Recently I went to one of those group exercise classes at my gym. You know the ones I’m talking about. They range from old school step aerobics to kickboxing to yoga to aerial silks. This particular class was a barbell weight-lifting class; the kind that usually leaves me sore for days after.
Like so sore that I’m left asking myself what in the world I did and why I caused myself such misery. But it was in the middle of this class (probably when I was trying to mentally distract myself from my shaking muscles) that I started realizing this is just like church. Minus the limping afterward, at least, I hope.
- Group: Here I was, in a room full of people, most of whom looked nothing like me and I had little in common with, except for the fact that we all belonged to the same health club and we had all chosen to participate in the same class on the same day. God designed all of us to need each other and to want each other too. Whether at the gym, church, school, neighborhood, or anywhere else, we were made for community. I remember the first time I read from a neuroscientist that our brains are actually social. As organs, our brains need to interact with other brains. It sounded crazy to me! After all, that’s not true of our other organs (it’d be pretty weird for our kidneys to be friends, for example). But this is why solitary confinement is so damaging, even causing insanity if perpetuated long enough. Our brains, our very selves, need each other.
Personally, I went through a long time in my life where I was functioning (unbeknownst to me) as if I was self-sufficient. It’s hard to need people, and even harder to admit it sometimes. When this assessment of my lifestyle at the time was brought to my attention I was in shock! (Of course, my husband and best friend weren’t, but that’s another topic.) We need community. We were designed to spend time in groups. Even God lives in community with Himself.
In Christianity, we refer to this idea as the Trinity and it pops up in the first verses of the first chapter of the very first book of the Bible. The word used for “God” in chapter 1 of Genesis is Elohim in Hebrew, which is actually a plural noun. To further drive the point home, later in the creation account, God creates humans and says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (v. 26, emphasis mine). Later, God said of Adam it wasn’t good for him to be alone. From the very beginning of the world as we have history of it, God made and intended for us to live in community, just like Him. With Him and with each other. Church is one way we can fulfill this God-given need.
- Exercise: What’s the point of exercise? To make us stronger and healthier. We all know our lives are much better when we’re strong and healthy, but actually exercising isn’t quite as popular as believing we should; that’s one of the reasons for the group aspect, see above. Most of us need encouragement and accountability to make exercise happen on a regular basis. Maybe that’s because exercise, is actually beneficially destructive, to a degree. When we work out, what we’re achieving biologically is the breakdown of our muscles. Then, when they’re built back up afterward through nutrition and rest, they’re stronger than what they were before. Church is like this too. One of the reasons for gathering with people in a community of believers is to breakdown our previous ways of doing things, old thought patterns, and destructive behaviors and to encourage each other to strength, health, and wellness. But this requires hard work, commitment, and accountability on our part. We have to be willing to meet each other and be challenged. We won’t get the positive change we’re looking for by being spectators (although don’t I wish watching from the windows in the hall would have the same effect). We have to participate. To feel the burn in order to experience the growth.
- Class: There’s a difference between getting together with a group of friends for a shared hobby and actually going to a class. You can be in the same place at the same time as people doing the same activity and not be in class. If you’re in a class, the expectation is that you’re committed to learning something new, or at least practicing something you already know in a more structured environment. And there’s one very important component — the instructor. Many Christians view the sermon as the only instructional part of church, but there’s so much more to learn if we open ourselves up to be taught. Our pastors are our teachers and coaches. And like a good fitness instructor, they have goals for the people under their leadership with coaching objectives to match. They’re there to help us get stronger and healthier. They know just the right places to push and pull to achieve new strength and growth. They’re also available to tend to injuries, present and potential. In the same way that a fitness instructor walks the class looking out for form, a pastor pays attention to people, helping position them for healing and protection.
We need church like an ‘80’s fitness instructor needs her leg warmers and hot pink sweat band. We can’t get along without any aspect of the community God designed. We need His group exercise classes for health, growth, and strength. Maybe it’s been a while for you since you’ve been to church (or the gym), but I promise you, if I made it through that barbell class still on my feet, you’ll be fine to give it another shot. Remember, we’re all in this together!