In 2012 Rusty Newman stood in front of the full-length mirror at a hotel, seriously wondering about the fat guy.
The guy was in the mirror and looked an awful lot like Rusty Newman.
The moment became the catalyst for Newman, a few pork chops shy of 350 pounds at the time. “I was in complete denial over how obese I really had become over the years. After all, I was a ‘former’ athlete,” he says now.
The mirror was the last of three events to spur a change in Newman, today preaching pastor at Walnut Fork Baptist Church in Hoschton and teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Jefferson, where he’s also an assistant football coach. At an earlier medical physical all of his numbers seemed okay, though an obvious difference came with his appearance. “My doctor told me I needed to lose weight, and though my results didn’t indicate this fact, he said they would,” he recalls.
That same week a friend of his began a weight loss plan centered around juicing fruits and vegetables. “He wanted me to join him and I laughed at him. That was, until I saw him drop 25 pounds,” Newman says.
The next Saturday morning he stood in front of the aforementioned mirror, traveling to watch his son play college football. On Sunday he bought a juicer and Monday began a new way of life.
Earlier this year a study released by Baylor University said that more than a third of American clergy are obese. Stress and long work hours contribute, it added, but so does a culture steeped as much in casseroles as Christ. One data analyst put it: “Pastors are an integral part of the most intimate aspects of community life – marriages, deaths, births – and these often entail food.”
The trend towards bivocational ministry adds to the difficulty, the study said, as long hours and the demands of being a pastor make it more difficult to maintain a lifestyle that includes nutritious foods, exercise, and time to recover from physiological stress leading to weight gain.
In that case, Newman is an outlier who has made his latest and current season of ministry (out of 34 years) his healthiest. Since that day of seeing himself in the mirror he’s dropped down to 210 pounds, a weight he has maintained.
“I can look back and see warning signs about my health,” he says. “The stress of ministry was so intense with time demands, issues, and challenges. I’d have daily headaches with no idea they were related to the toxins I was consuming. There would be times of swelling in my ankles and knees that made it painful to function, but I’d ignore it. My plan was to work until exhaustion and then push even more.”
With the clarity of hindsight he now sees the impact an unhealthy lifestyle and no exercise had not just on him, but the very people he was called to lead. “I had no idea how detrimental it had become. My creative ability to see the big picture of ministry had become non-existent. I found myself in an ill-tempered mood and very impatient with people,” he remembers.
“There would be times of swelling in my ankles and knees that made it painful to function, but I’d ignore it. My plan was to work until exhaustion and then push even more.”
For years he’d implored from pulpits the importance of exploring God’s Word. Now, Newman began devouring documentaries and educating himself on health. He learned about nutrition and why he never lost weight through starving himself or trying to out-exercise his latest pizza binge. The parallels to having a healthy spiritual life are now impossible to ignore.
“Our bodies have a proper function designed by God and when we violate His rules of the body, that’s bad,” he stresses. “Fad diets and gimmicks don’t work; it requires a total life change. In spiritual terms you have to ‘repent’ of your bad health to embrace good health.”
One day in 2013 Newman was out jogging when he kept mulling over a verse from his devotional time. When he got home he jotted down the verse and some thoughts, and felt like sharing it online. The result was Coach Newman’s Jot and Jog, a blog he began as much to help him keep track of his progress than expect anyone else would read.
“In spiritual terms you have to ‘repent’ of your bad health to embrace good health.”
The personal transformation in his ministry is incredible, he points out. “My energy level is extremely high and that enables me to preach more effectively through simple things like controlling my breathing and timing in addition to having a sharper mind. Spiritual insights are always around and through this journey I’ve become acutely aware of all the ways Jesus desires for us to serve Him.”
The increase in physical vitality has led to greater opportunities for ministry. “For the past two years, in addition to coaching football and track, I train young athletes in speed and agility for free. We sweat together, race each other, encourage each other, and chat about life and spiritual stuff.”