Episode 022 – Church is Like Group Exercise Class

 
 
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God gave us a community to do this following Jesus thing with and that community is called Church. And, in some ways church is like a group exercise class at your local gym. We’re together, working, and learning from each other and an instructor the art and science of following Jesus and loving Him and people well. Let me know what you think! Send this one over to your friends and start your own discussion!

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Mentioned in this episode:

The book of Ephesians

The Message version of the Bible

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller

Episode Transcript:

Intro

Alexis (00:44):    Hi, this is Alexis Busetti and welcome to That Makes Total Sense!  So I want to talk about church today. We’re going to get there in kind of a roundabout way, but I want to talk about church.

So recently I was at the gym and I went to one of those group exercise classes and it reminded me of church, which sounds crazy, but follow me. So I was at one of those group exercise classes, you know the ones I’m talking about. Even if they’re not in your regular workout routine, you know the ones, you can do everything. Even at my gym they actually still offer those like old school step aerobics classes. But you can do, you know, kickboxing or yoga or now they have those new like aerial silk things that hang from the ceiling. Anyway, I wasn’t doing any of those. Just so you know, this particular class where I had this like epiphany was a barbell weight lifting class. 

And this is, I’ve taken this class more than once and it’s still usually leaves me sore like for days after.  Like so sore that I’m left asking myself what in the world I did and I’m thinking, why did I cause myself such misery? But anyway, it was in the middle of this barbell class (probably when I was trying to mentally distract myself from my shaking muscles) I started realizing in a lot of ways this was just like church. Okay – so minus the limping that I knew was going to come afterwards, at least I hope. But this was like church.

So the subject of church has been heavy on my heart lately because our family recently transitioned our church home. And I know that may not sound like a huge deal to a lot of people. But the truth is that my husband and I have been married – we have four kids – we’ve been married for over 16 years and we have only to two different local congregations over the course of our entire lives together. Like even before we were married. So before we were married and then through the first eight years or something, we were married, we belonged to this particular church in our old state where we used to live. And then when we moved to where we currently live, that’s actually when we changed our membership. So we actually only moved churches at that time because we had moved states. And so, I understand that’s kind of — we’re kind of an anomaly as far as that goes, because going through this and talking with my friends, you know, about their journeys and what does it look like to belong to a church home for them. I realized that most people do tend to move a bit more than we did, but that, that was just our story. 

So this transition for us, that started several months ago really made me take a look a long, hard look at church in general, church as a whole. I started to understand it in different ways. I started to really pray and ask God about it. In fact, I was reading a bit of Don[ald] Miller this morning. I love the book Blue Like Jazz and he was talking about changing churches and said he read Ephesians like four times in The Message version [of the Bible]. And I’m like, Oh my goodness! I did the same thing! But it actually wasn’t in The Message, it was in The Living Translation or something like that. But I read and read and read Ephesians because Paul just talks so much about the body in that book. But you know I really started searching it out. What do I want from church?  What do I want to be able to give? How do I want it to be a part of my life? What about our family? So all of those things you know, were kind of swirling around -and then the barbell class.

So here it is. I want to talk about it. I want to talk about three ways Church is like a collective workout experience or I’m gonna use the words a “group exercise class.” So here we go!

First let’s talk about the group aspect of it. Here I was in the barbell class and it kind of started this whole process for me, or not the process, but the teaching part of it at least. And I’m in a room full of people. Most of the people there don’t look anything like me. I really didn’t have a lot in common with them that I knew of except for the fact that we were all members of the same health club and we had all chosen to go to the same class on the same day. And you may already see the similarities in church right there, right? God designed us, our differences and our similarities, but He designed us to need each other and to want each other to, He designed us to be together in a group. So whether we’re at the gym or church or school or a neighborhood or anywhere else, we were made by Him for community.

