Trimming the fat:
Pastors tackle obesity
By Mark A. Kellner
If the expansion of the U.S. national waistline isn’t enough
to get your attention, think about this: A leading medical school predicts
obesity will cause the next generation of Americans to have a shorter life
expectancy than the current one, a first in the nation’s history.
Such a development will reach into the Christian community
as much, if not more, than some others. Bible-believing Christians tend to
eschew tobacco and alcohol, leaving food — and often lots of it —
one of the few excesses that are socially acceptable in church circles.
“Some of the best cooks in the world are Pentecostal,” says
Gary Rogers, a former competitive weightlifter and ex-firefighter who pastors
Coweta Assembly of God in a Tulsa, Okla., suburb. “It’s hard to have fellowship
without having food. Almost everything we do revolves around food.”
The national concerns were restated in November by
Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, which is
establishing a “Comprehensive Center on Obesity” to battle the problem
“Obesity — and its complications — is the
epidemic of our time,” said Dr. Lewis Landsberg, founder and director of the
center and former dean of the Feinberg School. “There’s been an astonishing
increase in obesity in the past two decades.”
According to the university, more than one-third of U.S.
adults — more than 72 million people — now are obese, and nearly 20
percent of children and adolescents are overweight. Northwestern reported that
Americans’ lifespans may be shortened by obesity’s ever-lengthening list of
health complications: type 2 diabetes (especially in young people), high blood
pressure, cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, arthritis and
possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of those issues are popping up in Coweta, where 600
people attend Rogers’ church.
“Over and over, that’s one of the first things I hear people
say their doctor told them: They wouldn’t have the problems they have with
their joints, arthritis, knees and heart if they weren’t overweight,” he told
Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
The church has added an outreach center where people can
play basketball and volleyball and engage in other physical activities “and not
have it center around food,” Rogers says.
In his community, Rogers is reaching out to nonmembers by
serving as an unpaid personal trainer of sorts for clients at a fitness center
run by a Coweta Assembly member.
“I designed some programs and set up circuit training for
them,” Rogers says. “I’ve been their personal trainer at no charge. It’s helped
me become acquainted with people outside the church.”
While his time at the fitness center has not brought any
influx of visitors to the church, Rogers says it has increased his visibility
in the community and people call on him when pastoral care is needed.
Rogers says there is a need for Christians to manifest
“We really need to take care of ourselves better,” he says.
“It helps us to shine better for Christ. We Christians need to take care of
ourselves so we can last longer. I want to be able to do physically what God
tells me to do spiritually.”
Such physical empowerment is reaching into many churches
nationwide, according to Steve Reynolds, a Southern Baptist pastor whose
“Bod4God” program claims to have shaved 2 tons of fat from his congregation in
a suburb of Washington, D.C. With a book and activity guide, Reynolds has been
featured in local newspapers and on cable television as a weight-loss
“I’ve struggled with weight all my life,” Reynolds says. He
tipped the scales at more than 100 pounds in first grade, and his weight
ballooned to 320 pounds a couple of years ago.
“I just felt the need in my own life to bring my belief
system — where I felt the need to take care of my own body — in
line with my behavior,” Reynolds says. “You’re not going to lose weight until
you’re ready to lose weight. It’s got to come from your heart.”
That inner motivation hit home for Rogers when Paula, his
wife of 36 years, finally tired of being overweight herself.
“I’m like a lot of Christian wives and mothers, and I did a
very good job of taking care of children’s health,” Paula Rogers says. “But I
didn’t take care of myself very well. I had a couple of health issues that came
up in my mid-40s. One of the side effects was to put on weight and not be able
to take it off.”
More than the health issues snagged her attention, she says.
She ended up wondering how she could help people struggling with addictions if
her own issues with food got in the way.
“Wagner County has the highest rate of drug and alcohol
convictions in the nation,” she says. “There are a lot of people who come to
church with past problems. Here I was trying to speak into their lives and talk
about personal discipline, and I was not being personally responsible and
disciplined in my approach to diet and exercise.”
Finally, she took action, and lost 45 pounds in nine months.
Now other women at church are looking to her for advice and encouragement.
“As Christians, we are called upon to be Titus 3 women in
mentoring younger women, and this is an area we should not neglect,” she says.
“We shouldn’t let the world kidnap our self-image and morph it into something that’s
MARK A. KELLNER is a freelance writer based in Columbia, Md.
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