It was after only one Methodist potluck when I decided my husband and I were getting a gym membership. I had done a little bit of CrossFit before we moved to Kansas, but only for a little while, and I was never really committed. You know those people who purchase Groupon gym memberships and never actually stick around? Yeah, I was that girl.
But when Bill and I walked into the CrossFit “box” (that’s what Crossfitters call their gyms), it felt like home. Almost everyone introduced themselves and said hello, welcoming us to the class. Before we began our warm-up, our coach Sherri asked if we had met everyone. When we said no, that we hadn’t met a couple of people, Sherri found out who didn’t introduce themselves and made them do burpees.
“Oh crap,” I thought. “What the hell did I get myself into?”
Was I going to have to do burpees if I messed up? I wasn’t ready or willing to do that. But then it dawned on me -members of the classes knew the expectations, and it was expected that newbies feel welcome. And then I had a crazy thought.
What if churches acted like that?
What if every person that walked through church doors felt welcome, like they belong?
CrossFit has taken the fitness world by storm, but it hasn’t done so without its fair share of controversy–not so unlike the Church. And while CrossFit may not be perfect, the Church could learn a few things from the CrossFit community.
1. Value the Physical World
The most obvious thing we can learn from CF is the value it places on the physical. In an understandable attempt to help people spiritually, the Church often misses opportunities to minister to the world in physical, tangible ways. We neglect our bodies by not taking the time to exercise and de-stress, and we spend a lot of time at potlucks (Methodists, can I get an amen?)!
My husband and I recently moved. It took us awhile to get settled in, and during that couple of weeks, we didn’t consistently work out or eat as healthy. And my whole being took a hit. I was slower, mentally cloudy, emotionally distraught, and exhausted all the time. I couldn’t do real ministry while I was feeling like that.
CrossFit reminds us that taking care of our physical bodies is the best we can do for ourselves and those around us. When we are healthy, we relate to our friends, family, and the world more healthily. When we are physically healthy, we are better equipped to pursue our spiritual and mental health. And when we are holistically at peace and extend that to others (which is what shalom means), we are living as God intended us to live.
If you do CrossFit for more than a month, you will inevitably experience change and growth. The more you lift weights, the stronger you become; the more you work at double unders, the easier the rhythm becomes; the more you do burpees, the easier the movement becomes – it doesn’t make them more enjoyable, though.
Participation in the Body of Christ should be the same way. More and more we are experiencing plateau and discontent in our spirituality, but this should never be the case. It’s easy for us to rely on God’s grace to get us through, but sometimes we forget our responsibility to work at our faith and to put in the hard effort that comes with spiritual growth.
The more we participate in Church, the more we should learn; the more time we spend with God, the deeper our relationship should become; the more we serve others, the more loving we should become.
Each year at the CrossFit Games, the workouts get tougher. The stakes get higher. Because the athletes grow and get stronger. What if churches became a place for spiritual athletes, who were constantly setting the stakes higher and expecting growth, change, and holiness?
Part of why growth is so tremendous in CrossFit is because there is built-in accountability. For those who participate in the Open, official judges are assigned to each athlete in order to confirm that the workout was completed without shortcuts or cheating. Most days, though, we hold each other accountable without the official title of “judge.”
Crossfitters know that there’s no growth without honest work, even when it is tempting to count that one rep that really shouldn’t count.
The Church could learn how to do accountability with grace from CrossFit. There seems to be two extremes in Christianity: either accepting people exactly where they are with no expectation for growth, or holding people to such a high standard of perfection that there’s no hope for real, human growth. Individuals and the Church as a whole would grow deeper if we embraced the idea that we are spurring each other on to holiness with the help of the Spirit, while recognizing our humanity and capacity to have a bad day.
Just recently I looked through my CrossFit workout journal I’d kept over the past two years. I found one of my first few workouts, which was a partner workout with pull-ups. At that time, I could only do pull-ups with a thick green resistance band to help me pull my weight. I would have continued to use that green band that day, if it weren’t for my partner and coach Heather. After watching me warm up, she said, “Yeah, you don’t get to use that green band. You’re going with the thinner purple band today.”
I whined and tried to convince her otherwise, but she wasn’t having it. Because she knew I could do better. And because she pushed me, I did do better. I can now do pull-ups fairly easily without any help from a band, and it’s because of Heather.
What would it look like if we had fellow believers holding us accountable like that, pushing us to do better?
While each CrossFit gym affiliate is free to program WODs (workout of the day) however they see fit, a few WODs are well-known in the CrossFit community, regardless of which box you attend. Fran, Grace, Angie, Murph, and DT are just some of the names of the brutal workouts that CrossFit has established, and they’re the same everywhere.
The CrossFit website is a great place to go and compare your scores with other people around the world, but even more important than comparing with other people is to compare with your previous scores. These benchmark WODs are the perfect way to see real growth in yourself and others as you continue Crossfitting.
Fran, to me, is one of the most difficult Benchmark WODs: 21 reps of thrusters at 65 pounds for women, then 21 pull-ups; 15 reps of thrusters, then 15 pull-ups; 9 reps of thrusters, then 9 pull-ups. For time. It’s brutal.
The first time I did Fran, instead of 65 pounds, I used 25 pounds; and I used the thickest resistance band for pull-ups. I finished in over 10 minutes. The second time I did Fran, just months later, I did all the prescribed weight and movements with no bands, but I stopped to rest a LOT. I finished in over 12 minutes. The third time I did Fran, I didn’t scale at all, didn’t stop once, and finished with a sub-7 minute time. I know I’m improving because the proof is in the proverbial (paleo) pudding.
What if the Church had similar benchmarks? Some denominations have them, but they tend to be more like rites of passage done once–baptism, Confirmation or becoming a member, a mission trip or two. But what if the Church came up with a way to measure growth in ourselves and others, based off of how much more the world looked like the Kingdom of God?
Get on YouTube sometime and search CrossFit Games. While you watch, you will notice an extreme amount of hugs, high fives, and butt slaps. Though CF is mainly an individual sport (team competitions are on the rise, though), not one athlete leaves the floor until the last one is done. This is fairly common every single day at most CrossFit gyms.
One time, I was the last person to finish a WOD–by a lot. I had about 100 pushups left when everyone else was finished. As I struggled with my tenth one (pushups aren’t my forte), one of my former high school youth named Jaden knelt beside me and finished the remaining 90 with me. He pushed me, encouraged me, and made me finish when I would have rather quit.
Christianity in the West heavily focuses on an individual and personal relationship with God. And while it is important to pursue God personally, we were never meant to be alone or to seek God alone. I’ve seen a lot of churches do this community thing well. We offer classes and small groups and events and social stuff. But what if the Church as a whole was actually known for inclusive community, where all are truly welcome? Where we do life truly together, and not just on Sunday mornings?
Sometimes faith is hard. Sometimes we want to quit. And sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to do, or aren’t good at naturally, “but a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
CrossFit people have become my people. Sometimes CrossFit people are Church people, and sometimes they’re not. But goodness and truth and beauty are God’s goodness and truth and beauty, no matter where or who it comes from. And I think the Church could become a little better, truer, and more beautiful if we learned how to value our physicality, expect and track our growth, hold each other accountable, and do community like CrossFit does.