My friend from high school, Stephanie, says she has experienced extreme personal transformation through CrossFit. If you haven't heard of it, CrossFit is high-intensity exercise that includes gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. Throughout her life, Stephanie often thought something was wrong with her, but CrossFit taught her to think and feel differently. She says, “I started to love myself. And this whole thing is a spiritual thing for me. I can do things now that I never thought were possible.” Wow. People talk about CrossFit the way I want to hear people describe their life with Jesus and their experience with the Church.
I’m not the only one who’s observed the profound impact CrossFit has on people’s lives. Last year, the New York Times wrote an article titled “When Some Turn to Church, Others Go to CrossFit”. Researchers deemed CrossFit “a spiritual community where people gather and experience effects more often associated with church.” A friend sent me the article, knowing my enthusiasm for the sport. He asked me, “What can the Church learn from CrossFit?” The question stuck with me. As I’ve pondered the question, here are three things that I think the Church could learn from the CrossFit community:
People grow when they are surrounded by an encouraging community
In a CrossFit class, you don’t just plug in earbuds and ignore everyone around you. Your workout isn’t solely about your regimen, your stats, or your progress. Your success is bound up in the success of the community. The CrossFitters I spoke to thrive on a healthy competition that helps everyone get better. It’s the kind of competition where you try to go faster than the guy next to you, but you also cheer him on mid-workout and congratulate him at the end.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…” Are we creating environments where we can spontaneously cheer each other on to greatness? Are we encouraging each other in ways that lead us to be more healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
People grow while aiming for clear standards
Random exercise with no measurable progress is not fun. In CrossFit, every workout is driven by data and measurements. Hanging in plain sight are the running clock and whiteboards serving as scoreboards. You know whether you’re accomplishing what you set out to do, and you can track your growth over time.
Clear standards and measurable growth seem easier to employ in the realm of physical fitness than in the journey of discipleship. I know when I’ve completed five squats, but how do I measure growth in sowing to the spirit and not the flesh? How do I track my increasing freedom from jealousy or greed? It’s all too easy as Christians and as pastors to leave such questions unanswered.
It is possible to set meaningful goals in the spiritual life though. For example, if I’m targeting envy in my life, I can jot down details of triggering scenarios and track them from week to week. I can make a list of the people I envy that I will pray for. I can ask God for a heart that freely blesses and celebrates others. I can invite a close friend to join in the process and we can encourage one another onward. What are some ways you can develop new disciplines in your life and encourage others to be intentional about their spiritual training? What specific goals are you working towards as a pastor or church planter that will help you make disciples?
People grow through struggle
Pursuing greater conditioning in CrossFit is guaranteed to make you uncomfortable. And so will a life of faith. As the old Vineyard adage goes, “faith is spelled R-I-S-K”. We need to take risks to grow, risks that are aligned with the character and actions of Jesus. Thankfully, we don’t have to grit it out armed with only our blood, sweat, and tears. By joining in Christ’s own suffering and resurrection through baptism, we have the Holy Spirit, who empowers us and works in us, bringing us into increasing likeness of God’s Son. How can your church create a culture where people are regularly suffering together for the sake of the kingdom, doing things they’ve never done before?
So, what could your church learn from CrossFit? What are some ways that you can create an encouraging community, set measurable ministry goals, and empower others to take risks in your church? We’d love to hear some of your thoughts in the comments.
Rich Andrews is the pastor of the Conshohocken Vineyard Church in Conshohocken, PA and the Eastern Region Representative for Multiply Vineyard. Rich also leads the Vineyard Bolivia Partnership. In his free time, you are likely to catch him at the local CrossFit box or spending time with his family.