I hate Asher Wallace. And I think he hates me. Ash, for those of you who do not know him, is my personal trainer.

I stopped by Fitness World Gym in Florence, where Lindsey Suto is an award-winning trainer. She is also a member of my congregation. I am her pastor. She refused to be my trainer. As she put it, “I do not want to make my pastor hurt.” A fine and noble sentiment, I must say.

So she assigned Ash to me. Ash, not being a member of my flock, had no compulsion to live by such a high ethic. As a matter of fact, he laughs when I am hurting.

Ash is everything I am not. He is in his mid-20s, has almost no body fat and is very flexible. I, on the other hand, just entered my later 60s and have incredible amounts of body fat. While my mind is flexible, my body is not. As the Scripture says, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

I meet with Ash weekly. As I am warming up on the treadmill or elliptical machine, we talk. He asks me how many times I have worked out since we last met. He asks if I am doing my daily walking. He wants to know what I have been eating, and when, and how much.

All the time he is doing it, I think he is looking me over to see which part of my body is not currently hurting. He then begins to make me do exercises for those parts. He pushes me until I can go no further. Then he laughs and pushes me just a little more.

Ash really does not really hate me. As a matter of fact, I think he likes me. He wants me to be in the best shape possible. So he finds those areas that need work and shows me how to work them. He holds me accountable for my daily exercise, and for what I eat. He asks, and I answer, and we keep going. I’ve got a long way to go, but Ash is helping me get there.

All of us need to be in a group with people like Ash, especially those of us who are followers of Jesus. As people who want to be shaped into the image of Christ, we need a group that will push us, make us go further and hold us accountable. The truth is, we won’t make it on our own. We were not designed to.

Our small group ought to be like our trainer. Occasionally we should walk out from it a little sore, and maybe even disliking them a little. If all our group does is tell us we’re OK, if it makes us feel better without actually becoming better, then it is not helping us become more Christlike. (Unless, of course, you have already attained that level of perfection.)

Ash is my trainer, not my masseuse. And I go to him at the gym, not the spa. And my small group challenges me, pushes me and holds me accountable.

I don’t really hate Ash. Or my small group. After all, they are helping me to be better.

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Michael B. Henderson is the minister at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Florence and a member of the Morning News’ Faith & Values Advisory Board. Contact him at fvboard@florencenews.com.

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