The World Doesn’t Need Any More Fat Preachers

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fat-preachers

 

You can wish this weren’t true. You can be really upset about it. It can hurt your feelings. You can express how unfair this is, but… your listeners make judgments about you based on your appearance.

I gained about 30 pounds of excess weight a few years ago. For some people excess weight is unavoidable for a variety of reasons. For me it was the result of sloppy eating and a non-existent workout plan. After getting married I got lazy and started letting myself go. I knew this was wrong, but it was hard to correct course after bad habits had been developed.

A good friend of mine, who is also on staff at my church, confronted me, “Lane, the world doesn’t need any more fat preachers. Your head looks like a marshmallow. You might want to work on that.” 
After slicing and dicing me with insults, he told me how, like it or not, people make decisions about whether they should listen to a preacher by their appearance. I realized my credibility as a preacher was on the line because I had a sloppy, indulgent lifestyle and it showed.

Weight is not something we talk about very much. Even just saying the word “fat” makes a lot of people uncomfortable. For some it conjures up a lot of hurt and pain. My intent in this post is not to hurt your feelings. I only want to offer a perspective on something that I believe hinders the effectiveness of a lot of preachers.

You may be thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t be saying these things. You may be angry at me because it shouldn’t matter what a pastor looks like and people should just be more spiritual. You may be ready to quote 1 Samuel about how God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. And you may be surprised to know that I agree with you.

It shouldn’t matter what a pastor looks like. People should be more spiritual. And God does look at the heart and not the outward appearances. But I’m not talking about how things should be. I’m talking about how things are.

God looks at the heart, but most of your audience is judging your outward appearance. On most Sundays you have individuals in your audience who are grabbing for any reason to not listen to you.

You can judge them for judging your appearance but that won’t get you anywhere. I think a better approach would be to understand the importance of what excess weight can communicate. Especially if it is weight that you could lose if you were to put down the donuts and pick up a dumbbell.

If you’re overweight it gives people an opportunity to dismiss what you say about certain things. 

Try preaching about the dangers of drinking too much when you eat too much.
Try preaching about spiritual disciplines when you have no physical discipline.
Try preaching about self-control when you continually overeat.

It doesn’t work. 


I grew up in super conservative Fundy churches where every pastor I had was fat. They would rail against the “sins of the flesh” and talk about living lives that were set apart for God. In the same breath they would describe what they were having for lunch which included large portions of fried, re-fried and deep-fried stuff. Nothing was ever steamed or grilled. Just fried. The result was a 350 pound man who was unwavering in his opposition to alcohol consumption, but strangely silent about health and wellness.

To me, this communicated a strong disconnect. Fitness isn’t everything, but a complete lack of effort and total indulgence is far from helpful for a preacher’s credibility.

This is why I decided to do something about my weight. I lost 30 pounds and have kept it off for a couple years now. It was not easy, but it has had a positive impact on my life and ministry.

I also wanted to stop dishonoring my wife. When she married me I was a fit guy. Over night I turned into a fat guy. This was classic bait and switch and I was guilty. Especially now that I’m a dad I want to be here for my daughter for many years to come and pass along healthy habits to my children. 

Do you think how much a pastor weighs is important? Why? Why not? Do you agree that people judge preachers on appearance? Does this matter?


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  • Paul Chapman

    Is he sure 30 pounds is enough?

    • I guess it depends on the person. For me 30 pounds was what it took to bring me to a healthy body weight.

  • Jack Dodgen

    Good points. It’s a shame that people look on the outward, but it’s a part of reality. I had a teacher who said this very same thing in class on a couple different occasions. That, plus my desire to look my best for my wife, caused me to drop about 50 pounds. Thanks for writing this.

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  • Diva

    WOW. As a Christian who is both fat and suffers from an eating disorder, I am gobsmacked that you thought it was right to bring a critique of body size into the arena. This whole thing smacks of self-righteousness. I have no problem with you making a choice for yourself that you believe is for your own best health, but when you start telling others how they should emulate you in an arena outside your area of expertise? Then I worry, and I feel a responsibility to do something about it.

    You have NO idea what any of your “fat pastors” do in a day or how they eat, or exercise, or what their health status is. You are extrapolating from your own experience, but your experience is not everyone else’s. Not everyone who is fat is fat in the same way you were or for the same reasons. Perhaps you overate considerably, but please don’t assume everyone else does. I have plenty of fat friends who are nutritionists, personal trainers, runners, dancers, marathoners, and other athletes. They all eat healthy. They are also still fat. It’s just how their bodies are made.

    Just as genetics dictate height, genetics also dictate a great deal of body size and shape. Body size is a complex condition involving a multitude of factors: socioeconomic status, access to healthy food and movement options, medical health, medication, genetics, metabolism, nutrition, etc. It’s a laundry list of components. Body size is not the same as health.

