The Friday after Thanksgiving is perhaps my laziest day of the year. This year I slept late, didn’t eat breakfast because I couldn’t conceive of eating any more food, and searched for mindless entertainment in the world of mindless Facebook memes and links. But in my search for something mindless, I found several links from my CrossFit friends to an article published in the New York Times. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it (and I think you should): “When Some Turn to Church, Others Turn to CrossFit”.
The headline probably will tell you most of what you need to know, and if you know me well, will probably tell you why it piqued my curiosity as it did.
Several of my CrossFit friends shared the link and commented their agreement with the premise of the article – namely that CrossFit can serve as a viable alternative to the community-creating effect often associated with church or religious communities. The article’s author summarizes it by telling us, “the CrossFit experience [is] an intimate, supportive one, in which cheering for one another to meet fitness goals was expected. It is a culture that can produce effects more often associated with church.”
But this all got me thinking because I’m part of both churches. I’m an avid CrossFitter, usually spending 5 days a week at the gym. And I’m not the guy who shows up right on time and leaves immediately after the workout is over. I’m there to work and I’m there to share part of my life with my friends. I’m also just slightly invested in the life of my local church as a pastor, probably spending 6 days a week there. I love Sunday morning when I get to see those faces that are familiar to me and have become such a significant part of my life over the 16 years that I’ve been here.
At first I thought that this desire to belong to both churches was due to something lacking in one or the other, but I don’t think that’s the case. I could be perfectly happy to be part of just the church community without CrossFit. I did that for many years. If I wasn’t a follower of Jesus I could see being entirely content with CrossFit as my “church community”. But I want both for different reasons, and if I can be totally honest, I think I have the best of both worlds.
At CrossFit I can push myself to my own limits every single day (or not, depending on how lazy I feel that day), but the push is always against myself. My ability is the limiting factor. When I need to find that extra push for the last round of a WOD, or the extra determination to move past a previous personal best in a lift, I have to look within myself to do that. Good coaching and encouraging words from my friends can’t get me stronger. I have to put the work in, and as I have I’ve become so much stronger than I could ever have imagined by pushing those limits.
The best part is that I’m growing stronger with my friends. They are my community in those walls. They do encourage me and challenge me, and even (sometimes) tease me about my bright white lifting shoes. They suffer with me through some of the more challenging physical tests I have experienced, and when we bump fists at the end of the hour, we have bonded in a way that I’ve never found before – even in church. I know that even if everyone else has finished and I’m still working, I’m not working alone.
But I go to church because I am painfully aware of my own limitations, my frailties and my failures. I don’t go to church to feel strong – I get that at the gym – I go to church to feel weak. In the music, or the communion elements, or the quiet prayer, or the moment when I feel the lump in my throat I am made more aware of just how fragile I am. In church I don’t push past my limits, I surrender to them. I make the most powerful confession: I am poor, needy and broken and I can’t save myself. I can PR my squat, but I can’t heal my broken heart.
And I am there with my friends too. We encourage each other and challenge each other. Sometimes we make fun of each other at church too, though I’ve never worn my lifting shoes to preach with. There we are bonded in our weakness, in our communal confession that we are broken but healed through faith in Jesus who has inexplicably brought us hope and life. There I find that my weakness is being turned to strength, but the strength is not my own, it comes from another place that I can’t summon at will.
I need both of my churches because I need places to be strong and weak. I need places where my weakness can be made strength, and my strength can be made weakness. I need the people who tell me I’m strong, and I need the ones who remind me that no matter how strong I appear, I’m still weak.
So I’ll keep being part of both churches, I think. And if you’d ever like me to introduce you to some people at my other church, just let me know, because I would be more than happy to help you find out just how strong, and weak, you really are.