So I’m sure you’ve probably read this. It’s kind of one of those things that has become like a kind of pop psychology at this point. But I remember the first time I read from a neuroscientist that our brains are actually social organs, like as organs, our brains need to interact with other brains.  Which was so weird to me because, you know, I think, I don’t, I don’t understand, you know, the neuroscience and everything behind it, but I’m thinking like this is not true of other organs, right?  I mean, it’d be kind of weird if our kidneys like needed to be friends or something, right? But, but our brains, they need each other like we need each other. This is one of the reasons why solitary confinement is so damaging, right? It can even cause people to go insane if it’s perpetuated long enough, that experience, because our brains, like our very selves, need each other.

And personally, there was a long time in my life, honestly where I was functioning unbeknownst to me, I would say, but I was functioning as if I was self-sufficient. So I wouldn’t have said that out loud, but that was really how I was living. Because it’s hard to need people. And it’s even harder to admit we need people sometimes. So when this assessment of myself and my self-sufficient lifestyle came to my attention, I was shocked! Of course, my husband and my best friend were not shocked, but that’s another topic. 

We need community. We were designed to spend time in groups. Even God lives in community with Himself. So that’s a weird concept. But in Christianity we know it, we’re familiar with it. We even have a word for it and a term for it, and it’s called the Trinity. And this idea pops up in the very first verses of the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible in Genesis. The word used for God in chapter one of Genesis is Elohim in Hebrew, which is actually a plural noun. It’s that -eem sound that makes it plural and, it’s the word God. And later in the creation account, God creates humans of course. And as He’s doing this, His introduction to it, the quote is, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” That’s verse 26 and Genesis chapter one (emphasis added), He’s referring to Himself with His own plural, possessive pronouns, right?  “Us, “Our,” “Our.” And in the later he, he, he is a community in himself. And then later he puts that on us, right? Because we are created in his image after his likeness. And so when God made Adam, He said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. So from the very beginning of the world, at least the history we have of it, God made and intended for us to live in community just like Him and we’re intended to live in community with Him and with each other.

So back to the barbell class. I noticed that while we were all there together, my experience was unique to me. It wasn’t exactly like anyone else’s in the class. And that was okay. So we were in the group together, but we weren’t all necessarily experiencing the same thing. But we were with each other. Not to compare my experience to the person next to me, but to encourage our experiences ‘cause I have to tell you, when you’re working hard and you’re sweating, it feels good to look over and see someone else who’s working hard like you or to see someone else give you that smile or mouth “you got this,” you know, like that is amazing! You’re sharing something in that moment when the class is over or even when you get through with a tough set, there’s a shared sense of accomplishment. There is an acknowledgement inside of that group that you’re all there to better yourselves in some way and you’re not on that journey alone.

This is church, my friends.

We are here with each other working side by side. God has given us each slightly different missions to carry out based on what He has put inside of us, but what our gifts are, what our passions are, but doing them together in the context of community makes it so much more enjoyable because we can help each other by providing the encouragement we need to keep going. 

So the writer of Hebrews talks about this, right? He gives this whole list in chapter 11 which so many people refer to as the “Hall of Faith” and he lists all these Bible characters that we know and love and he tells parts of their stories. And he really just praises them for walking out their faith. And right after that, right after all of those faith stories, at the beginning of chapter 12 the author of Hebrews addresses us and he says, “therefore,” so like all of the things before that, right? All of the chapter 11 things, all of the people –  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” and he’s talking about those people he just finished naming –  “Let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

We each have our own races, but we’re running and being cheered on by the saints who have gone before us and by each other. This group thing, it’s really important to the body of Christ and so I couldn’t help myself – okay, speaking of running, Hebrews is talking about running a race. We’re moving on to exercise.

