shutterstock 193545215

How To Find Friends And Grow—By Punching Each Other

SELF | Tommy Jewell | 10 mins

Most people think church is boring, but if that’s your experience, I promise you’ve never been to mine.

It’s supposed to be so much more than a bunch of people sitting in a building. Church is any gathering of people who follow God. People who care about each other and help each other thrive any way they can. Take my men’s group, for example. Sometimes we cook together. Sometimes we go hiking, and sometimes we punch each other in the face.

OK. Let me back up a second. The punching part requires some explanation.

Years ago, God dropped an idea in my head to combine two things in my life that have been integral to my personal growth: bible study and combat sports.

At first, I didn’t take the idea seriously because of my misconceptions about what bible study was “supposed” to look like. However, I knew God was calling upon me to pursue this idea, and, to my surprise, my church was very supportive of it. I eventually got set up at a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym and founded the Crossroads group: G5 Boxing.

My journey in forming this group and training with these men has been one of the greatest spiritual learning experiences I’ve had. Boxing was not just a gimmick to get other guys to join the group. It was God’s way of getting creative and finding new ways to train us in our spiritual growth.

Most of us need our whole mindset about God redefined. The Bible actually describes faith aggressively. It’s not a passive add-on to our life. It’s meant to be an active, driving force that defines who we are.

What I experienced through G5 is described perfectly in 1 Corinthians. Every aspect of the sport had a spiritual parallel, and it’s the kind of faith I want for you:

“Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” - 1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Let’s take a closer look at the words in these verses.

“Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”

If you want to stand in a boxing ring across from another boxer for ANY length of time, you need to do one thing before all else, run outside of it. If you hear a certain Rocky anthem in your head with a montage of miles being covered before he ever put on gloves, your mind is in the right place.

I was in decent shape when I started preparing to lead the boxing group, but true boxing conditioning requires endurance, and that comes from running. If I was to take it seriously, I would need to put serious miles on my shoes, usually early in the morning. In all honesty, I love running, but there are some mornings when I’m really suffering during these runs. There’s no way around this if you want to achieve the level of endurance needed to go the distance with real, seasoned boxers. This is the kind of suffering described in Romans Chapter 5:

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” - Romans 5:3-5

“I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.”

By nature and choice, I love to be in a good, competitive fight that sports like boxing allows. I enjoy hitting and, yes, getting hit. I’m also very willing to give you a smile during the fight and a hug after.

This kind of love is shared by many, I’ve learned. Once G5 Boxing got started, a vast majority of the men who joined the group had no experience with the kind of contact boxing brings. A lot of them never even hit a heavy bag. They were willing to learn, and the first lesson in boxing is knowing that punching hurts.

But then you learn that getting a hit to the body will not kill you. I would often start at 50% strength with a beginner, but even then, it would take time for them to get comfortable with the idea of not flinching or overreacting to getting hit to the body, even more so when you allow contact to the head.

Just like life, you will hit and get hit. Flinching and panicked reactions to the anticipation of being hit will only cause you to get hit more, especially once your opponent sees it and uses it against you. You can see this in the wisdom shared with us in Proverbs:

“Do not be afraid of sudden terror,
Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes;
For the Lord will be your confidence,
And will keep your foot from being caught.”
- Proverbs 3: 5-6

We are all in a spiritual fight, and whether we like it or not, the enemy will land hits on you. Remember you are strong enough to endure and capable of responding correctly with confidence, so you are not caught or KO’d when the enemy attacks again (which will happen.)

“No, I discipline my body and make it my slave.”

Two things separate a boxer from a guy trying to punch someone—training and technique. Training and technique can only make you stronger and a winner if you do one thing, submit to both.

I came into boxing knowing how to punch and get punched, but that is far from all boxing is. Besides learning new things, I actually had to unlearn a lot I had picked up from previous martial arts experience because boxing is different. A lot I already knew did not apply. I had to be humble enough to accept that my preconceived “simplicity” of boxing was actually a sophisticated world unto itself, with a thousand little things for my brain and body to learn and know.

