There has been abundant press recently regarding the Adventist Health Study and its results. Yet the majority of participants in the study are primarily of an older generation that had a different attitude regarding the health message than we currently see among many Adventists. If the Adventist Health Study researchers were able to gather data from all Adventists, would the study results look quite different?

Is the health message just not relevant, or is it our approach to the subject? Whenever I speak in churches on the topic of health, I ask the congregation, “How many of you want to be healthy?” Consistently, everyone who is awake raises their hand. It appears that everyone in the church wants to be healthy. But they may not be interested in the health programs or have much common ground with the health enthusiasts in the church. I think it must be our approach that is turning people off.

In an earlier time, members tended to believe whatever they were taught by the church leadership. This was especially true if it was backed by the Bible or Ellen White. Today, however, many members want to think for themselves. They can read; they can study; they can choose what is best for them and they may not trust the church as always being the best authority when it comes to health matters.

So how should we relate to our members regarding health? I believe that Christ’s methods will span all generations and times. I think if we follow them today there will be a different reception even on the health subject.

Christ accepted everyone where they were.

He knew that the growth for each would look different, even if the path would eventually reach the same place. A common approach in our church (that I was guilty of following at one time) was to present the ideal diet to everyone and suggest all get on my ideal path at that point.

But in following Christ’s method we should ask something like, “What would be the one step toward better health that you could see yourself starting with?” Those not interested in giving up meat can focus on other components of a healthy diet, such as how to get more nutrients, reducing fat in the diet, reducing refined carbohydrates. Yes, at some point we would discuss that this is a path that is moving and changing and our goal is to experience God’s best. But we must begin our work where people are ready for it right now.

Do you think this approach would change the health program of any given church for the better, or would all our standards just fall apart?

I believe that an accepting attitude that helps people grow at their own individual pace could be transforming in many different ways.

I am saddened to say that at times we have loved the health message more than the people. That we have treated people with anger, contempt and disdain, because they did not follow the health message as we thought they should.

Yes, lifestyle change is needed, but let us follow Christ’s example in our attempt to encourage change. It is time to reflect His love in all things. The verse “Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory to God” will then, I believe, take on a completely new meaning.

Guest author Rick Mautz is director of Health Ministries for the Rocky Mountain Conference.