    Perhaps instead of kowtowing to the masses who focus on image to the exclusion of other things, you might recognize that you have the ability and, in my opinion, a pastoral duty to teach your parishioners to learn HOW to look beyond the outside and love someone for who they are. If you don’t, it’s not much different than giving the school bully your lunch money rather than standing up to him. I see weight-based discrimination, mockery, and prejudice every time I walk out my door – from other Christians even moreso than anyone else, I think. I am the recipient of ugly judgment that results in nasty gazes, mocking laughter, catcalls, and other disturbing behavior simply by existing as a fat woman in this world. I’m told that my body is unChristian, that I am unacceptable to God, and that my body is an outright sin. What sick judgments people make when they think they know what your sin is. It’s twisted, and you’re allowing them to get away with it.

    If we give in to the image-consciousness of people with that kind of prejudice, it tacitly gives them a pass on their discriminatory and severely judgmental behavior, and it teaches them that we fat folks are less than human – that it’s OK to make fun of us, make us the butt of jokes, to make comments to us about our bodies, to discriminate against us. That’s just not OK no matter how you look at it.

    • Diva,

      I agree with you wholeheartedly that weight is a complex issue and that there are a variety of factors that contribute to body size. I mention in my article that “For some people excess weight is unavoidable for a variety of reasons.”

      Thank you for contributing to the conversation and sharing your thoughts!

  • Vicki Nunn

    I agree that some people judge others based on their appearance. Every single day we are bashed about the head with the belief that we must look a certain way to be acceptable, and those that aren’t thin or attractive or young are somehow less worthy.

    But there’s a difference being told by the media and being told by our Christian leaders about what constitutes acceptable.

    I was fit and slim until I developed a thyroid problem which is a genetic disorder that is strong in my family. It is now more than 20 years later, and I haven’t EVER been able to get back to that ideal weight I was back then. I don’t think I will ever come to terms with my excess weight, but it is NOT acceptable that a Christian leader believes they have the right to dictate that I should lose weight. Christian leaders should be rallying AGAINST such prejudices and TEACHING their parishioners about accepting others. Isn’t this your duty, to teach others to love EVERYONE?

    I was the co-ordinator of a Christian singles group for about 15 years and I’ve come across this form of prejudice time and time again. I had one woman say that she shouldn’t have to ‘put up with fat people,’ and suggested that people who were fat couldn’t contribute to a good conversation. How pathetically stupid is that? Where were her Christian leaders that should have taught her about loving others? And sadly, this woman wasn’t alone.

    We are told by society (and the media) that to be acceptable we should also be both attractive and young. If you are going to tell people that they need to look a certain way to be taken seriously, then you also will need to encourage them to have plastic surgery to maintain the illusion of attractiveness.

    As a Christian leader you have a RESPONSIBILITY to your parishioners to ‘deprogram’ them – to teach them that they are unknowingly, and blindly accepting the hype that one’s physical appearance is somehow important. Sure, it’s good to keep yourself fit and eat healthily (if you are physically able to), but do not DARE to tell others that giving into the hype is right.

    • Vicki,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I want to respond to a specific comment you made. You said, “It is NOT acceptable that a Christian leader believes they have the right to dictate that I should lose weight. Christian leaders should be rallying AGAINST such prejudices and TEACHING their parishioners about accepting others. Isn’t this your duty, to teach others to love EVERYONE?”

      My intent is not to dictate anyone’s weight. Nor is it to be unloving or promote prejudice.

      This blog is written to preachers, and is designed to help them communicate better. My aim in this article is to start a conversation with preachers about one of the many ways we can hinder our ability to connect with our listeners when we preach.

      There are many things that inhibit effective communication. Not everything is fair. I’m only pointing out one of the unfair things preachers have to deal with.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  • Andy

    I’m overweight. I’m working on losing the extra pounds. I knew reading this that you were going to get attacked for it, but you’re correct in bringing this up. Contrary to the posters below, you have a duty to bring this up. God gave us this body and it belongs to Him. It is also His temple. Are we so callous that we can abuse His temple instead of stewarding it well?

    Why is any one person fat? I really don’t know, but I DO know that the overwhelming majority of large people get that way by not stewarding His temple well.

    If you have a real legitimate medical reason you are overweight, then some prayer for healing is in order. That along with some understanding on the part of others.

    But if you are one of the many that just loves to eat and simply can not resist that 12th jelly donut, then you are in serious violation of God’s word.

    • Andy,

      Right on… “the overwhelming majority of large people get that way by not stewarding His temple well.” Well said.

