By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SEVIERVILLE — When Justin Randolph signed up more than a year ago for a month’s membership at a fitness club, he thought he was doing it in order to spend time with his wife and get some exercise.
Little did he know that the membership would not only accomplish that goal, but it also would lead to an opportunity for Christian ministry and witness.
Randolph, pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church, Sevierville, actually bought the membership as a Christmas gift for his wife Stephanie. “We were looking for something to do as a couple while wanting to get in shape and lose a few pounds,” he recalled.
“We didn’t realize the opportunities we would have to share Christ and witness to others,” he said.
Shortly after joining The Fit Factory in Sevierville, the Randolphs began working out with basically the same group of people each day, none of whom they knew before joining the fitness facility.
“One of the first things we noticed was that people would pray before they began their workouts,” Randolph recalled. A local minister was in the group and he would pray. As time progressed and the minister would have to miss the daily workouts on occasion they asked Randolph if he would help out.
Randolph leads a short devotion, sharing a verse of Scripture and a “thought of the day.”
The two men now take turns doing the daily prayers and short devotions. The Sevierville pastor noted that the devotion has to be short but it also needs to be “powerful and effective” so it will have an impact on lives.
He shared that in the year he and his wife have been working out they have built relationships with the 20 people or so who attend regularly. While about 75 percent of them are Christians, the others are either non-believers or do not attend church regularly. “But they are open to devotion and prayer time and it has given us an opportunity to share Christ,” Randolph said.
Randolph said the fitness group has become like a small group/Sunday School ministry. They have established their own Facebook page so they can share needs and concerns and keep up with one another. “We minister and fellowship and reach out to one another in time of need,” he said. “It has become like a family.”
The relationships have paid off as the non-Christians (some of them from other countries and backgrounds) are open to the devotions and the gospel. Three separate families have attended Zion Hill Baptist and one family “has become a regular attender over the past year as a result of the relationships we have built,” Randolph said.
His goal for 2018 is to see someone at the gym come to know Christ and get baptized this year, he added.
The experience has re-emphasized for Randolph the importance of ministers and laypeople getting involved in the community in order to “meet people who are lost and are without Christ.
“We have to get beyond the walls of our churches to meet people who need Christ and then build relationships with them in order to get them to come to church. They are not just going to show up during ‘office hours,’ ” he said.
In addition to the fitness club, Randolph also coaches a youth basketball team and that also allows him to meet people he would not normally have encountered. “Trust is formed when you are out in the community and you meet people.”
His experience also has reinforced the belief that anyone can use their hobby or interests to reach others for Christ. It doesn’t have to be fitness or sports-related. It can be people who like to read or those who like to sew or knit. “Look for people with similar interests and find a way to use that to draw them closer to Christ,” Randolph suggested.
Randolph said he is excited about the relationships he has developed in the community through the fitness club and basketball team. “That’s been my biggest blessing.”