Many people prefer to practice religion with a community—something that is also helpful when going after health and wellness goals. Two pastors in Michigan are the perfect examples of this, leading their congregations in the Faith in Wellness challenge, an incentive-based wellness program sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The program has helped the pastors and their church communities not only lose weight but also lead healthier lives—all with the inspiration of their peers and their faith. With more than 50 years of combined service in faith ministries, pastors John Lowe, of Historic Motor City Baptist Church in Detroit, and James Stokes, of New Life Tabernacle Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids, are well-versed in what it takes to combine having faith with a healthy mindset.
“We know what the bible says about maintaining our bodies, and we do our best to run practical ministries, applying what we preach in church,” said Stokes. “But the everyday person has a lot to deal with, and scripture sometimes isn’t enough to keep people active.” That’s where the Faith in Wellness Blues Community Challenge comes in. Since 2009, the challenge has motivated congregations in diverse communities throughout Michigan to eat healthier and get active—with the help of a little friendly competition. Congregations enrolled in the Faith in Wellness challenge gain points by achieving health goals like step challenges, healthy meal prep and preventative screenings. Pastor Lowe and Pastor Stokes got involved with the challenge soon after it began in 2009, and have seen the benefits firsthand. Their parishioners are healthier. They’ve increased the number of diabetes screenings and blood pressure checks done onsite at their churches, and offer church-wide exercise classes offsite. “If it wasn’t for the program, I would never have thought to get our congregation physically fit,” said Lowe. “Now upwards of 30 parishioners regularly exercise together; we’re even an active part of Relay for Life!” And they don’t just talk the talk. Both Lowe and Stokes have been motivated to lose weight themselves, shedding pounds alongside their parishioners. “I get up early to fit my 10,000 steps in every day,” said Lowe. “As I’ve lost weight, I’ve also seen a sharpness in my mind. My speech and mental state are stronger than ever.” “Just hearing people comment on the work I’ve put in is a constant motivator to lead by example and keep going on my health journey,” said Stokes. In the future, both Lowe and Stokes look forward to staying healthy as a congregation. “Just because you’re a healthy weight doesn’t mean you’re really healthy,” said Stokes. “The Faith in Wellness challenge has become a part of our culture and certainly enhanced our ministry.” “If someone doesn’t know how to start getting healthy, the challenge makes it easy,” said Lowe. “We look forward to working with other churches in the future, helping them achieve similar goals.” To get involved in the Faith in Wellness Blue Community Challenge, visit bcbsm.com. This post is part of a storytelling series we call, “Beyond the Card.” These stories will feature Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members, employees, and communities who are making meaningful differences throughout our state. We invite you to follow Beyond the Card stories here at MIBluesPerspectives.com and through the hashtag, #BeyondtheCard on our social channels. If you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com. Photo credit: Christie Laster