  • Loretta Paradise

    Proverbs 23:2 [Full Chapter]

    and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.

  • shermanhaywoodcoxii

    Wow…the preacher is stepping on toes….thanks for the reminder..My doctor agrees with you….God bless….

  • Frank

    That was a very good post. I’m not fat, so you’re not stepping on my toes. I’m a youth pastor in Pennsylvania and have the opportunity of preaching to the teens at least twice a week and other opportunities to preach to the whole congregation. The bit you had in the middle of the post where you asked us to “try preaching if…” definitely would cause us to examine things and bring things into perspective. I would agree on you with most things in the post though. Our bodies belong to God and we are stewards of them. As preachers, even our lives are sermons. So, our outward appearance could very well communicate something that we wouldn’t dare preach. The part that I disagree with you on would actually reinforce your argument for no fat preachers. In I Samuel about God looking on the heart while man looks on the outward appearance doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about the outward appearance, it just means He can look on the heart as well as the outward appearance, while we cannot. Of course He wants your heart first, and if your heart was right, then your outward appearance such as our dress and modesty would straighten up as well. God puts a priority on the heart for sure, Psalm 51 is all about that, but Romans 14 deals a lot with being a stumbling block to other Christians and causing others to stumble. When listening to a preacher, we want him to be Spirit-filled for sure. Temperance is a fruit of the Spirit! Paul was temperate in all things and kept his body under. Paul became all things to all men, so that he might gain some. I don’t think Paul would be a fat preacher. I don’t think Jesus would be a fat preacher either. Thanks for your post!

  • ipse dixit

    Well done, Lane, these things need to be said and you said them as discreetly as you could. If anything, you could have gone slightly further but I understand why you did not.
    Firstly, with regards to the ‘spirituality’ of our audience, I would have to say that I have been a pastor for 24 years and when I see (note, not just hear) an obese preacher in action, it can still be an obstacle to me as well. It’s not that I can’t hear the good sense the fat preacher may be speaking and it’s not that I am unconscious of personal issues I may need to address in my own life (- when faced with such potential stumbling blocks, I learned many years ago to quietly quote Romans 2:1 and ask myself, ‘Okay, so where are the contradictions and disconnects in YOUR life?’). The problem is not that I’m appalled by what I see; it’s just that it competes too much with what I’m trying to hear. And when, weeks later, I try to reflect on the message I heard, I find that while it can be hard to remember much of the sermon, unfortunately the visual image remains intact. I was once told (although I have not researched it) that 70% of communication is non-verbal. I was also told (by a man I consider to be the best preacher I have personally known) that the best preachers always ‘paint a picture’ – so what happens if the preacher BECOMES the picture?
    Secondly, the idea that to be spiritual means to separate the outward appearance from the heart needs to be qualified. Yes, I have an inner nature. Yes, I have an outward appearance. And yes, they are two distinct things. But I am also one person. The outward was not intended be separated from the inward. While I fully understand that there are occasional exceptions which can skew the inward-outward connection, such as thyroid dysfunction, what I am on the inside is mostly revealed or expressed through my external appearance, especially where this appearance is directly shaped by lifestyle habits. Obesity is very much a symptomatic, outward issue, but self control is spiritual and laziness is of the heart. The root issue is of the heart. The outward can be the indicator, and we ignore the warning lights at our peril – and when the red lights are so ‘in our face’ there really is no excuse for not getting to the heart of the matter.
    Thirdly, as a man who cares it is your duty to speak the truth in love. As long as you are not being judgmental, and remain more open to receiving correction than dispensing it, like a dentist in his surgery, you should not be diverted by patients (whom we love, not detest) screaming in the waiting room! So, while overeating, under-exercising and obesity are just one issue that needs to be kept in perspective, there ought not to be no-go areas that cannot be exposed to God’s truth and light.
    Fourthly, I am troubled that the huge increase of obesity in society at large, like so many other societal ills, appears to have become just as prevalent inside the church. What happened to us being ‘a peculiar people’, bucking the trend and offering an alternative to what’s out there in the world? We appear to be reflecting the world’s problem’s, caught in the same morass, rather than solving them. Or, as someone put it, thermometers rather than thermostats. Visitors to churches should see differences as soon as they walk in the door.
    Finally, as a Christian I am not my own, I was bought with a price of Christ’s blood. That means that even my body is God’s possession, His property. Not just legally but functionally – it is now a part of His earthly transportation network to reach this world and therefore needs to be serviced and maintained with all due care … but now I’m preaching to the converted:-)
    Thanks for the article – great piece.

