My journey into aquatics wasn’t exactly remarkable or exemplary as I literally ran away from my first Red Cross instructor as he tried to pull me into the water. One day, sometime later, while watching my siblings practice swimming, the instructor noticed me eyeballing the huge innertube the kids were allowed to play on following a successful lesson. I was told if I wanted to play on the innertube I had to swim out there. Without hesitation or ever having a lesson, I simply jumped into the water, swam out to and mounted the tube, and then summarily pushed everyone else off.
You might say I was born to swim. But natural talent alone would not help me develop into a champion competitive swimmer. With good coaching, mechanics, hard work, and hours in the pool daily, I became an Illinois State Champion and nationally ranked swimmer. The pinnacle of my training came one summer in Iowa City, Iowa while participating in an intensive training program. Looking back at it now, it seems over the top and crazy for an eleven-year-old to swim up to 11 miles a day plus dryland workouts. We literally practiced at 6 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m. The intensity of the program empowered swimmers to leapfrog their competition when they returned to their respective cities and programs.
Spiritually, we too are born to win, but the new birth alone is no guarantee that we will develop into champions for Christ. Like competitive swimming, spiritual development requires coaching, focus, dedication, diligence, discipline, time, and great effort. The problem is too many Christians are more like recreational swimmers than competitive swimmers. Unlike competitive swimmers, recreational swimmers come to the pool just to have fun. They come when they want, stay only as long as they want, practice their cannonballs, and soak up the sun. Competitive swimmers understand that the more quality pool time they have, the more likely they will excel in the sport. They show up on time, follow directions, work hard, and as a result, develop great conditioning, endurance, and speed.
The Church in the United States, unfortunately, is filled with recreational Christians. They ignore the admonition of Hebrews not to forsake the assembling of themselves (Hebrews 10:25). They dismiss the command to be become equipped for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-13). They choose to frolic, splash, and float around the Church instead of valuing and entering into the kind of intense spiritual training that would help them make a mark in this world for Christ that could not be erased.
A few years ago, I went to see my doctor in Illinois who was my physician from the time I was in high school until his recent retirement. After checking my vital signs, running tests, drawing blood, and checking my heart, he commented that 30 years after ending intensive aquatic training I was still benefiting in my health from the investment made as an age group swimmer. My heart rate, blood pressure, oxygenation, and blood work were all perfect.
Similarly, we benefit spiritually from a foundation of intense spiritual training and exercise. I can’t help but wonder if we’re setting future generations of Christians up for failure as the modern Church eliminates spiritual training, services, outreaches, and prayer meetings, to adopt a new mantra with little to no expectation for members and adherents to faithfully attend, serve, give, grow, worship, and witness. Church research groups now indicate that the average American church goer attends once a week for 70 minutes every two to three weeks. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that this is no recipe for developing champions for Christ as the average Christian is simply not getting in enough “pool time” to succeed. The modern Church culture is starting to look more like the kiddie pool than a venue for serious training and development. It’s time to take off those floaties, dive into the deep end, and get serious again about our spiritual health and development.