Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I recently had an article published in the Voice magazine, a publication of the IFCA International. It is an edited excerpt from my book Winning the Battle of the Bulge: It's Not Just About the Weight. Hope you enjoy it, and I invite you to post your comments.

Practicing What You Preach
Mary Englund Murphy

If you want to make an impact in another person’s life, back up your words with your behavior. In other words, practice what you preach!

Nothing will destroy credibility in the church faster than hypocrisy—saying one thing but living another. As church leaders, are we guilty of hypocrisy? Do the people under your leadership feel you’re telling them what to do, but you’re not doing it yourself?

I recently conducted a survey on weight loss with nearly one hundred Christians. Repeatedly, people said they had trouble sitting under the leadership of a pastor or other church leader who was overweight. When asked why, the answer was always the same. “I have a hard time listening to someone telling me to let God develop self-control in my life when it’s obvious they haven’t let Him control their eating habits.”
Ouch! The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

Church leaders—pastors in particular—face unique pressures and temptations when it comes to food. It seems like their world revolves around food. If food isn’t served at Bible study or church, someone invites you out to a restaurant after services. Food is offered in homes on visitation, and well-meaning ladies bake your favorite dessert. Doughnuts are a Sunday morning staple, and with no time for breakfast, you grab one—or two—or three. The temptations are endless, and soon you’ve added twenty-five pounds, then fifty!

A 1998 study by Purdue University professor Kenneth Ferraro found that Christians are more likely to be overweight than those persons of other faiths. Why? The simple answer is that our fellowship time revolves around food, but the hard answer is that we have not developed discipline and self-control in the area of our eating and exercise habits.
Though rewarding, ministry is often difficult. We can do everything seemingly right and still people find fault. We are judged and scrutinized in every area—the cars we drive, our children’s behavior, our home, our clothes, and yes, even how much we weigh.
It would be nice if people got to know how wonderful and spiritual we are before they passed an opinion. But unfortunately, we are often first judged by our physical appearance.

A church member in our first pastorate told me she voted for Bill when we came because she thought we were an attractive couple. I thought, What about our education and ministry experience? Didn’t that count? Though her opinion was positive, it disturbed me that our outward appearance had affected her judgment. But I learned a good lesson. We don’t have to look like we stepped out of a magazine advertisement, yet our outer appearance should be neat, clean and reasonably up–to-date. Our appearance should never detract from the message God wants to tell through us.

“That’s not right,” you say. “Leaders shouldn’t be judged harsher than others.” Right or not, it goes with leadership. As a ministry leader, don’t you want the first impression of you, your church, and your ministry to be positive? And, before you criticize the critics, aren’t you sometimes guilty of judging others by appearance and acting on first impressions?

We keep our church buildings clean and in good repair. Why? Because outward appearance matters; first impressions make a difference. We want people to think, I would like to visit that church. I can tell the people care.

On Sunday morning we want the ushers and musicians ready, and the sound system clear. We want neat bulletins, cheerful nursery workers, and clean bathrooms. Why? We don’t want anything to detract from the message!

The outward condition of our church building and the organization of our church service is a direct reflection of the inward condition of the leadership, the congregation, and the Lord.

Your outward condition is a direct reflection of your inward condition, too. Why risk jeopardizing God’s message with lack of self-control in your eating?

Let me share two stories from women who honestly faced their eating problem.

“I speak to audiences that number in the thousands, and I know the moment I walk to the platform my appearance detracts from my message,” Jill told me. “People in the audience take one look at me, and think she is really fat. They have to get over that hurdle before they can listen to what I say. I know God is using my message, but I also know he could do more through me if I could lose my excess weight. Please, can you tell me more about your eating program? I need help.”

Jill was well dressed, stylishly coiffed, and had a beautiful face, yet she painfully acknowledged her weight was a detriment to her ministry.

Monica counseled a teenage girl who was involved in a sexual affair. During one of the counseling sessions, the girl looked Monica straight in the face and said, “My problem is I’m having sex outside of marriage; your problem is you’re fat. When you’ve taken care of your problem then you can come back and talk to me about mine!”

Monica acknowledged her gluttony and lost more than fifty pounds.

You can make excuses for your self-indulgence, call those who criticize immature Christians, and quote a few choice Bible verses. Or, you can say, “They’re right,” and do something about it. I hope you will make the right choice, just as you would expect of those under your leadership.

Change begins at the top. Below are some challenges for those in leadership positions—senior pastor, Sunday School teacher, sound person, maintenance worker, musician, office worker, or attendee.
Lovingly address the issue of obesity and its prevalence in the church. I often hear speakers joke about their weight. Why, I’ve wondered, do they want to make light of this issue? If they had a problem with alcohol, they wouldn’t joke about that. Obesity is not a laughing matter; it is a serious problem that touches a person physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and the church needs to address it.

Knowing that the body of a believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit and belongs to the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:19. 20), teach the inestimable value of exercise and eating healthy foods. We spend a great deal of time teaching about the new body we’ll have in heaven, yet don’t care for the old one here on earth.

Encourage healthy meal preparation at home and church. Church functions are not an excuse for gluttony, but rather a time to enjoy fellowship and God’s gift of food in moderate portions. Christians should be an example to the world, not the object of jokes and ridicule.

Encourage families to spend time together exercising, preparing and planning meals, and fellowshipping at the dinner table. Many families eat in front of the television or eat on the run because their lives are consumed with activities.

Be an example. 2 Timothy 4:12 tells leaders to be an example in word, actions, and teaching. Your actions will speak far louder than your words. Leading by example in obedience to the Lord by developing healthy eating and exercise habits will give you insight into the personal needs of others.

If you have a weight problem, acknowledge it, and take steps to fight your own battle. People love a humble leader. You will earn respect and establish personal credibility while strengthening the effectiveness of your ministry. Don’t allow Satan to use your weight to detract from the message of the gospel.

Recognize that the unique pressures on leadership are contributing factors in the number of overweight Christian leaders. Learn to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Do not turn to food for comfort and release. Smoking and drinking alcohol are not acceptable forms of stress relief in most Christian circles; hence, people turn to food. Though God condemns gluttony along with drunkenness (Proverbs 23:20-21), the former has become socially acceptable in our churches, and often leaders are sad examples of its effects.

If you don’t have a weight problem, be compassionate toward those who do. Help guide them into a program that will provide Biblical answers, encouragement, and prayerful support.

This article is being used by permission of IFCA Internationa (, VOICE magazine, May/June 2007, Vol. 86 No. 3. All material is copyrighted. Contact IFCA International for permission to use this material.