The group gathers to talk about he challenges each is facing and pray before hitting the weights. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
Just a little more than a year ago, James Caywood was someone who, he says, had always been a little overweight, didn’t exactly make the best choices when it came to food and didn’t enjoy exercising.
But today, with the help of a couple of friends, he leads a men’s ministry that not only encourages a better and closer relationship with God, but also encourages a more healthy lifestyle through physical fitness.
“Our purpose is to create radical men after God’s own heart. It was supposed to meet just once a week —we’d come together, we’d work out, we’d have Bible study, that’s it,” Caywood said.
In less than a year’s time, however, Bible Study Extreme (BSX) is so popular and well-attended that it now meets three times a week.
The idea for BSX first began when a friend of Caywood’s, David Fantin, suggested they start going to the gym together to get Caywood in better physical shape.
Reluctantly, Caywood agreed, and Fantin brought along another friend, Joel Mermilliod, who had previously participated in the U.S. Navy’s SEAL training program. The trio began meeting at the gym at Tri-Cities Baptist Church to have Bible study and to work out. Fantin led the Bible study while Mermilliod led the workouts. Caywood jokes that he was just there to be their first “victim.”
Word of what these three buddies were doing spread, and others started to join them. They quickly outgrew their original meeting place.
Today, the group, which usually consists of about 25 men ranging in age from 13 to 58, meets at 3:30 p.m. every Sunday and at 7:15 p.m. each Tuesday and Friday. BSX meets in a house that has been turned into a fully-equipped gym across the street from Calvary Baptist Church (where Caywood attends church) on Pine Street in Kingsport.
Caywood says BSX provides a friendly, welcoming environment for men of all ages, but especially teenagers, to open up, discuss their problems or struggles and have others pray for them or with them.
“I feel like churches nowadays are not very [sympathetic] about these teenagers having problems with pornography or lust or being disrespectful towards their parents or whatever their struggles happen to be,” Caywood said.
“It’s often a very brutal, in-your-face, this is what I struggle with. We’re just trying to give an opportunity for these kids to have an outlet, in a safe environment, where they can talk about those things in a non-judgmental way. We’re all coming together. We’ve had the full spectrum of whatever you can imagine, it’s been there. And, how we approach this is, we want you to come clean and be open and honest to us so we can pray for you. We don’t really assign accountability partners, but we encourage some guys to have contact throughout the week, asking them, ‘How can I be in prayer for you? How can I be your prayer warrior?’”
Caywood says he is pleasantly surprised at how successful and well-received BSX has become. He estimates more than 100 men of all ages have come through the doors since BSX first began last year.
“I have never been a part of, or seen, a ministry grow and be this successful,” he said. “But the reason I would consider it to be successful is the fact that these men are coming in as broken human beings and our purpose is to be radical and counter-cultural in today’s society. What I mean by that is, society nowadays tells you you have to fit inside this little box. It tells you you have to be this kind of person. You have to be this kind of Christian. But that’s not always what lines up with what the Bible says. I want to be a man after God’s own heart and help create other radical men after God’s own heart.”
Mermilliod says he thinks part of the success of BSX can be attributed to the fact that coming to work out is free and that the Bible is presented in a way that makes it relevant to participants’ lives.
“There are a lot of young men who would like to be able to go to a gym, but they can’t afford it. And a lot of guys want to learn more about the Bible, but also want to have a way to take it, find it interesting and be able to relate a lot of Biblical principals to both their spiritual and physical growth,”he said. “Our goal is two parts. A secondary purpose is to grow people physically to make them stronger and healthier. But our primary goal is we want to reach people for Christ and we want to disciple people who are already Christians to help them grow closer in their relationship.”
Mermilliod also says if you’d like to come work out with them, don’t worry if you are not in the greatest of shape.
“Most of the guys in this gym aren’t professional bodybuilders,”he said. “For the most part, it’s very average guys who are just starting to learn about working out themselves. Some are heavyset. Some are really thin. It’s a very large group of guys, ranging in all ages and all sizes. There’s no reason to say, ‘I’m too fat or I’m too small or I don’t have any experience.’”
BSX meets at 1217 Pine St. in Kingsport and is open to men of all ages. For more information, call Caywood at (423) 863-3056.