So the second point, group exercise class, and now we’re on exercise. What’s the point of exercise? I mean, okay, maybe I was asking myself in the barbell class, like seriously, what is the point of this? But it’s to make us stronger and healthier. Right? We all know our lives are much better when we’re strong and healthy. However, actually exercising isn’t nearly as popular as believing we should exercise. That’s one reason for the group aspect above, right? We touched on that already. We need encouragement.   We need accountability to make exercise happen on a regular basis, at least for most of us. But I’m wondering if part of that is part of that reason that we need that extra encouragement and accountability in the group stuff is because exercise is beneficially destructive to a degree. Does that make sense? It hurts, in other words. So when we work out, you probably already know this, but what’s happening biologically is our muscles are breaking down. That’s why it doesn’t feel great sometimes. In other words, it hurts. And we don’t like to do things that hurt. We’re ripping these tiny holes in our muscles, right? But then afterwards, they get built back up because we eat what we’re supposed to eat. We rest. And then our muscles get stronger than they were before. We ripped all those tiny little holes in them. Okay. So follow me, but church is actually kind of like this too.

So one of the reasons we gather with people in a community of believers and we get teaching and instruction is because we’re breaking down our previous ways of doing things. We’re breaking down those old thought patterns that were not healthy, those destructive behaviors. And we’re encouraging each other to strength and health and wellness. But this requires hard work and commitment on our part, right? Just like physical exercise. And another thing about exercise in a group class is I’m putting myself in a position to acknowledge where I need to get stronger. So this is cool. So you know how it is when you’re in a, in a group exercise class or even just when you’re exercising in general, you kind of naturally gravitate to what’s easiest or what you enjoy the most.

Now this is true in exercise.  It could be true anywhere, right? At work or in our faith, for sure. But when an area is uncomfortable or it starts to challenge us, it can be our reaction to just pull back from that thing, pull back from that exercise. But if I’m exercising in a group setting, especially with an instructor, all of that changes. I’m going to be forced to confront deadlifts in that barbell class, whether or not I feel like my hamstrings can handle them and I’m probably going to be sore the next day, but I may not have been as likely to do those on my own. So as I continue to confront challenges, those areas of my body get stronger and stronger and the exercises get easier and easier. But it’s like that in church too. As we get together and exercise our spirits, we see and feel where we’re weak and we have the opportunity to exercise that area, to challenge that area in a safe environment.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the challenge is probably gonna leave us feeling worn out at times, but when we recover and as those broken down areas become stronger, we can even get to the point where we can lead others through those places – where we’ve already gone. Paul puts it this way in his first letter to Timothy, he says, “Nurture others in the living words of faith and in the knowledge of grace, which you were taught. Be quick to abstain from senseless traditions and legends, but instead be engaged in the training of truth, the training of truth that brings righteousness,” that tells me that truth isn’t automatic sometimes in areas of our lives, “a training of truth that brings righteousness. For athletic training only benefits you for a short season. But righteousness brings lasting benefit in everything. For righteousness contains the promise of life for time and eternity.  Faithful is the Word and everyone should accept Him.”

So this is part of what we’re doing together – we’re challenging, we’re training in righteousness because that lasts for eternity and impacts the world around us.

So finally, class group exercise class. Let’s get to the class part. Because there is a difference between getting together with a group of friends and just doing something you enjoy together, a hobby or some sort of activity. And there’s even a difference between just being in the same place at the same time as people who are doing the same thing as you and actually attending a class. If you’re attending a class, there is an expectation that you’re committed to learning something new or minimally you’re going to be practicing something you already kind of know in a more structured environment, right? So I can lift weights on my own or I can do it next to my husband or my best friend while we listen to music or talk about whatever at the gym.  But just doing something at the same place at the same time is not the same as doing the activity with the objective of actually learning something.

Part of what makes the class aspect so special is the presence of a teacher or a coach, right? This is like church. And I want to make a point here that it’s not just the instructional part about church is not just the sermon. So I think that this is part of where I see people and, and I can be guilty of having this temptation, but there’s so much content out there, right? There’s podcasts, hello, you’re listening to one. There’s sermons on YouTube. There’s all sorts of instruction we can get in the faith. But that’s not the same as having a pastor and going to church. So there are people, and like I said, there’s a temptation there to say, “Oh I’m, you know, kind of quote “getting fed” or I’m listening to this teaching or I’m reading this great book so I don’t actually have to go to church ‘cause I’m learning stuff.  But that’s not actually giving our pastors as you know, instructors or teachers, that’s not actually giving them enough credit. Because really our pastors’ instructional nature reaches far beyond a 20 or 30 minute sermon on a weekend service. So let me explain part of what I mean – if you’re in class at the gym, your group fitness instructor has goals for you and a coaching style to match. And we should expect a similar experience in churches from our pastors. They’re there to help us get stronger. They know the right places to push us and pull us to break down our spiritual muscles and the right places, so they grow back stronger.

