The Pastor and the Dietitian...
Over the last year or so—as I have been reading and educating myself about food, diet, exercise, and the like— it occurs to me that dietitians have a lot in common with Pastors. And not only do we have a lot in common, there are probably more similarities than there are differences.
Dietitians/Nutritionists are those people who have spent time studying food and its behaviors in the human body. They know what food is, how it breaks down in the human body, what foods do what within the body, and how various foods affect things like physical health, emotions, anxieties, mental stability, etc.
Dietitians tell you What to eat…and so do Pastors.
-Dietitians can help us in a variety of ways by telling us what to eat.
Generally, they can teach us healthy patterns of eating; highlighting which food groups to favor, which ones to treat with care, and which groups to avoid.
Dietitians can also assess our personal bodies, studying how certain foods affect our specific bodies, and give us instructions on what we should eat specially for our bodies.
They base these things on blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, etc.
For example, if I approached a dietitian seeking help losing weight, he/she would begin by getting to know me, my lifestyle, and my general eating habits. From there, they would tell me what I am doing well, where I can make improvements, and what I need to cut out.
Personally, a dietitian would tell me to avoid processed carbs and sugars, because that’s what I’m naturally drawn to and crave!
He/she would walk me through what the various types of foods do inside my body and how my body processes them. And then they would say, “So, don't eat it!”
-In very similar ways, Pastors come alongside their people in the various situations of life, instructing them what to eat from the Word of God.
Like dietitians, Pastors have spent time studying and understanding the Word of God. Pastors know how the Word of God is written, and how it addresses the many needs of the human condition…the most pressing issue being that we are all dead in our sins apart from Jesus Christ.
Good Pastors are able to listen to the person in front of them, diagnose the situation, and lead them to the right biblical food (Scripture) for help.
-For instance, a Pastor will fairly regularly counsel with a church member who is struggling with anger. He will listen, seek to understand the person in front of him, seek to understand the situation of his/her life, and then speak the truth of God’s Word into the situation in helpful, specific ways.
A good Pastor would lead the angry person to places like…
James 1:19-20 - “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Proverbs 15:1-2 - “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”
-And then, that good Pastor will remind his sheep of God’s promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
“In other words, friend, you are not hopelessly and helplessly entangled in your anger. You don’t have to get angry. God promises to help.”
-But this leads to the second, more important aspect of this discussion…
Dietitians tell us How to Think …and so do Pastors.
-Not only do dietitians tell us what foods to eat and what foods to avoid, a good dietitian will teach us how to think about food and eating. And this is where their real benefit and expertise comes into play.
We all need specific instructions from time to time. “Do this,” “Don’t do that.” — There are times when such specific instructions are needed and helpful.
But more than that, what we really need is help learning how to understand food and make our own choices for the duration of our lives.
Most of us are not dietitians, and most of us rarely have one around. Therefore, we need to learn how to think about food so that when we are making one of our many daily food choices, we are well informed and know how to think for ourselves.
Furthermore, learning how to think about food takes the pressure off of any one food choice!
Because, fad diets typically never truly work for anyone. Fad diets are like a google search. They answer a pressing question, but its probably not the best answer, and we most likely will not have understood why the answer is right or wrong.
-Through books, lectures, videos, and other general teachings, dietitians teach us how to understand and think about food generally. This is Dietitian's most lasting impact! When we listen to their teachings and instructions on food in general—and not just when we have specific questions—we will gain a better, more holistic understanding and appreciation of food itself.
Kind of like, “Give a man a fish” vs. “teaching him to fish.”
-Pastors operate in much the same way. There are multiple times in our lives when we need Pastors to speak into our situations with biblical truth and precision. Everyone needs this from time to time (including pastors themselves).
And when you’re rooted in a healthy local church, you’ll have a number of pastors shepherding you who are available to help address the specific problems and situations that arise throughout our lives with biblical accuracy.
-But more than this, the most impactful influence of a Pastor is the shaping of his peoples’ hearts and minds over time — teaching them how to understand the Bible, and how to think about and apply the Bible.
More than answering particular questions from time to time, the most lasting impact a Pastor can have is teaching his people how to think about the Bible.
This prepares and equips them for the Christian life more than being Christian in a given moment.
And, side note, when Christian are not in the habit of having their minds shaped by Scripture, and then need some biblical input from a pastor, they tend not to like the answers they get!
So, here’s the lesson: More than looking for quick solutions, friend, look for those people who can shape and transform your thinking and living. Look for people who can change your life for the better!
Dietitians and nutritionists are super helpful when it comes to food. So, we ought to listen and submit to their instructions.
And God gives His Church Pastors to lead and guide His people into all truth and holistic living. So, we ought to listen to them and submit to their good leadership.
-That’s why Peter says the Elders…“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
These are all slow, over time, example-based instructions. Elders, Peter says, teach your people how to live godly lives.
And in Hebrews 13:7, we are instructed to "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith."
Do you see that? Some of the greatest help you will ever receive from your pastor is watching his life and his faith over the long-haul, and imitating what you see.
-So, when we treat Pastors, and/or Dietitians like a google search engine, we may find a quick answer to a pressing problem, but we run the real risk of not asking the right questions, not truly understanding the answers, and ultimately not receiving any long-term help from their wisdom.
Growth happens as we gain knowledge, understanding, and obedience to truth.