Along with Hydrox cookies for VBS and ghetto grape juice for communion, pizza at student ministry events is so accepted and expected that it won’t surprise me to find apocryphal books one day that prophesy about this. Imagine it:
Thus saith the Lord: two things the Lord says, three things that will come to pass. Thou mustn’t spend more than 2 dollars on cookies for children. A day will come when cheap Oreo knockoffs will be available by the ton. Also, grape juice must be bought with pennies found in the pews, lest you fall under the curse. And finally, grease, cheese, and cheap pepperoni will be a staple at your table. The prophet spoke, and the people rejoiced, and the bellies rumbled.
But seriously, this post isn’t about our food budgets, it’s more than that. Student pastors, I want to encourage you about something: pass on the pizza. You’ve been there before, it’s a late night event and you can feed a small army, or high school guys, for less than $100 on pizza. Complete the meal with ghetto chips and off-brand cookies, meal for the night is set! Before you know it you’ve eaten 4 slices of pizza and half your body weight in cookies (which ironically will have only cost you a buck or so!).
When many of us begin in student ministry we’re still young, semi-active, and can keep up with testosterone-fueled high school guys on the basketball court. And so we can eat like we’re still 15 years old and never have any side effects. But at some point that stops, and you begin to notice your belt loops not going as far or your V-neck shirt feeling tight(er). It becomes harder to keep up, you’re not able to stay up late anymore, and you begin to feel worn down. Perhaps the stress of your work causes you to be sick more often, have trouble sleeping, and in many cases begin to take antidepressants.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV)
To all of us who labor in the fields of the Lord, but especially student ministers, I have this to say – Take care of yourself. This is something I learned firsthand this year, as 2012 was not only a very fruitful year but it was also a very difficult year – both professionally and personally. And at the core of it was my inability to care for my body as I should and its ripple effect on not only my family but also my ministry. The year ended with me at my heaviest and feeling my worst. So here are a few things I have committed to in 2013 that I would encourage you to consider as well.
- Change your diet – Change the number of calories you’re eating and change the type of calories you’re eating. Stay away from junk food (candy, cookies, pizza, fast food – you know, the good stuff) and focus more on eating lean meats, veggies, and grill/bake/broil rather than fry. Consider getting a calorie counter and keep track of what you eat. There’s an app for that. A good steward not only wisely uses money but also wisely uses food. When you go out to eat, order smaller portions or be prepared to take some home with you. One thing I’ve done before is order kids meals, you get less food (which is still more than enough) and Sam gets the toy. Win-Win. Check out groups like Weight Watchers or get the P90X recipes. Avoid crash diets and fad diets (Atkins especially). Remember the two main things to remember are 1) Portion Control and 2) Wise choices.
- Exercise – I know some pastors who are incredibly fit triathletes and marathon runners. What I am not advocating is to start training for an Ironman, although if you want to go for it! What I am encouraging is regular times of exercise (45 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week). Join a gym, buy a home exercise system, and sweat. Remember, sweat is fat crying. So make it cry! Your goal with exercise is not to get your high school 6-pack back or be able to bench press a house. It’s to be effective as a servant. Keeping your heart healthy and staying active keeps both your mind and body sharp. My Ph.D. supervisor is in his late 60s and still plays basketball regularly, eats well, and if you leave him open he’s deadly.
- Water > Coke – Most of us don’t realize how many worthless calories we drink, but each can of Coke has 140 calories in it, and is mostly sugar. Pass, stick to water. Same goes for insane amounts of coffee, especially if you like coffee with your sugar and cream (or you drink fancy stuff at Starbucks). I’m not saying you can’t ever, but that when you do, be wise and be disciplined.
- Sleep – Strive to get regular sleep at a consistent time and for a consistent length of time. I know it sounds silly, but set a bedtime. And when it’s bedtime, turn off your phone, iPad, and TV. Go to sleep. I get it, 15 year olds stay up all night, but you’re not 15 and that’s also stupid. God designed sleep for our bodies to recover, it’s part of the natural rhythm that He established. The effects of sleeplessness are about on par with that of drunk driving. This is also why lock-in is a cuss word and why I have a limit as to how late we do student ministry events.
- Read > TV – Most of what’s on anymore is banal and stupid. We waste so much of our life sitting in front of a box seeking to constantly be entertained and living our life vicariously through fictional characters. We’ve lost our capacity to read novels and other things that matter – Best investment I’ve done in the last few years was to get a Kindle. Read along these categories: 1) Professional development, 2) Theology/Doctrine/History/Ethics, 3) Biographies, 4) Personal enjoyment.
- Vacation – You have to take some time to decompress, or else you’ll burn out and be worse than useless. Carve out time to be away from work, turn off your phone, and don’t worry about things. Date your wife and focus entirely on her. We have a rule, on date night we don’t talk about anything to do with church. We also turn off our phones and I don’t answer texts or calls from students when it’s family time. If it’s an emergency, that’s different. But the “I saw something on TV and wondered if it was true” can wait. Take advantage of your vacation package from your church. If you don’t have one, leave. It’s a church that doesn’t care about you. You need time away to refresh yourself, to focus on your marriage, and to heal. Check out ministries like Shepherds Haven of Rest for ministers if you’re on a tight budget. But you need to carve out time to rest away from the job. Your wife needs it, and so does your family and your church.
What would you add to the list?