Church Health Reader interviews Stacy Smith, CHC Manager of Faith Community Outreach and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary, and Laura Todd, Wellness Education Coordinator at the Church Health Center and student at Memphis Theological Seminary, about ways to introduce the Model for Healthy Living to your congregation.
John Shorb: What do you see as the value of the Model for Healthy Living to a congregation?
Laura Todd: When one part of our life is affected, it affects the rest of our life. When one thing is out of balance or unhealthy, it affects everything else. That’s the core of the Model for Healthy Living. So if I’m unhealthy outside of the church, I bring that problem or issue to church with me. And if the church helps me to address that problem in some way, that affects everything else that happens in my life.
Stacy Smith: The Model for Healthy Living helps us to bring each aspect of our lives – our friends, our bodies, food, movement, etc. – to the church. No part of our lives is left out. It relies on the practical, everyday things that go on with us. Medicine, health, emotions, family - these are not the lofty words that we sometimes hear at church. We usually hear words like righteous, beloved, covenant, redemption when we are at church. They are great words with an important history in our scriptures and our faith, but they are just not words that come easily to us. We don’t talk about them each and every day. But things like work, food, exercise, friends – it’s easy to see how each of these things affects our lives. They are not words that we hear rarely, but are reminded of every day.
LT: So when we bring our whole lives to the church, and the church helps us become healthier people in all of these different parts of our lives, then the church come alive for us each and every day. It’s like it makes us remember Christ 24-7, in even the most mundane or tedious of daily tasks.
JS: How would you see someone applying the Model to their congregation?
SS: A church might want to start out with a bible study on the abundant life, as Christ says in John 10. What is an abundant life? What does Jesus mean by that? And what does living an abundant life have to do with being a servant, or a witness, or a part of God’s kingdom? Then they might think further about how an abundant life and a healthy life are connected. Can we really live abundantly when we are unhealthy in some important area of our lives? Now, there are lots of ways to answer that – we might have a chronic disease that affects our medical health, and still live an abundant life. But that’s why it’s important to discuss this in a church – what is health in the church? Why is it important?
Once you’ve been through a discernment process together, then you might want to take a closer look at the Model and see what areas of your church are out of balance. Is there an issue with people’s work at your church – either too much work, or people out of work? Are people struggling to exercise? Are they separated in their faith? Has the church been through an unhealthy period in their history that makes the community separated? Find some ways to answer these questions, either through a discussion or preaching series or Bible study, and then identify one of two areas of the model that you can focus on.
JS: How would you apply the Model with a youth group?
LT: I see this as a wonderful group activity for young people. While they are still learning about their faith and usually don’t have many health issues, they certainly resonate with certain parts of the Model, for example, friends and family, playing sports (movement) or going to school (work). Youth are often trying to find themselves away from their family – finding that “balance” between being a child and an adult. And they are trying to figure out how to be faithful people in the middle of a very complicated world. So I think the Model can help them find some much-needed balance. It can show them how their faith, their health and their behavior are interconnected.
SS: As far as how it might work, you could break down each of the seven parts and have some kind of “experience” of each one – playing basketball for movement, grilling out for nutrition, tutoring each other for work, and simply hanging out for friends and family. And then just ask them to reflect on what they’ve just been doing and say, “How does this make me a healthy person? And how does being a healthy person help me be a better Christian?” In my experience, they will be excited to think about how playing sports or being there for a friend can be an integral part of their health and their faith.
JS: How could a congregational leader apply the Model to their congregation?
LT: Well, given the issues surrounding clergy health, I think the first thing is that the leaders should use the Model themselves. Then they would then have a personal experience of it and know it thoroughly.
SS: I think pastors especially need to pay attention to “work” and “faith” in the Model. I think lots of pastors conflate the two – my work and my faith are not different. For example, I think some pastors find it difficult to really worship God when they are leading a service because they are focused on their work – the preaching, the music, making sure the mic is on and the communion is ready. Of course, that example isn’t true for everyone, but I think that can feel true sometimes. We have to see our work and our faith as connected – like everything else in the Model! – but not the same thing.
LT: As far as how a congregational leader could apply the model, I think you could do a good preaching series using these seven aspects, looking at how we bring – or don’t bring – each of these parts of our lives to church. We might think about how the actions associated with the seven parts of the Model could be better infused with prayer – not just praying when we eat, but praying before we exercise, praying when we go to work or the doctor, praying with friends, praying prayers of lament when we are sad.
SS: Or you could do a similar thing that we described with the youth – having them play a game or cook a meal together, and then just simply asking them how this action can improve their health and their faith. I think when they are given the opportunity, people can make all kinds of connections between their lives and their faith. They just have to be given the space and a chance.
JS: Are there times of year that you would see as good for introducing the Model?
LT: Advent or Christmas is a great time to introduce the Model with the New Year coming up. People are already thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Also, it’s a tough time of year to stay healthy. At Lent or leading up to Easter, I would see the whole church could choose an area that they would work on together in that time. For example, they could choose nutrition and instead of cutting out a food, they could add something healthy. For example, instead of cutting out carbonated beverages they could add more water to their diet. Ordinary time is good time to ask ourselves questions or examine what we need to improve on.
JS: Is there a theological approach that you see coming out of the Model?
LT: Just as the people of Israel made a Covenant with God, I think we need to realize that we’re all doing this together. It’s not about pointing fingers, and it’s also not about perfection. I see a covenant as a promise between people and God. When we covenant to be healthy people, that means that we covenant to create health, wholeness, the abundant life, whatever, in each and every part of God’s creation.
SS: You know, there’s always room for improvement, especially with our health. Even the healthiest person, who exercises and eats well, can improve their health, maybe with their work or the family or whatever. But when we start trying to think that we can be perfect creatures – when we can score 100% on each of the different parts of the Model and achieve “Complete Health” – we lose the message. What affects one part affects the whole. What affects one of us affects all of us. So even if we are healthy, there are others who need care and encouragement as well. And we can’t be healthy people without inspiring healthy communities around us. The work of the Model isn’t done until everyone has hope, health and can live the abundant life for themselves.
View the Model for Health Living Slideshow>>