“You punch with your body, not your arm.”
“You box with your feet, not with your hands.”
“You got to know how to keep moving when you are standing still.”

None of this made sense when I started, but it did the more I submitted to the technique taught and the training that followed. Repetitive thought made new ideas second nature in my mind and repetitive action made new movements part of my muscle memory.

The same is true of faith. Commands like “love your enemies” or “treat others better than yourself” make no sense at first. But the more you submit to the wisdom of it and allow yourself to be trained by acting on it, the more you find the power that comes from letting go of your old ways and adopting the ways of Jesus instead. We all need a trainer to unlearn the old ways and take in the new.

Training allows your reactions to be responses. You put in the thought and consideration on how you need to respond to a situation you know is likely to come, especially when a natural reaction would likely be ineffective or even make the situation worse. Once prepared, you are able to respond in the moment—appropriately and planned when a quick reaction is needed. Whether you are rolling with the punches with a fellow boxer or avoiding the fiery arrows from a spiritual adversary, quick and appropriate responses are needed to survive the attack and thrive in the battle towards victory.

“So that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

With all the bruises and bonding that boxing brought to G5, the core element that made it more than just a club or team was fellowship. That bond comes from our relationship with Jesus and with one another as brothers following him.

Weekly, we would work out for an hour and then have an hour of discussion right after. The formula worked well. Men are VERY willing to talk and open up after they have been punching each other for an hour. It was like a weekly mini-Man Camp. Our discussions and sharing were often as intense as the workout and always the most significant part of the evening.

When I say it was an intense group, I mean it. You had to sign two waivers to try the group out. In the workout and in discussions, there was no place for boys or bullies—either one would not be tolerated and shown out of the group promptly (if we couldn’t lovingly coach you out of it, of course). I had standards, and I kept them because, ultimately, it was God’s group.

Among the other amazing stories God made possible, it was a small miracle that the owner and trainers at the gym allowed this church group of very green beginners (led by a man who had never been a certified boxing trainer) into their very legitimate gym and gave us a chance. They shared their knowledge, allowing us to become a true part of their community. We were able to share Jesus and our connection to Jesus, which impacted the gym community and the individuals that chose to interact with Jesus themselves.

Boxing is a sweet science with sound application that echoes the spiritual conflict we each face in the good fight of faith. If we are willing to submit to the training and techniques God has for us, we can celebrate victory with him well after the final bell of the last round ends here in our own mortal match. As the book of Hebrews 12 promises us, “Now no discipline seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

You don’t have to be a boxer to apply this verse to your life, but you do have to train if you want to experience what God has for you. You also need community to do it well. This is what church looks like—when people show up for each other in homes, Zoom rooms, or boxing rings to train for what really matters.

Do you have an idea for a group, especially one you know God put in your heart but feel it’s too far out there to work? I can only encourage you to take a step out towards it! If a group of men who punch each other, then talk about Jesus can be used to bring Jesus outside the walls of the church, imagine what he can do with your idea. A little bit of faith and action on your part will give your idea for a group a real fighting chance.


Written by

Tommy Jewell

I have held jobs requiring security clearance. I have been held in maximum security. The one thing that has gotten me through it all is God's secure hold on my life. Now I am a blessed mess of a husband/father hopelessly outnumbered by a loving wife and amazing daughters in Cincinnati.

Published on Apr 14, 2021
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

How To Find Friends And Grow—By Punching Each Other

  1. What stood out to you most about this article? Why that? (Noticing what stands out to you can be the beginning of hearing from God. Lean into it. See where it goes.)

  2. Which of the bold lines from the passage resonate with your life right now? Talk about that situation and how this kind of training could help.

  3. How strong is the community you have around you? If you don’t have any, check out crossroads.net/groups. If you do have some, forward this article to them to see how you could level up in helping each other grow.

  4. What could more aggressive or intentional spiritual training look like for you? Come up with at least three ideas. Then pick one to try this week.

0 people are discussing these questions

(This stuff helps us figure out how many fruitcakes to make come December)

You must include at least one person

Got it! Enjoy your discussion.