The Model for Healthy Living

A strategy for whole-person care

by Scott Morris

In 1987, Church Health opened our doors for the first time, and I waited nervously to see if anyone would come to a renovated house that had once been a brothel to see a doctor. We treated 12 patients that day. Now, 30 years later, Church Health sees patients in another renovated home, a Sears distribution center known as Crosstown Concourse. Seventy thousand patients depend on us for care. In three decades, our mission hasn’t changed: to reclaim the church’s biblical commitment to care for our bodies and spirits.

In Memphis, Church Health provides a true primary care family practice medical home as well as walk-in urgent care services. We partner with hospitals, labs, and diagnostic centers to serve an underserved population base. Other medical services include a dental clinic, an eye clinic, physical therapy, a behavioral health center, and a low-cost pharmacy. Last year, we launched a family medicine residency to train residents in the whole-person care approach at the heart of Church Health.

At the center of our programs are the words of Paul from Colossians 3:12, 14: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together.” These are not the words normally heard in the doctor’s office, but they drive what we do at Church Health.

Many people we see in our clinic, and in our large wellness facility, are isolated both from sustaining relationships and from understanding themselves in a way that lets them make healthy choices. The virtues of Colossians 3, when displayed toward ourselves and others, are the first step in changing core issues at the root of unhealthy behaviors. In many instances, common diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, substance abuse, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and related heart disease can be prevented or well managed. They do not have to become crises. But this depends on identifying what’s wrong in the first place, and the obstacles to treating ourselves with kindness and compassion are not likely to show up in lab work discussed in a medical appointment.

How can we help our patients, and other individuals who use our wellness facility, treat not only others but themselves with the kindness and patience and love that would lead to better health?

This question led to developing our Model for Healthy Living.

Life is a complex web, interconnected in every dimension. When a relationship is out of sorts, we feel out of sorts spiritually as well, or we can’t concentrate at work. If we’re eating fast food in the car between meetings, exercise is the last thing on our minds. Sitting all day at work and all evening in front of the television can lead to lying awake in bed staring at the ceiling.

The virtues of Colossians 3 help people see that change is a process that brings results in the long term. In that context, the Model for Healthy Living is a tool for individuals to use to take charge of their own health, and it reflects that true wellness is not just about our bodies but about the interconnectedness of body and spirit in the ways that we live. Here are the seven key dimensions of the Model for Healthy Living.

Faith Life. Faith traditions vary widely, but at the core, a faith life helps us build a relationship with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. This affirms that we are body-and-spirit beings created and loved by God. We can explore a richer faith life and enjoy the benefits this experience will bring to overall wellness.

Medical Care. Doctors have education and experience, but we know ourselves better than any doctor ever will. Even doctors sometimes are the patient. When it comes to medical care, we bring something important to the conversation. We can build a partnership with a health care provider that lets us participate in managing our health care.

Movement. When we consider the way the parts of the body are hinged and rotate and reach in every direction, it’s easy to see that God means for us to move. It’s part of how we celebrate our body-and-spirit connection to God. No matter what our physical activity level is now, we can discover ways to enjoy movement.

Work. We were made to work, and the value of work is intrinsic. We can appreciate the skills, talents and gifts we bring to our work situation, whatever it is, and find meaning for our life through our jobs or volunteer commitments.

Emotional Life. It’s easy to turn to unhealthy habits in response to stress, whether it’s food, mindless television, excessive spending, alcohol or something else. In the moment, we feel better, even though we know it’s bad in the long term. Through understanding our feelings, it’s possible to make changes to manage stress in healthier ways.

Nutrition. Good nutrition builds strong bodies that can lead us to being whole people better connected to God. What we eat matters. Whatever our eating habits are now, we can increase our understanding of how food affects our overall well-being and make food choices with more intention.

Friends and Family. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were the very first relationship. Even God exists in community. Coping with life is sometimes hard, but friends and family make it easier. Giving and receiving support through relationships contributes to our health.

The Model for Healthy Living is more than just a chart on the wall. It’s a communication method, a planning tool, a health care strategy in which both providers and patients can actively participate. More and more, the Model for Healthy Living has come to the center of everything that happens at Church Health. It’s not that we have changed what we believe about the importance of any of the areas of the Model for Healthy Living. We’ve always offered exercise opportunities and counseling and health coaching, but over the years we have increasingly grabbed hold of new opportunities to put our convictions into action. Nutrition is a great example. We’ve had a teaching kitchen for years, and a large teaching kitchen at the center of our new home at Crosstown Concourse offers a variety of nutritional programs. The teaching kitchen engages a full array of health professionals in culinary medicine. Physicians and medical students learn nutritional skills by getting in the kitchen with patients and actually preparing healthy meals with the guidance of nutritionists. Caregivers and patients with significant health problems also learn nutritional principles by spending time in the kitchen. The same is true with engaging church cooks on creative ways to improve the nutrition in congregational meals without sacrificing the flavor of favorite dishes.

When we moved to Crosstown in March of 2017, we went from 13 buildings scattered around the neighborhood where our first clinic opened to be part of a “vertical urban village” in Crosstown Concourse. Our neighbors at Crosstown are artists, musicians, educators, small businesses and people who live in the building. This collaboration expanded our capacity for the number of patients we can care for but also allows us to share in the revitalizing of the health of a community.

While I was a young seminary student, floundering to be sure I was preparing in the right ways to do what God called me to do with my life, I went to France to spend a week in silence at the famous monastic community of Taizé to try to hear from God. I was impatient. And cold. Very cold. I wasn’t allowed to speak to people, so I talked to the cows and couldn’t wait for the week to be over. I like to think I’m wiser now. I’m still a person of action, but I see that answers don’t come in a week. The long haul matters, both in our own paths to God and in showing others the path to God through faithful service. Church Health is not looking back on three decades. Rather, we are looking forward to our fourth decade and beyond of continuing to show both individuals and the community around us that what God wants for them is health and wholeness.

Thirty Years with Church Health

The Model for Healthy Living is a steering philosophy that shapes even Church Health’s large-scale frontiers beyond the clinic in reclaiming the church’s commitment to care for our bodies and spirits.

Did you know
Church Health is home to the international faith community nurse movement? The Westberg Institute for Faith Community Nursing serves health ministry programs worldwide by promoting the development of high-quality outcomes-based faith community nurse practice as part of an overall health ministry program through communities of faith.
Learn more about Westberg Institute>>

Did you know
Church Health has run a preschool for 18 years? Perea—named for Jesus’ location when he said, “Let the little children come to me”—gives three- and four-year-olds from disadvantaged neighborhoods a firm foundation for future years of schooling. Currently this school is being expanded to an elementary school, and soon there will be a high school in Crosstown Concourse. Education changes prospects for a range of socioeconomic factors, and all of them influence health outcomes.
Learn more about Perea>>

Did you know
Church Health joined arms with Empowering Church Health Outreach (ECHO)? This arm of Church Health is an entity that provides free start-up consulting for faith-based groups interested in creating health clinics modeled after Church Health’s approach.
Learn more about ECHO>>

Did you know
Church Health Reader is only one of many resources available for congregational health ministry? Books, curricula, and devotional materials published by Church Health explore themes of faith and health.
Learn more about Church Health Resources>>

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