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Fit for Ministry

Sports chaplain Jerry Mullins helps church leaders get in shape.

Assemblies of God world missionary Matt G. Reigel, 52, is back on the field in Switzerland, but two years after running a half-marathon while itinerating in Oregon, he’s 25 pounds lighter. This reduction followed training with U.S. Missions sports chaplain Jerry L. Mullins of Dallas, Oregon. Along with his wife, Julie, Mullins launched a fitness ministry in 2014 after 20 years as a youth pastor.

“Jerry talked me through specific stretches for tight muscles, shared good running form and techniques, and gave me encouragement — and made adjustments to my training — when I experienced injuries,” says Reigel, a pastor at three AG churches prior to becoming a missionary in 2005. “He gave me support throughout my training, even when it meant more work or time for him.”

In the growing field of sports/outdoor chaplaincy, the Mullinses started Zaofit (zao is the Greek word for live). Their goal is encouraging people to embrace active and effective lives. They embarked on the venture several years after both developed an interest in fitness because of feeling sluggish from carrying around too much weight.

Originally, because he hadn’t taken up running yet, Jerry advised pastors and spoke at churches about nutrition; he had obtained certificates in personal training and nutrition. He also coached middle school and high school students. Eventually, the Lord showed him and Julie they could use their interest in fitness as a way of sharing the gospel.

“Our ministry is mostly relational,” says Mullins, 51, a trainer and teacher at a local gym, where Julie also teaches classes in high intensity interval training and the use of a ballerina bar. “When I run with someone, we may go as long as three hours. A lot of ministry comes from that — speaking about Jesus and how our life has changed because of Him.”

While they emphasize sharing their faith with non-Christians, Mullins wants to help church leaders get fit. Pastors like to talk about spiritual health, yet too many are out of shape physically, he notes.

“It affects our ability to do ministry,” Mullins says of overweight leaders. “When we can’t do things because of our condition, it has an impact. Plus, it affects our longevity. We can’t do ministry for long if we’re unhealthy.”

Julie and Jerry began running with a prison guard who had been raised in a cult, a woman who had no prior exposure to Christianity. A year after they met her, the woman’s husband suffered an aneurysm. During his recovery, Julie organized a trio of volunteers to clean their house and take her meals.

“She couldn’t believe anybody would do that,” says Mullins, a member of Praise Assembly in Monmouth. “Now we have deep spiritual discussions with her. She’s attending church.”

Reigel, who works in church health and development with congregations across Switzerland, says his longtime friend’s ministry approach would be well-suited in Europe.

“Instead of asking people to come fit into our system, what he does is go where people are and do what they do because they’ll rarely show up at church,” Reigel says.

Photo: Matt Reigel is now in better shape than before, thanks to fitness training.

Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.