  • I enjoyed the article! I can relate. When I turned 50 about 5 years ago I decided to work on being healthy. I set a goal to lose 50 pounds and start eating healthy. I in fact did again my goal and have maintained the lose and feel great. I now have a pastor to help other pastors with this struggle as well I have been pastoring for about 30 years and feel better and stronger and healthier than ever… I would like to help other pastors as we’ll or anyone that desires to be both physically and spiritually fit. Email me for more info. Pastor @ lhbcmd . Org

  • Royce White

    Lane—nailed it. As a public speaker on leadership and personal growth, I encounter the same thing. Every area of our lives need to be above reproach or our credibility is in jeopardy. Is it fair? No. Is it right? Maybe. Is it real? Yes. Will people judge you for your weight? Yes. Will they give you a pass when they learn that you have a disorder if you do? Usually.

    I want to address a more serious problem your article brings out (though this is serious)—one that we are all guilty of based on our heart, mind, and attitude. As an author and speaker it drives me crazy. As a relational being it drives me crazy—many times people respond how they want without listening, understanding, or applying logic. They respond many times to the title of a blog—not the contents. It’s laziness—a head issue—and a lack of understanding of who we are called to be in Christ—a humble servant.

    Your blog clearly stated in the second paragraph that this was YOUR issue—not the world at large (no pun intended), NOT for some people where it is unavoidable—and a call to pastors. To wit—

    “For some people excess weight is unavoidable for a variety of reasons. For me it was the result of sloppy eating and a non-existent workout plan.”

    Hence, within that intro, you stated unequivocally that for SOME people excess weight is unavoidable—AND that this was YOUR issue. Yet, several of the commenters proceeded to say how UN-Christian you were and mean, wicked, nasty, and otherwise on a direct path to hell (okay—not quite that bad).

    I believe thoroughly that understanding comes from the speaker—meaning if most people don’t get my point—it’s my fault. This puts the onus on me to communicate better (Preach it Donkey!). Yet, it’s also clear from hearing many people come up and share their most important takeaways, that God uses one sermon to meet many needs in a congregation—we are all in different places. Same is true for secular audiences. Hence, it does work both ways—both must work at communicating.

    Our brains love to latch onto something that we have been preprogrammed to understand because of the pathways that get burned into our brains (“whiskers”)—the brain loves organization and wants to solve puzzles and confusion quickly—it’s the way it is made. Most of us have preprogrammed a response to any comment on weight (or any subject) because we have had to live it all our lives. As a result, talking points become reality instead of truth—and typically in more ways than just the point at hand. This goes for many, many things, not only weight.

    I submit two things—

    1. Preachers/speakers make the caveats and exceptions early and often! Tell your listeners/readers what you ARE and are NOT saying. When HEART issues are on the line, you have to be abundantly and overly clear both in the positive and negative. It makes for a longer read, but it gets the point across better and allows for the listener to deal with the issue instead of a ruse.

    2. WAKE UP PEOPLE! (me included). Clear your mind of your prejudice if possible. Ask someone else to read the article and see if they see the same thing. Grow up and learn to think clearly and succinctly and not simply REACT to something you thought you heard or are preprogrammed to hear. How is anyone going to take us seriously if we cannot communicate logically but instead address things that are NOT being said? There are 100,000 things that I am NOT—Do. The. Homework.

    Thanks for dealing with tough issues. They are what change my life. I’m on the home stretch and another 25 pounds to go. The leaner I am (physically and mentally), the more people listen—sad, but true. And I want them to hear what I have to say. We need to understand the quote—

    “I can’t hear what you are saying—your actions are speaking too loudly.”

    Either change what we are saying, or change our actions. Much love and blessings.

    • Royce,

      What a great comment! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Something you said really spoke to me: “Our brains love to latch onto something that we have been preprogrammed to understand because of the pathways that get burned into our brains (“whiskers”)—the brain loves organization and wants to solve puzzles and confusion quickly—it’s the way it is made.”

      I have to watch out for this in myself. I react sometimes before hearing the whole story. We all do from time to time. Moving past this is part of growing up.

      Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment.

      Blessings,
      Lane

  • Lane,
    Thanks for the post. This was a bold step and topic to post on! I know you knew when you were writing this it was going to open you up for critique, but you wrote it anyway. Kudos to you. About the topic specifically, the bummer about our culture today is that packaging matters! It shouldn’t, but to those that don’t know Jesus they look at the outward first. We know God looks at the heart, but that doesn’t mean lost people coming to your church will initially. That being said, I think the balance to the discussion is how much effort and emphasis do you put on looking good compared to time spent sharing Christ etc. I love 1 Tim 4:8 because it puts that debate in pretty good context, there is value to physical exercise! but not the most value. I really appreciate the post and appreciate you being willing to talk about what a lot of pastors think and struggle with internally but are afraid to talk about. Keep up the great posts.