was a concept foreign to them. But it is the only connection to God any of us today can even begin to embrace.

So, do we embrace it? How much credit do we give the Spirit for even our most basic comprehension of scripture itself? How aware are we that any semblance of healthy relationships within the church is fundamentally a function of the Spirit’s work within us, as opposed to any particular social skills on our part? How much do we really believe that it was not the acts of the apostles that started the church, but rather, the acts of the Holy Spirit within those apostles?

How We Access the Spirit Together

It is against the backdrop of those convicting questions that church leaders who care about their church’s spiritual “fitness” must then consider the diet and exercise of their church. It is the work of the Spirit that causes us to see and comprehend Spiritual truths. Biblical literacy, then, is critical to “diet”. As for exercise, just like with physical fitness, there are plenty of disciplines from which to choose. There is running, walking, rowing, lifting, dancing, hiking, throwing, etc. Similarly, for a church, there are countless ways we can exercise scriptural truths in our communities.

But the one constant in every spiritual exercise program–the “cardio” of a church’s spiritual exercise–is gathered prayer. It is the spiritual discipline through which we learn to see ourselves and our world the way God sees it. It is how Jesus described His church: a “house of prayer”. It is central to our identity. In the same way that physically fit people include cardio in their exercise, spiritually fit churches gather to pray together.

Gathered prayer is the work of the church. It is hard work. Sometimes even grueling. And it makes us stronger. And, when we are getting it right, it is something we desperately miss when we cannot be there. It is a little like breathing in that respect. As I wrap up the writing of this post, I am smiling. Because, in just a couple of hours, I will be gathering with my church to pray. And work. And breathe. And most of the world will not even know we are doing it. But I (and we) will be stronger for it.

© Blake Coffee

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