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Church’s staff models healthy living

HOUSTON (BP)–Staff members at First Baptist in Houston are seeking to do do their part in taking on America’s weight problem.

Nearly 50 women and eight to 10 men on the church staff have voluntarily participated in the “First Place” health and weight-loss program.

Founded in 1981 by First Baptist members who wanted to lose weight and live healthier lives, the program has stretched beyond Houston to help more than 500,000 people in about 12,000 churches in the United States and worldwide.

“We’ve been working on getting First Place started with the staff for a while,” said Diane Bagby, executive assistant to the church’s executive pastor, David Self.

The staff’s participation in First Place is part of a staff wellness program.

“Because I work with the staff and was already a First Place leader, I wanted to do a group during business hours,” Bagby explained, “because many of our staff members don’t want to come back in the evening to participate in a meeting.”

Bagby, who also is a personal trainer and has worked in wellness intervention in the corporate world, noted the diversity of the First Place group in age and in needs.

“In many other groups there is a strong emphasis on weight loss,” Bagby said. “We have some staff members who have struggled with eating disorders and others who are not overweight but who are trying to learn eating habits and God’s way for wellness.”

It is amazing to Bagby how many people don’t understand what it means to eat healthily, so some of the staffers have been “just trying to learn to eat the right foods in the right amounts.”

As of week five in the First Place program, the staff members had lost more than 89 pounds, Bagby said.

“Some gain, while others lose,” she said. “This number includes results for those who are not necessarily trying to lose weight.”

Bagby said leaders of First Place groups sometimes offer incentives for not only losing weight but also keeping the nine commitments of the plan such as eating fruits and vegetables, drinking enough water and saying the week’s memory verse. It’s amazing how much a sticker with the amount of pounds each person lost will motivate someone, Bagby said.

The participants have been pleased with the program, Bagby said, noting, “They are enjoying the fellowship and the lunches.” Bagby said staff members tell Self, the executive pastor, all the time how much the program has been blessing them.

“Our biggest loser so far said she never really knew what it meant before to see her body as God’s temple,” Bagby noted.

Bagby said one or two people from each of the church’s departments have been participating in the First Place program, “encouraging and holding each other accountable.”

For each weekly meeting, the church’s kitchen staff has prepared First Place recipes in their proper portion size. Then First Place national director Carole Lewis and her staff serve the lunches to the participants.

Bagby said she sees many spiritual tie-ins related to physical wellness and weight loss.

“We’re told to present ourselves as living sacrifices. We have to change our minds about what is acceptable.”

If Christians are to be set apart from the world, Bagby said, they need to follow the words of 1 Corinthians 10:31 which reads, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Bagby lamented that it has been an acceptable sin in the church to overeat.

“So many of our fellowships have donuts or covered casserole dishes. Donuts are not what we need to be feeding the temple of God.”

Bagby also referenced 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 which says Christians are not their own, that they were bought at a price and are to glorify God with their bodies.

“We need to reassess the things that we consider important to see if they align with God’s plan for our lives and health,” she said, “and prioritize our lives accordingly.”

There are consequences for people not taking care of their bodies, Bagby reminded. “The unfortunate bottom line is that if we don’t put some time in now on taking care of our bodies, we will definitely put time in later — in a hospital or therapy with our bodies in an already-compromised condition,” she said. “If we will step out and start, the Lord will meet us in that process, but He will never make us do it. As always, we have a choice.”

Lewis said she finds 1 Corinthians 9:27 helpful, which reads, “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

First Place was founded on the premise of Matthew 6:33, with Lewis noting, “You have to give Christ first place in every area of life just as Matthew 6:33 reads, ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.'”

Bagby and Lewis said they are excited about the positive response and turnout they have had with the staff members.

“Our desire is that this will permeate every area of our church,” Bagby said. “My hope is that it will spill over into the church and its fitness area, the Christian Life Center.”

Getting the staff involved with First Place is just one step toward total wellness, she said.

“I hope we eventually only serve healthy food at our church. I also hope we continue the total wellness program with programs such as smoking cessation classes.”

Bagby said it will start with the staff of the church.

“It begins with people with spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health doing God’s business with greater integrity and health,” Bagby said. “If we feel better about ourselves and feel better physically, it will spill over.”
Tracy Maness is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, on the Web at www.sbtexas.com. For more information about First Place, go to www.firstplace.org or call 1-800-727-5223, ext. 407. The website includes a “Find a Group” search function by zip code, city or state.

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  • Tracy Maness/Southern Baptist TEXAN