Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Holistic Spirituality

For months I have pondered the idea of holistic spirituality. I still don't have many answers, but maybe have come to a few conclusions. For too long the church has treated the soul as entirely different than body or mind, and I think this has been a detriment to those attempting to follow Christ with their lives. In Matthew 22 Jesus quotes the Hebrew scriptures in commanding us to 'love God with our heart, soul, strength, AND mind." Sadly, the church has neglected much of this command, choosing to focus solely on the soul (pun intended).

I have especially noticed this in the lack of concern many pastors show for their own bodies. I don't mean to throw my fellow friends and colleagues under the bus, but at the same time I think it has become a concern worth noting. I fully understand that some people have biological issues with weight gain that are beyond their control (and I sympathize with them), but there are also a lot of pastors I know that simply do nothing to care for themselves physically. They sit all day in office chairs preparing sermons or sending emails, while only emerging from their roost to have lunch, coffee, or dessert with a congregant or colleague. No wonder they struggle with weight.

I guess my only comments on this problem in American Christianity is that I want to be pastored by someone who fully understands the relation between body, mind, and soul. I want to be mentored by someone who spends equal time in Bible study, the counselor's sofa, and the gym. How can you take care of my soul when you can't take care of your own body? May we be people who nurture all of ourselves, not just those areas that are convenient and don't cost much.

A pastor in Pennsylvania recently blogged on this issue. Here is the link if you are interested.


  1. A very convicting post. To a point I agree with you, to a point I think you take things too far.

    Embodied spirituality is more than exercising a lot.

    Taking care of your heart is more than offering counseling and getting counseling.

    Caring for your mind is more than Bible study.

    When I look for mentors I guess I do not look for heroes. I look for people who have been where I have been and and who are able to teach me something through sharing their life with me.

    For instance, John Duckworth. He guided me a lot on my leadership journey. But I doubt you will see me with 10 year old burgundy sweatervests for every occasion. :)

  2. I understand where you are coming from. I, too, am not looking for people who 'have it all together.' I want to learn from those who have struggled and still struggle, but still persevere in the midst of the struggle. At the same time, I want pastors to fully understand, and be working towards, the balance of caring for all of themselves. Americans are pretty good at compartmentalizing our lives, especially our faith lives. I know I have done that for most of my journey of faith, and I now want to be someone who doesn’t feel spiritually health simply from attending Bible study, while I’m devastated on an emotional level and need help.

  3. Excellent post, Jason. I think you'll have much better luck finding this kind of experience and focus at Mars Hill than most other Seminary/Graduate School programs. I can speak from my own Seminary experience (at a more holistic place than I've seen), and say that it makes me happy to think that other people are asking these questions and struggling with these issues as much as I am.

  4. If you choose your mentor by how much physical exercise they do, and how much they weigh ... then I feel sorry for you. Choose a mentor who would NOT write a post like this one of yours. They are the ones who have gone through the tough stuff and been brave enough to let God dig deep within them and show them the depth of their own sinfulness, weaknesses and faults. THEY are the ones who would not dare to judge another soul. "Man judges the outward appearance, God judges the heart".

    Peace and love

  5. love it.

    and I couldn't agree more. too often spirituality is given it's own drawer when the whole thing is spiritual.

    could it be that the spiritual is the holistic integration of the mind AND the body?

  6. I agree with you Jim. Like your boss would say, “Everything is Spiritual,” and I would agree. In that light, going to the gym or listening to a symphony play or painting a picture or reading a good book all become spiritual activities. I would argue that these kind of practices are almost as important as prayer or Bible study as they make us well-rounded, whole people, capable of engaging God’s world around us in a positive way, rather than being ignorant to the culture we find ourselves in and unable to interact with and transform our world. Thanks for commenting.

  7. I obviously agree with you Jason. We have had this conversation many times. The one thing I would like to add is that I care less about size as I do about health. I know many people that are "small" people who are incredibly unhealthy. That breaks my heart as much as a large unhealthy person. On the same note I know some larger people that are in better shape than me.

  8. Finding balance in life is difficult for most of us. There is always so much to do and so little time to do it in, it would seem. It's difficult to stand back, reevaluate, and change. It seems to require a lot of failure before success. And, to top it off, when we look to be in ministry with one another, it can feel pretty selfish to take the time for the individual. But here's hoping that we remember and honor ourself as God's temple.