And part of their job is also in observation. In your group workout class, the instructor, sometimes you’ll probably notice they take a break from what they’re doing and they might walk up and down the aisles in your class or they’ll take a peek and make sure that everybody is having good form or making sure there’s no one who’s struggling particularly and they do this for a lot of reasons, right?  Number one, they want to make sure you’re getting the very, very most out of the exercises. You know, there’s some times where it’s just like that one tweak and where your elbow is, or making sure your knee is aligned, that makes the exercise completely more beneficial than it was before, just by having good form. But also there’s this aspect of injury, right? They want to help you maybe modify if you have an existing injury or they want to make sure you know that your joints are lined up so you don’t get an injury in class, and our pastors are doing the same things for us. If we’ll let them.  If we’ll let them see us, they’re observing us.  Now hear me – they’re not checking our performance. They’re not showing us or telling us what we’re doing wrong because they want us to feel bad.  They’re trying to improve what we’re doing for our own health so that we can be strong to help others too. They’re also protecting the injured and trying to help to help us so that we don’t injure ourselves. You know, there’re usually mirrors in those classes. And sure enough, we can use the mirror of God’s word and prayer and close friends in our own lives, but our instructors can often see us from a perspective that we can’t.  You know, I can check one direction in that workout mirror, but my instructor can walk a 360 around me and see if I’ve got any blind spots for what I thought I was doing.  But she can help me. So your pastor is more than just preaching a good sermon. He is there to help you walk in a way that will make you stronger so that you can help other people. 

So mini-soapbox here –  because I know that there are people out there who have had experiences. Where you’ve had a teacher or a pastor or someone in authority over you at a church and they, that person maybe has used their instructional platform to try and heap condemnation or guilt. And I just want to tell you that that is not from the Lord. Okay. Pray about that. Ask God for healing and encouragement in that area of your life. And if you’re in a place like that right now, I would just encourage you to tell you, you don’t have to be. And so just pray and ask God because the people that He has set in those positions are there for encouragement and edification and to help us move forward in our walk with God.  So just kind of a disclaimer. Okay. Mini-soapbox over, I think.

But again, here we are back in Ephesians. Here’s what Paul says about it in Ephesians 4, “And He,” that’s God “has appointed some with grace to be apostles and some with grace to be prophets and some with grace to be evangelists and some with grace to be pastors and some with grace to be teachers. And their calling is to nurture and prepare all the holy believers to do their own works of ministry. And as they do this, they will enlarge and build up the body of Christ.” So again, our pastors and our teachers, our instructors, part of their job is to help build us up so that we in turn can build up the body so that we can reach out and bring people in to know Jesus and have a relationship with Him.  So that’s all part of it for the pastor, the instructor, the class part, right. So we’re learning how to do all of that together.

So there you have it. How church is like a group exercise class as inspired by my wandering mind in my barbell class. But listen, we need each other. We need each other. Like that ‘80’s fitness instructor needed her leg warmers and her hot pink headband. And I do want to encourage you, if it’s been a while for you since you’ve been to a church or right now you’re somewhere where it just feels like it’s not a good fit anymore because maybe you’ve grown or changed in some areas. I just encourage you to pray. First of all, let God know where you are. He already knows. Just talk to him about it. And then I encourage you to seek out a Bible-believing, faith-filled church in your area this weekend because, we’re all in this together. We can’t do it without each other. We were designed and made for each other to walk this out together.

So thank you again so much for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. Share the link with your friends. You can visit us thatmakestotalsense.com. And until next time, this is Alexis Busetti remembering to do well for ourselves so we can do good for others!

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