It was some 15 years ago in Toledo when I first heard about spin classes. A fellow staff member at the church where I served taught spin classes at the YMCA and always tried to get me to come. She was in her mid forties, I think, and incredibly fit. In fact, because she always complained about the air conditioning in the conference room where we would gather for staff meetings, the administrative pastor, a pudgy man himself, pointed out more than once her lack of body fat, how it’s necessary to keep oneself warm. He, with more than his fair share, would constantly sweat. She claimed it’d be more advantageous to sweat in her spin class.
I never attended a class in Toledo. It wasn’t until I got into outdoor cycling here in southwest rural Ohio that I thought to check out a class. If you’re unfamiliar with spinning, it’s basically a group exercise class where you ride stationary bicycles. Unlike the bikes you’ll usually see in the fitness room, these are more streamlined without the bells and whistles of computers and various monitors (speed, cadence, etc.). Now, some newer bikes do have such features, but they aren’t necessary and can actually be distracting.
I’ve been to a few different classes, but my favorite by far has been the one that meets at 9:30 am on Wednesdays at the YMCA in Englewood (or is it technically Clayton?). Nearly all the spin classes in the town where I work begin around 5:30 am. I don’t care much for exercising absurdly early in the morning, as I prefer my coffee, Bible and journal at that hour. Of course, what I prefer most, over any spin class at any hour, is riding my bicycle outside, as a warm breeze, however much my helmet allows, flows through my graying locks. I like the scenery and the ever-changing terrain. But in the winter months, the spin bike keeps me in relative shape.
I jotted down some notes after a class in Englewood, some thoughts I always have whenever I attend class about how spin class and worship services are often similar. Here are some of those similarities.
A Great Coach
The teacher at the 9:30 am class is a woman in her late sixties named Randee, who is, like that church staff member, amazingly fit, especially given her age. She isn’t a drill sergeant but a wonderful coach. She doesn’t bark commands. Rather, she suggests, always reminding us, “It’s your ride” and challenging, “What are you expecting today?” She also practices what she preaches. Her bike is front and center, allowing her to demonstrate each change in the routine — changes such as when we’ll stand and ride, when we’ll jump (frequent alterations between standing and sitting), where to place your hands at given points in the ride, posture in general. Only one time do I remember her not riding with us. It was when she gave up her bike for a new rider.
Randee is very welcoming, always noticing new riders and remembering our names, even details about who we are, as she takes the time to ask. For instance, she inquired one time mid-ride, “Why do we only see you in the winter, Matt?” I answered that I very often commute on my bike during the warm months. She remembered later that I’m from Arizona and would remark when I happened into class, “Oh, Matt’s here. It must be cold outside.” Below 50!
Randee exemplifies how church leadership, whether staff or elders or just other maturing believers, should be toward younger-in-the-faith believers, as well as to those who may just be checking things out — seeking, we sometimes call it. She is experienced and strong, yet she keeps pushing herself. She often holds classes where, she says, she doesn’t so much teach as ride herself. We are welcome to attend but we won’t be given much a guide. We won’t be taught, so to speak.
The same holds true for pastors and worship leaders. Sunday mornings, at least when I lead worship, which is most weeks, are when I help others worship. I worship through the process, but not to the extent necessarily that I do in private moments, where in solitude or with other believers. On Sundays I worship by serving. But I make time, just as Randee does with cycling, to go it alone, to look for those quiet moments with God, to pick up my guitar or sit at the piano and spend time in the presence of God in a way that I simply can’t do when I’m “coaching” others. I try to do this with our bands, too. When we’ve finished rehearsing a song and we know it pretty well, I encourage us to play it more and longer but without the sense that we have to help others worship. Rather, we use it in our worship on Tuesday nights.
Different People with Different Goals
Unique to Randee’s class at least is that the riders vary in age, walks of life, fitness levels and experience. We wear different clothes and gear. Some have clip-in shoes, for instance, while others simply wear tennis shoes. Some are in regular T-shirts and shorts, while others wear workout clothes and even bicycle shorts. Some seem to know each other pretty well, exemplified by their constant chatter, which Randee notices. If they talk too much, then she ramps up the intensity, though she also encourages the community nature of the class. Some are reserved and quiet, never saying anything, perhaps too winded to. All come and go, as attendance isn’t required. Unlike most gyms, there is no sign-up and no fee for the class, so you just try to get there early before all the bikes are claimed.
Worship services are similar in that they draw all sorts of people, from deeply committed followers of Jesus to nominal “believers” (who aren’t really disciples) to those just wanting to see what church is all about. All are there for various reasons. Some are even forced to be there by a spouse or parent or some gnawing sense of obligation to check church attendance off an unwritten list.
At my church people wear all manner of clothes. Some dress up in jacket and tie, while others wear jeans and T-shirts, even shorts in the summer. Believe it or not, I try to vary my attire to help others feel comfortable. Sometimes I’ll dress nicer and down a little at other times, though I’m always sure to iron whatever I’m wearing. Casual doesn’t have to mean looking like a slob.
Something I love about our church is the wide variety of ages. We have infants through people in their nineties — the just born to the just … well, anyway. Age and experience together with youth and energy are needed in the body of Christ. At my church in Toledo, I remember playing two, maybe three, funerals. Here I’ve played or participated in two dozen at minimum in the nearly seven years I’ve been serving here. Now, weddings aren’t nearly as common as at that youthful church in Toledo. The one age group we seem to be lacking at my current church is single people in their twenties. We have plenty of families and grandparents and children, but in our rural area, young adults tend to head off to college and not many return. We also have quite a few young married couples, those who tied the knot virtually right after high school.
Church is also similar to spin class in that some know each other really well. They’ve walked with Christ together for many years, decades even. We encourage people to dive into community, namely in small groups, where life is lived alongside and with one another, where struggles are shared and joys celebrated. But in church, as in the spin class, there are also many on the fringes, those who for whatever reason haven’t connected at a deeper level with anyone. And they are the ones at risk for being picked off by the enemy. When the struggles of life and the cares of the world become too strong, they are likely to fall away from the body, rather than cling to it (and the head, who is Jesus) for needed shelter. These are also the same ones who come and go with no accountability to anyone. They make no commitment to serving in the church, which is what followers of Jesus are commanded in the New Testament to do. Required attendance and participation in the spin class would likely result in riders becoming more physically fit. Similarly, when Christians choose not to forsake meeting with other believers (as the book of Hebrews exhorts), they will also grow in spiritual fitness, becoming stronger in the Lord as they use their gifts to build up one another.
To Be Continued
I actually have plenty more notes on this subject, which you probably figured out given the “Part 1” in the title of this post. I’ll pick this up another time, as I look at how the spin bike itself relates to church, as well as the hunger pangs similar to both class and the worship gathering.