Pastors Need to Sweat – And Not Just On the Treadmill of Ministry

“It’s not good for a preacher to sweat,” said Jerry with a curled up grin beneath his reddish mustache. That was twenty-five years ago.

We were talking of cutting calves and hauling hay. Jerry worked hard. After he got home from his day job he worked a small farm. They had some cattle. And, they raised cotton. He worked tirelessly on older equipment. Jerry and his brothers knew work. And, they knew how to sweat.

Jerry and Beth lived across the street from the parsonage in the very small town we first served. They did not attend our church, they were part of another church south of town several miles. We became fast friends. Entertainment was either television or Spades. We preferred the fellowship and card games to sitting in front of the tube.

When I would offer to help with whatever farm project Jerry had coming up, he would wryly grin and repeat, “It’s not good for a preacher to sweat.” We never really discussed the thinking behind his comment. Was he trying to express respect? Were his words friendly teasing? Or, did he think that preachers might not be able to stand up under hard, physical labor.

Each time Jerry would kid me with his patented line, I would resist the urge to tell him what I was told in my college preaching class. Dr. Tresch told us, I think it was Dr. Tresch, that has been many full moons ago, researchers had hooked up heart monitor leads to learn the level of exertion a preacher expends when preaching a sermon. The result? Preaching a sermon called for the same energy and exertion required for shoveling coal for eight hours. Who knew? Or, us that folklore?

I do not ever recall looking like this after preaching a sermon. Cohen saw this photo Patty posted to her Instagram account and asked, “Doc Ok?” Maybe he thought it was not good for Doc to sweat!

Pastors need to sweat.

  1. Pastors tend to be sedentary creatures. Reading and studying tend to be practiced sitting down. I remember being at Leonard Sweet’s for an Advance more than ten years ago where he described how he read so much. I reads standing up and occasionally with a weighted object in his hand to keep him from falling asleep. Think about it. If you are holding a heavy object in one had while you read and you think you might drop in on your foot, you tend to focus. I recall my mentor, Rick Davis, occasionally reading standing up. We have learned that sitting down too much, even at work, has its dangers.
  2. Pastors excuse exercise as not as important as spiritual health. Piety often betrays the body. Growing up we often heard the dangers of what we put into our bodies and little about the care of the body. Much time, ink, and computer screens have been filled with questions over the Christian practice of Yoga. Read a book on Christian spiritual disciplines and rarely do you find mention of physical exercise. It does not help us connect when first we criticize a form of exercise, I care not for this piece to get into the matter of Yoga beyond its populist practice for exercise purposes, and then offer little encouragement to take your health seriously beyond what not to do.Years ago we led a group of college students through Len Sweet’s, Learn to Dance the Soul Salsa: 17 Surprising Steps for Godly Living in the 21st Century
    . In his chapter, Cycle to Church: Soul Artists Look Out for Their Physical and Spiritual Health, he writes,

    “Each of the main words in the chapter title, “cycle” and “church,” releases an Andromeda strain of radiant issues in the art of godly living. They remind us that postmodern disciples are concerned with both physical health and spiritual health – and aren’t especially interested in separating the two.”

  3. Pastors could benefit from a regular activity or two that requires sweat. My first job was mowing Nanaw’s yard. I was 9. By the time I was in high school this was my summer job. In Oklahoma that means sweating. Even to this day I enjoy mowing the yard. And, my yard covers more than an acre. Some of my best thinking comes mowing, weed eating, and working in the yard. You may despite it. You may be allergic. But, find something that you know will require sweat.How about gardening? Pastors sometimes get frustrated with the progress of church life. We face seasons, ebbs and flows. There are times an alternate interest may cross-pollinate into a reminder that growth takes time, investment, and yes, sweat.My friend Spencer Burke wrote a book that may have been a bit ahead of its time, Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations About God, Community, and Culture.I say ahead if its time for in a recent conversation, Spencer noted some are just discovering it. Say what you want about emerging, emergent, Emergent, its life, death, and novelty and nuisance. When Spencer came to the subject of evangelism he spotted the need for a shift in metaphors, Warrior to Gardner. Pick up Lance Ford’s book, UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership…and Why We Must. These books were written almost ten years apart. Ford could be said to have taken the idea of Warrior to Gardner and applied it to leadership where Burke discussed evangelism. If you are a pastor who sweats the lack of microwave growth in your church, run out and plant a garden. Work the soil. Water it and enrich it, naturally. Plant seeds – maybe squash. Water the plants. Prune the leaves. Treat the bugs. And wait. The fruit will grow. You will sweat. You will wonder. But, you will benefit. Become a gardener.

What would you add?

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.