Davis encouraging Tennessee Baptists to put high priority on health and fitness
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — When Tennessee Baptist Mission Board president and executive director Randy C. Davis first launched a fitness initiative — called “The Chubby Challenge” — in January of 2015, he encouraged the participants to lose 10 percent of their body weight.
Ryan Culpepper, the pastor of the Mary’s Chapel Baptist Church, proved to be up to the “Challenge.” In fact, Culpepper not only met the 10-percent goal, but surpassed it — nearly five times over.
“Getting healthy has greatly helped me as a husband, father, pastor, preacher, and friend,” said Culpepper. “(Before the Challenge), I was on the pathway to an early grave.”
The 6-foot-7 Culpepper weighed 460 pounds in February of 2015. But over a 22-month stretch, he lost almost 50 percent of his body weight. Today, he maintains healthy habits in regard to his nutrition and exercise routines, and he uses his new-found fitness as a means of sharing the gospel.
“This has given me a platform to talk about Jesus,” said Culpepper, referring to his “transformation” during the past three years. “Hardly a day goes by when I’m not asked about food or weight loss.”
Culpepper, who said making the decision to put a high priority on fitness has benefited him in countless ways, is just one of many success stories that have emerged from the Chubby Challenge since its inception.
In the beginning …
When Davis first revealed the guidelines of the “Chubby Challenge” in January of 2015, he encouraged 200 pastors to join him on the program. However, he made it clear that the Challenge was not just for those in the ministry.
In some instances, entire churches — such as Culpepper’s congregation — have taken part in the initiative, and have collectively lost large amounts of weight.
Willie McLaurin, special assistant to the executive director at the TBMB, has served as the point man on the project, helping individuals and churches implement the Challenge.
“Every person, whether lay or clergy, is on level ground when it comes to being stewards of our physical temple,” said McLaurin. “1 Corinthians 16:19-20 gives a gentle reminder that we are to steward our bodies. We should make healthy living a priority in order that we may be able to spread the good news as often as we can.”
Davis came up with the name “Chubby Challenge” based on a joke he likes to make regarding his own weight, saying his goal is to go from “overweight to chubby.”
Davis has made steady strides, continually losing weight since January of 2015.
Why and how it works
One of the most appealing incentives to join the Challenge is that the campaign is not simply about exercise. Rather, it is a program that aims to develop healthy habits in several spectrums.
“The program is wholistic,” said McLaurin. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes investing in physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological health.”
Registration for the Challenge is available through the TBMB web site, where participants can track their progress. (All individual information is kept private, and cannot be seen by other participants).
Those who participate in the Challenge are able to set their own goals. The TBMB then provides those individuals with wellness incentives, and celebrates the progress of each participant.
McLaurin noted that the rewards of the program are three-fold: (a) increased health; (b) more energy for the ministry for both pastors and laymen; and (c) the joy of knowing that you are honoring Jesus by honoring your temple.
With the Challenge now in its third year, impressive results have been seen all across the state.
The TBMB team, for instance, has collectively lost over 1,000 pounds.
Other similar success stories also continue to appear for those who’ve remained committed to the program.
“This past year, my two closest pastor friends have lost a significant amount of weight,” Culpepper said. “One has lost 133 pounds and the other lost 72 pounds. My story has helped to inspire them and in turn they have strengthened me with their dedication and commitment to clean eating and exercise.”
As with any fitness campaign, the key to success is commitment. And the Challenge seems to have lasting power for many involved.
“I believe that participants are motivated to stay in the program because of the greater awareness in our country of living a healthier life,” said McLaurin.
Culpepper said it is encouraging to see the campaign making such a big impact on some of his fellow pastors, church leaders and his congregation over the past three years.
“It is extremely exciting to see others get healthy and to see some in my church family make changes,” he added.
“We will have set backs along the way, but it is possible to get healthy. With prayer, education, accountability, and commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we can be healthy.”