To say the least, I am not the gym type. Although I like walking in the mornings, I have never experienced a morning where I wanted to wake up and get to the gym. For sure, it would help me. It has just never been part of my daily routine. I see the benefits of it and appreciate those who diligently make it part of their regular routine. No doubt it is a great life habit to form.
Recently the Atlantic ran a thought-provoking piece by Julie Beck “The Church of CrossFit: Gyms and other secular communities are starting to fill spiritual and social needs for many nonreligious people.” As a church guy myself with many good friends who enjoy the benefits of CrossFit (and have often invited me to go to no avail), it got my attention. In response, Al Mohler also turned his attention to the issue. His piece built upon Beck’s and stimulated my own thinking further. I believe there are some great ideas here to consider.
Here’s my point: this is both good news for the church and serves as a warning as well.
The good news…
First the good news. Although the world has changed and many people consider our society as a post-Christian society, these articles demonstrate that the image of God encourages people to follow something. We were made for worship. CrossFit demonstrates how people become disciples. It comes complete with enthusiastic evangelism, visitation, accountability, corporate gatherings, fellowship, encouraged authenticity, even childcare and discipline. Many describe it as “addicting” and the CrossFit experience provides them the worldview through which they experience life.
So how is this good news for the church? Simply because we understand that who we are and what we do both inherently flow out of a heart that desires living for something bigger and that enjoys community while doing it. Various media for years now have reported that Millennials are past the church. Millennials are leaving. However, you realize that their fundamental urge in life still moves them toward the same goals.
This of course is not new. Today for many it may be CrossFit. In some communities it has been the Masonic lodge, political party affiliation, social clubs, national sports teams, collegiate sports teams, children’s sports leagues, the local bar where “everyone knows your name,” and the like. The observations about CrossFit essentially are not new. CrossFit provides what many other organizations and activities have provided for secular individuals. These are the same things that the church should provide too. Individuals may be leaving the church, but the good news is, it is not because they are not prone to religion.
There are three levels of warning from my perspective as a pastor.
First, we must ask ourselves at the church-level, is CrossFit doing church better? Are they fulfilling this religious role, albeit secular, for some Christians as well? Possibly as churches, we are being out-churched by secular organizations. The ideals that should be true to every church and for every follower of Christ may be so poorly done that we are losing people to what they view as better. The values for which we long and often enjoy, such as a caring, authentic community, find a better home at a “box” than they do a church.
This is the advantage that CrossFit and other organizations has over the church. In the church, the expectation is Christ-like love which flows from a genuine authenticity without hypocrisy or partiality. As disciples of Christ, the genuineness and humility of Christ are to flow from and through individual Christians. Therefore, the opportunity for true disappointment and loss of hope is even greater. When a follower of Christ begins to learn Christ, love Him, and live like Him, this person begins to change, becoming a better person in every way. However, as sinners, the best Christian still has bad days. For this reason, the Apostle Paul said Christians yearn for heaven where there will be no more sin and inconsistency (e.g., Romans 7:14-25; 2 Corinthians 5:2). On these bad days or seasons, it is not hard for others to see the problem and make the claims of hypocrisy, lack of genuineness, and failure. There are expectations for followers of Christ and churches that are simply not expectations other places.
For the church then, we must be careful to 1) never present ourselves as perfect, 2) never think we have the corner on the market for religion, and 3) never settle for inconsistency. Instead, we must always strive to enjoy Christ, worship Him truly, walk with Him, and live consistently with others from genuine humility.
Second, it reminds us we are all worshippers. We all live for something. For the Christian, our lives are to be arranged around Jesus and the family of God – passionate followers of Christ together. However, our lives can be arranged around something different, such that the energy God gives us every day can be used on many things which do not profit the kingdom of God, do not encourage our growth in Christlikeness, and do not honor God. This can be just as true for hobbies of every sort, sports of every kind, and our vocations as it is for CrossFit though. As people we tend to chase idols.
This of course is not CrossFit’s problem; it is our own. The problem isn’t CrossFit or exercise or enjoying people at the “Box.” The problem is at the heart level of the individual. As Christians, we must always ask ourselves, “What is my true passion?” First and foremost, is it Jesus? As it flows out of our worship of Christ, is it the family of God, the body of Christ? Further, what motivates me? Why do I want to exercise (or anything else, fill in the blank here)?
Third, our excitement must always be of first order for Christ and His work rather than our latest distraction. Again, not to be too hard on CrossFit, this is true of anything in the world from our most recent favorite restaurant, to the new favorite job, to the newest favorite convenience store drink, to whatever it is that captures our attention and energy. As followers of Christ, our evangelistic efforts must be eternity-focused and not earthly-bound. Our speech must be others-centered and not self-centered. We must naturally want to talk more about Christ, the benefits of our union with Christ, and helping people see the glories of walking in Christ more than anything else in the world.
The reality is that we talk about whatever it is on our minds. We love to share pictures. We enjoy making connections with people with similar passions. After a good run, often people snap a selfie, provide the route, tell the distance, and rejoice in feeling tired but better. Many who go to CrossFit often speak of similar things. They share their WOD, tell of aching muscles, and rejoice in their accomplishments. There is nothing inherently sinful in any of these practices – no more so than sharing pictures of children and grandchildren, showing a recent fish caught, or telling a funny story. We simply share whatever it is on our minds. Here are two challenging questions for each of us: how often is CrossFit or something else on our minds more than Christ? How often do we share our relationship and experience of Christ?
Enjoy CrossFit but enjoy Christ more. I am truly grateful that many of my friends have found CrossFit as a place for exercise and health. On another level, I too am jealous that they care for their bodies better than I. However, this is also potentially true regarding CrossFit and anything else in the world, what is good for us can also beguile us. These articles pointing to CrossFit as an alternative secular religion provide each one of us as Christ-followers the opportunity to consider our authenticity, our worship, and our evangelistic appeal. Is it possible that I am drawn away and distracted from Christ rather than walking more closely with him?
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Where else do you tend to get distracted? (Possible answers: sports, hobbies, political parties, family, and so forth)
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