Confessions of an Overweight Youth Pastor

“I was 100 pounds overweight,” he admitted. “It was effecting my ministry, my marriage… everything! So I finally decided to do something about it.”

Overweight. It’s not a word we use much on Sunday mornings, but it’s all too common. Maybe even more common in the world of youth ministry. (How many French fry conversations and pizza nights can one person have?)

That’s probably why Josh’s story moved me. So I asked him to share it with us. It’s a success story and I think it will be an inspiration to all of you.

Here it is—confessions of an overweight youth pastor!

The day the bathroom scale read 300, I was shocked. Having not weighed myself in years, I thought “how did it get this bad?”

It has been years since I was a triple-varsity high school athlete. Years that included a church internship, two demanding full-time youth ministry (which included coast-to-coast-and-back moves), marriage, and earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Almost a decade of the typical “youth ministry lifestyle” of fast food, soda, and most days spent behind a desk had left me within pounds of a medical diagnosis of morbid obesity.

I was at the end of my rope physically. I was constantly tired (I’m talking sloth levels of energy.) I could sleep for 9 hours and not feel rested and in the middle of the work day I would sneak off into the youth room for a “power nap” (more like a “fat nap”) just to make it through the day. I relied on sugary coffee, soda, and sugary snacks to “give me energy” to feel more alert, and I dreaded events like summer camp because I knew how painfully exhausted I would be. I wouldn’t even play active games at youth group because I would sweat through my shirt before getting up to preach.

My “spark” to change my lifestyle was a combination of the bathroom scale, my wife’s urgent concern for my health, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I knew I had two options: burn some calories or burn-out of ministry.

My transformation story is not primarily physical, but spiritual. My heart had to change before my waistline did. In my “rock bottom” moment, God gave me this realization: My poor physical health was spiritual neglect. God had given me a healthy body to steward for good works in His Kingdom, and I had squandered it. Before hitting age 30, I was physically struggling to fulfill the ministry God had called me to. How often had I preached to students to “honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor 6:19-10) regarding sexual purity, yet I had destroyed my body with fast food and Netflix binges. In tears, I repented of my sloth, my gluttony, and my failed stewardship. But God, being good and full of grace, restored to me all that I had wasted.

Fast-forward a year later. I’ve lost almost 100lbs (full-truth, it’s 94.6lbs). How much is that? Well, for a 6’1” guy like me it was 4 shirt sizes (3XL to M), 5 pant sizes (40” to 30”), and even a shoe size. It’s been a crazy, humbling, and educating journey. I’ve learned I actually love running, Crossfit, & hiking.

I wear clothes from high school! I kicked soda, fast food, and tons of unhealthy foods. I can keep up with my athletic students! I wake up feeling refreshed & have energy all day. I can run faster and lift heavier than I could have even dreamed of a year ago. And the journey is still going (full-truth, I still have more weight to lose and tons of PRs [Personal Records] to beat).

When you lose lots of weight, everybody asks you, “how’d you do it?”

Here are 10 short-and-sweet tips I think anyone can follow to drastically improve their health:

1) Buddy System. Find a friend, family member, or another youth pastor to hold you accountable, or better yet, get healthy with you! I wouldn’t have been as successful without the help and support of my wife (who lost 45lbs herself!)

2) Snowball Effect. Add or cut just one thing each week. Maybe you start by cutting soda (or switching to diet), then add fruit, cut out 1 hour of TV, add 30 minutes of walking, etc. Focusing on these smaller, achievable goals will give you momentum.

3) Track your food. If you are undisciplined in your eating habits, log everything you eat (free apps like MyFitnessPal make it easy.) You must be in a calorie deficit to lose weight (cutting 500 calories a day, equals 1lb of fat in a week.)

4) Think lifestyle change, not “diet.” Find foods you can eat & enjoy for the rest of your life. Try a few new foods every week! You want to be healthy for years, not weeks.

5) Eliminate (or greatly reduce) soda, fast food, and highly processed foods from the list of things you regularly eat.

6) Find exercise that you love. You’ll only be able to force yourself through so many treadmill sessions (if you hate it like me). Find physical activity you look forward to. For me, it’s Crossfit and hikes with my wife. Experiment until you find “your thing”

7) Know what you’re going to eat before you eat it. If you’re hungry and looking for food, you’ve lost! Plan out or prep at least 1 meal in advance. I have the same breakfast every day and meal prep all my lunches for the week in advance.

8) Eat lots of lean meats & veggies. The protein and fiber from these foods will keep you fuller, longer. The Crossfit food mantra has been a great guide for me: meats & veggies, nuts & seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.

9) Cheat. Go ahead and have one “cheat meal” every week where you eat whatever you want! (notice I said MEAL, not day or weekend!)

10) Be Patient. Weight loss is not linear. Some weeks you’ll feel like you live at the gym and your pet rabbit eats more than you and the scale still won’t budge. No one loses weight as fast as they want. Be patient, persistent, and consistent. It’s working. Celebrate every small victory during your journey. Every day you are becoming a better steward of your body.

What are you waiting for? Don’t miss out on the life that God has for you today and in the future! If God wants to use you in a physically demanding kingdom-role at 70, 80, or beyond, will you be ready?

I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:17

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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3 Responses to Confessions of an Overweight Youth Pastor

  1. dan manns says:

    awesome and inspiring story! thanks for sharing it Josh! I know your story will inspire many,many others!

  2. Cheryl Rogers says:

    Thanks for sharing Josh’s story! I am so proud of him and his wife…they have worked hard and they are great examples to the students they serve!

  3. Tracey says:

    That scripture verse is actually 1 Corinthians 9:27. Good story. Thanks!

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