Obesity and Church Health

The Journal of American Medicine shows that just over 1/3 of U.S. adults are obese.

Look around. Do you see them?

This is the most in-your-face problem in America. We cannot see cancers; we cannot see mental health or heart disease. What we do see is the ever-expanding and dangerously widening waist bands of our peers. What we do see is that 34 out of every 100 are not only bigger, but also at risk for a host of other problems that result from obesity: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, reproductive malfunction and complication, etc.

Would you believe that we have a similarly serious and equally dangerous epidemic in our church today?

According to Christianity Today, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has lost 1 in 3 members over the last 50 years. The number is actually closer to 43 out of 100, but considering the significance of 1 out of 3 members is haunting.

I have three children. They’re all perfect and beautiful and attend Sabbath School every single Sabbath. They sing about Jesus, talk about Jesus, watch movies about Jesus. They will be homeschooled. They may eventually attend an Adventist school. I think they will grow up loving the Lord, but according to the trend, one of them will leave the church. One of my boys won’t make it into adulthood with all of the values that make up what I believe. One of them may feel they can no longer relate to his mother. One may not visit for holidays for fear I’ll drag him to church. One of my three sons may follow the world instead of The Word.

This terrifies me, and it saddens me.

What We See

While the epidemic of obesity is easy to see in America, those other things, the results of obesity aren’t as easy to see. We usually see those on a blood panel. A doctor has to meet with a patient and assess the situation before running tests. Then we get our answers.

In the church we usually can see the pews emptying. We may not notice the full 43% leaving simultaneously, but we notice the Cradle Roll attendance went from 15 to 6 kids. We may notice the lady who sits in front of our pew is missing frequently. We might even notice that there are more parking spaces when we arrive on Sabbath morning.

We may notice those 43 people out of 100 who stop attending church or even officially leave the church membership, but what we don’t see is the result. To see the result we’d have to visit them, get close to them, and ask questions of the people who are leaving. If we speak to them we may see what is happening at home. We may see that they’re doing what they want, but they have a hole in their heart. We may see that they’re still following Adventist doctrine, but leaving church left them void in a major area of their life.

Most people who are obese didn’t get that way overnight. My husband sees me everyday and watched my waistband grow over months and years through childbearing and beyond. We sit and talk a lot about how I struggle to lose the weight and get healthy. Did we talk about my weight at any point while I gained the 71 pounds that pushed me to the heaviest I’ve been in my adult life? No, we did not, and that was our mistake.

Likewise, we make a drastic mistake when we don’t remark on a fellow church member’s absence at church here and there. We too-often fail to ask the questions: is there something I can do for you? Can I help you with your kids today? Is everything okay at home? How is work going?

We fail to see that there are lives outside of church, when all we see is church, and we often forget to ask questions until someone is gone.

If They Were Here, and Now They’re Gone

If a person joins your church, is baptized or joins by profession of faith, you can probably agree that they were here. They attended, they gained a relationship with Jesus, maybe even maintained one, and may have helped out in church services or other aspects of church function.

If they were here, really here, and now they’re gone, that is worth investigating. Not only that, but it is drastic and sad and heartbreaking.

If they were really here, and now they’re gone, you can bet their heart is broken more so than yours. You don’t just join a family, spend time with, and grow to love them, and just leave without being heartbroken. Ask anyone who has been divorced. You may disagree with, have been hurt by, and need to separate from a person, but the family that you joined will be missed.

Why do we expect separation from church to be any different?

Numbers on a Page

When you look at the numbers joining and leaving our worldwide church, you may be heartbroken yourself! The same article in Christianity Today says “for every 100 people the Adventist Church gains, it loses 43 previous members.” That is worth reading again.

Consider the implications of this. If you own a small business and each year you gain 100 clients, but lose 43 established clients, would you consider it a successful business? Is it a healthy business?

It also wouldn’t be healthy for me to lose focus on the children I already have when I have another or adopt another.

When a college football team recruits new members each spring do they only train the new athletes, or do they train the whole team? If the coach only trains the new guys, he may assume the established players may train on their own (and he may be right). But if the two groups train separately how will they play together as a team?

How does a family stay on the same page during separation–during deployment, work separation, or real legal separation? If they can’t see each other, can’t “train” together, or study together, they have to communicate.

When my husband was deployed I didn’t wait out the 12 month separation to talk to him about our infant son whom he’d only known 3 days before returning to duty. I told him about his son every chance I got! He was not home to see him, take care of him, or teach him things the way I could. I was his only connection to our son, and if I hadn’t kept him updated and shared my love for our son with him, he wouldn’t have had a connection with him.

Can We Heal a Broken Heart?

What can we do about it? Really, when someone walks out of our church, is there anything we can do about it?

We so often sit and stew over it. We may be offended or upset. We may be heartbroken ourselves, but those feelings don’t help them at all! The fact of the matter is that if we want them to know we are hurting too, we have to tell them. There is much too little communication in our lives today–churches, family, marriages, jobs; we just don’t communicate with each other.

For all of our avenues of communication (social media, cell phones, etc.) you’d think we would be better at it. But we aren’t.

The truth is that our churches are filled with broken hearts. Some people are on their way out, and some people are heartbroken that they left, and some have strife in their personal life that they feel they can’t share with others. Is it our job to mend the broken hearts of the world?

We may not be able to fix every problem and mend every wound, but seeing a problem is a start. Knowing Jesus enough to send others in his direction is a great place to start. Missing others and caring for them instead of letting ourselves be hurt and angry is a start.

We can also start by recognizing that there is a problem–that spiritual health is as important as physical health, and we have a Healer Who tends to both.