Orr, Hensley model faith and fitness for the sanctity of life

As we prepare to celebrate the sanctity of human life, we can include an application that is almost overlooked in the discussion: physical fitness.

Two South Carolina Baptist pastors are embracing both faith and fitness, not as something distinct from the sanctity of life, but something that is part of that sanctity.

Gary Hensley, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Spartanburg, and Charlie Orr, pastor of South Union Baptist Church in Westminster, are not only advocates for life but also proponents of keeping our bodies in shape “for the glory of God.”

Orr attended Mars Hill University on a basketball scholarship, but, as he says, “plunged into the hippie drug culture” from 1970 to 1975. “Christ saved me in 1975 and set me free from drug addiction,” he added. “I surrendered to preach in 1977 and have been a pastor-evangelist for the past 42 years.”

He was convicted early in his ministry “of the need to maintain good fitness through exercise so I could offer my best for God’s service.” He has worked out three to five days a week for most of those 42 years and said he currently only has about 7 percent body fat — at age 71!

Hensley said he has enjoyed fitness since he was old enough to play Little League baseball. “My passion for fitness and running began on the Great Falls High School track team, where I competed in the two-mile run. I had a desire to stay in shape, and running is something I have always enjoyed,” he said. “I found a way to make it a part of my exercise program wherever we have lived. One of my favorite activities is competing in road races.”

The entire family — including his grown children and grandchildren — often run with him and even compete against him. “It has become a family tradition to participate in races together,” he said. “We enjoy some friendly competition in local races.”

He typically runs in 5K, 10K, five-mile, and half marathons. When he turned 60, he tried a full marathon with his daughter, Kristen Owens. For the first three hours, he was ahead of her, but, he said, “At the 23-mile mark, she passed me. I had been averaging nine minutes a mile until then. The last 6.2 miles were extremely challenging, as I experienced painful exhaustion for the first time. I slowed to a walk. It took me over an hour and a half to complete the last few miles.”

Charlie Orr at work during one of his regular workouts.

Orr said his normal fitness routine is “mid-level weightlifting with slow repetitions of three sets per muscle group. I exercise cardio on elliptical machines, which helps to avoid knee injuries.” He applies the biblical truth found in 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you.” He said he can “maintain proper fitness and function better for God’s glory.”

He is “determined, by the grace of God, not to allow anything to deter me from my commitment to work out consistently.”

“Over the years, the Lord has provided many opportunities to share my testimony and the gospel during my routines,” Orr said. “Eric Liddell, the great Olympic champion, stated, ‘I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure.’ I, too, feel His pleasure when I achieve personal fitness for the glory of God.”

Hensley, who is also a singer and musician in addition to being a preacher, said his advice to younger pastors is, “Find an exercise program that you enjoy and be consistent throughout the years. It only takes 30 minutes to an hour three or four times a week to stay in decent shape.”

He references Hebrews 12:1-2 as a point of inspiration in his mission to honor God in his living, preaching, and running. He said, “Whether it’s a race, ministry, or life itself, we must lay aside any hindrances and patiently keep our focus on the goal of finishing well.”

Medical professionals often counsel us regarding the importance and benefits of fitness. The results of a good exercise program often produce better heart health, better sleep, a boost in brain power, improved knee and back health, and many more positive outcomes.

Two South Carolina Baptist pastors are demonstrating the wisdom of physical fitness as they preach and live out their faith in God. Faith and fitness should not be strangers to us — though for too many of us, it is. Pastors Orr and Hensley can serve as examples, which can, in turn, motivate us to become more fit this year.

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