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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When God tells us to sit up straight


Rather than just stay and watch, I decided to join in,  I knew it was going to be easy-peasy.  After all, I’ve been running regularly now for 60 years, with my 300th ParkRun coming up fast. A doddle.


I have never been so wrong in my life.


This Tuesday our church started a chair exercise group, which - as the name suggests - means exercising while sitting down.  Over the years I have encountered a few such groups, usually at a residential home for the elderly: lots of old ladies gently waving their arms to music.


Being OAPs ourselves, Jacqui and I decided to support this community-based venture – Jacqui to participate and myself to offer invaluable encouragement, probably from the bar at Master McGraths opposite.


However, once we arrived, I thought it would be much easier if I drew up a chair and joined in – even though I was the only bloke there.   This was going to be just a gentle walk in the park, I foolishly thought.


Once we began I soon found moving my arms, upper body and neck hard going, especially  when doing it slowly.  (I have no experience of pilate.) Even sitting up straight for an extended time proved a challenge – clearly I have posture problems.  I found myself longing for a simple break to recover my poise and regain my pride. 


Everyone else seemed to take it in their stride, not that they were striding.  Just sitting down. 

I was exhausted.


However, for the record I did find those exercises for the legs easy, especially  if we opted to stand alongside our chair.  Even so I realised that my sense of balance has been very much affected by the ageing process, I so easily topple. 


Essentially what has happened is that my body over time has become entirely adapted to running, running in a straight line and at a steady pace of about eight-minute mile speed.  Anything faster or any sudden change of direction, I pull a muscle. 


The answer, of course, is to exercise those parts of my body which are underused.  And certainly I intend to persevere in our chair exercise group.  As Jayne Mansfield famously quipped: “You gotta have a body.”


Which takes us straight to the Church, the body of Christ.


Some years ago I encountered the Natural Church Development movement, founded in Germany by Christian Schwarz.  He had the bright idea of rather than beginning with theory and working out, he instead surveyed some 1000 churches in no less than 32 countries to see what actually worked.  Here he identified eight particular characteristics determining church growth, beginning with empowering leadership and concluding with loving relationships.


So far so good.  But then he came to the surprising conclusion that we need to concentrate on what is the weakest area in our church’s life.  Surprising to me anyway, because in economics a key doctrine is what is known as comparative advantage, that is we do what we do best.  So if our church is great on evangelism, we make evangelism our focus, even at the expense of other areas of ministry.


Schwarz made the opposite conclusion, that we should invest our resources into those areas where our church is weak. Rather than working on improving our ParkRun, we sign up to a chair-based exercise group. 


And I imagine this also applies to us as individual disciples of Jesus.  We need to be focus on where we are at our weakest rather than build on where we are most confident.   


Of course, we each have our part to play in the life of the church.  As the apostle Paul constantly reminds us, we each have a special role, a particular ministry within the body of Christ.  “In this way we are like the various parts of a human body.  . .The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. (Romans 12:4, the Message)


“If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach.” (v6). And so on.


On one level in serving Christ in his world we do what we are good at, or more precisely, we do what we are called to do.  Not everyone is a runner but if this is your calling, then run.  And run in such a way that you move up the field


So for example, if your calling is to be, like me, a teacher, then you make sure that you are continuously resourcing your teaching, whatever that may mean.  And make yourself available for teaching ministries, even though it means going out on a cold November evening. 


But at the same time each of us is called, in some way, to be an all-rounder.  If I come across someone in need, I don’t opt out by saying that pastoral care is not my ministry.  Or an opportunity to share the Gospel suddenly crops us, I don’t offer the excuse that I am not called to be an evangelist. 


Sure, there are those Christians who have the particular ministry of evangelism.  It comes, so-to-speak, naturally to them –  they will probably have the appropriate personality type.   But Jesus calls us, each of us, to be his witnesses, to answer any one who asks about what it means to follow Jesus.  And I guess for many of us, this is our biggest weakness.  And our biggest challenge. 


Sometimes God just calls us to sit up straight and hold out our arms for a while.  PHEW.


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