Guest Post: A Parable for Church Leaders

This week is going to be a little different at Church Thought.  I am currently finishing up an eBook based on the church planting series, and preparing to head to Exponential (let’s connect!) next week.  In order to maintain a degree of sanity, I have asked a few friends to share their wisdom with us this week.

Wade Hodges is a speaker, author, and story teller.  Having planted a church and pastored an existing church, Wade shares his wisdom regularly on his blog.

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
-Mark 4:9

I remember the first time I joined a health club. It was a “health club” not a “gym,” because depending on the water temperature on any given day, it had either a small swimming pool or a large hot tub adjacent to the locker room.

They gave me the MVP treatment the day I signed up. I was single and convinced that the mesmerizingly fit young woman showing me around the facility was going to give me her number at the end of the tour. Instead she asked for mine; my credit card number that is. She said it was the most convenient way to handle monthly billing.

She also told me my initial bill would include a $99 one-time sign-up fee. When I asked what the fee was for, she said it was an administrative fee. Had she not been so beautiful, I might have realized she was charging me a hundred bucks for filling out a form and processing my credit card. Then she quickly added that the sign-up fee also included a training session with one of the club’s certified personal trainers. That’s when she handed me off to a hulk of a man with muscular earlobes that we’ll call Scooby.

Scooby was a nice guy. He asked a few personal questions and we discovered that he had heard of some of the people I knew and I had heard of some of the people he knew, so we were practically best friends. And that’s how he treated me, like his best friend. He asked about my fitness goals and nutrition. He showed me some cool exercises and put me through a nice workout. He seemed genuinely interested in helping me get bigger, faster, stronger, and leaner, all at the same time. That $99 sign-up fee was starting to look like a bargain.

After the workout, he showed me the hot-tub (it was a hot water day) and told me to take my time. After a nice soak and shower, I walked out of my new health club. I didn’t see Sheena, the Amazon Goddess, but I did see Scooby. He told me to take it easy. I told my new best friend that I would. Not only was I a member of a fancy health club, but the friendly staff was there to help me achieve my goals. I looked forward to coming back.

The next day I went in for another workout. When I scanned my card at the counter the dude sitting there didn’t even look up from his muscle mag. He just waved me through. I looked for Scooby, but didn’t see him. Helen of Troy wasn’t around either. In fact, none of the helpful and friendly staff who had greeted me the day before was there to receive me. I must have just missed them.

I went back on the third day and was overjoyed to see Miss America working the counter. I scanned my card and she looked up and gave me a polite smile devoid of recognition. Disconcerting, but not surprising. I was single for a reason; it wasn’t just my earlobes that were flabby.

I saw Scooby in the hallway between the cardio and weight rooms. I said “Hey!” and he gave me a perfunctory head nod. He was showing some new guy around. They were acting like best friends. I saw him a few more times over the next month. Eventually I stopped speaking and he stopped nodding. We were no longer friends.

It didn’t take me long to get with the program.

I’d walk in, scan my card, ignore the guy behind the counter who was ignoring me, change clothes in the locker room, do 20 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of weights, soak in the hot tub for 10 minutes or swim 500 laps in the pool (My stroke didn’t improve but my turns were efficient!), shower, get dressed, and ignore the guy behind the counter as he told the back of my head to have a nice day as I walked out the door.

I worked out there for a couple of years and managed to increase my bench press by 5 pounds while adding 15 pounds of fat to my already doughy frame.

Everyday I’d show up, workout, and show no progress whatsoever. If anything I was moving backward. My increase in bench press was more the result of maxing out while the Ice Goddess was walking through the weight room than an increase in actual strength.

During that time, no one from the staff ever said anything to me about my lack of progress. No one ever grabbed me in the weight room and said, “I’ve been watching you for a month and you’re not getting any stronger. Do you want some help?”

The dude at the front desk never said to me as I walked in, “Man, I see you come in every day. You’re paying good money to work out here. Why are you getting fatter?”

When I took a month off during the summer, no one called to make sure I was okay. They didn’t even miss me. The only time I heard anything from the staff was when my credit card expired and they needed me to update my information so they could keep processing my payments. They were running the kind of health club where lack of improvement and increased body fat was nothing to be worried about as long as you kept your credit card up to date.

When I moved, they demanded I show proof that I was leaving the area before they would cancel my contract. My need to keep buying bigger pants was not proof enough that I was no longer a committed customer.

Luckily, I was able to find a gym in my new city that offered a similar arrangement. They took my money and I kept showing up day after day with no discernible improvement. I was happy to have a place to work out and they were happy to scan my credit card. They didn’t expect me to get results and I wasn’t bothered by their lack of expectations. Going to the gym was part of my routine. Working out everyday and not getting results became the norm for me and just about everyone else on the same treadmill.

“Working out at the gym” is just something middle-class Americans do. It’s a box we’re happy to check off for a reasonable monthly fee.

What do you think this parable is really about?


About the Author: Wade Hodges

Wade loves getting to use both sides of his brain almost every day as he writes books, speaks to audiences across the country, and coaches others toward excellence. He's been a preacher, church-planter, and land developer. He loves to cook red meat, listen to audio books, and coach CrossFit. He’s the bestselling author of Before You Go: A Few Sneaky-Good Questions Every Minister Must Answer Before Moving to a New Church and When To Leave: How To Know It’s Time to Move On (Before You Stay Way Too Long) He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two boys. You can read more of his writing at www.wadehodges.com.

  • Ginger

    The applications of the parable are almost endless. Great stuff, Wade!

    • Wade Hodges

       Thanks! It was lots of fun to write.