Dr. Joseph L. Williams is one of a hand full of progressive, young pastors today pioneering a holistic approach towards healthy living. That path to positive growth is summed up in a process called, The Journey, a 40-day personal pilgrimage to transform the mind, body and soul.
Dr Joseph Williams talks holistic approach towards healthy living. | @KolorStruck1
Dr. Williams carries lots of credentials behind his name and program, with a doctorate degree from Mercer University, 14 years experience as a professional speaker, author and life coach and a 12-year title as the associate pastor for the Salem Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
The process to transformation covers the gamut, from overcoming addictive desires to internal detoxification, from improving the psyche to healing the soul. The Journey is a revolutionary approach to self-improvement, from the Christian perspective, but the process proudly hangs its hat on biblical references to ensure its validity and consistency as a solution. For more information on The Journey, log on to www.formyjourney.com or enjoy the recent conversation Dr. Joseph L. Williams gave exclusively to BlackGospel.com.
Christopher Heron: Could you tell me why you created the 40-day process of mind, body and soul transformation known as The Journey?
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: Great question. Well first of all, we call it a 40-day process instead of program, and the reason why we use process is because a program is something that has a start and an end, but a process is something that’s ongoing. It’s just a bit of semantics that we use to kind of keep people engaged with the transformation being permanent and not temporary.
The Journey was something that started with my particular journey. There was a time in my life in my late 20s when I was 330 pounds. I was pre-diabetic. I had high cholesterol. I was hypertensive. I had a lot of issues that were very, very customary to the American diet and culture, and I wanted to do something about it. I was just like any other American. I tried every diet, and everything worked until it didn’t. I finally got set up, and wanted to educate myself on food and nutrition.
I studied for a time under Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney, here in Atlanta. He has the program called the IAFS—the International Association of Fitness Science—and I learned how to eat. I learned nutrition. I learned portions, and I began to apply some of those things and play with a couple of theories based upon my knowledge. And it began to work for me. People began to see the dramatic weight loss and ask me what I’d done. What I did is, in the creation of my particular journey, I learned that a lot of my issues with food were coping mechanisms that were emotional issues—spiritual issues that I had—and this really caused me to focus in on them.
There were certain insecurities that I had, certain ways of thinking, certain ways of coping with life. But I believed, in theory, that transformation has to be holistic if a person is looking to change—you cannot compartmentalize that change. If you have an emotional issue, you need to address your physical body and you spiritual body. If there is a physical issue, you need to address your emotional and spiritual body. So on and so forth. So the inspiration for The Journey was my personal journey. I wanted it to be holistic, and that’s pretty much the long story short of the impetus.
Christopher Heron: How has the philosophy or the transformation affected your life and the lives of your family members since its completion?
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: I think this is another great question. I have seen the impact as being across the board. A lot of people think that The Journey is a weight loss program, because that’s what people see first. But it’s not. But I have seen people who have been delivered from being diabetics, or hypertensive. I have seen couples who were going through rough marriages go through The Journey together, and it’s strengthened their marriages. I have seen people who have gone through different forms of addiction counseling and said nothing worked—Alcoholics Anonymous, different 12-step programs—and I have seen them released from their addictions. I have seen people who were members of my church that I pastor, who were inactive in ministry, become active and kind of find their niche in terms of ministry and being leaders. So it’s been great to see that the process has had a holistic manifestation—not just physical attributions, but spiritual and emotional changes as well.
Christopher Heron: Is there a scientific or a biblical reference point why The Journey to holistic change requires a timeline of 40 days?
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: I think you’re spot on. Actually, it’s both, and I am going to explain that. Number one, I would say that it is a bit scientific in that we have had 12 groups go through the process, and we keep people together in cohorts. We do three per year. The first group that we did, I did it for eight weeks. Actually, it was nine weeks. I have kind of experimented with nine weeks, eight weeks, six weeks (which is 40 days) and four weeks, and what I found from my personal participation is that six weeks is the sweet spot. But it also has biblical significance as well. The 40 days of change in the last books. Forty days is not too long, and it’s not too short. It’s long enough to get results, but it’s not too long to where it becomes counterproductive.
Christopher Heron: To my understanding, there are two different types of programs you offer. There is an Operation Butterfly designed for women, and I Am Legend designed for men. Interesting programs. Why does each gender require slightly different programs?
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: When I initially began to do The Journey, it was co-ed. So we had men and women together. But there were a lot of couples and partners, and a lot of people whose significant others were the impetus of their issues or problems. In some cases, we found that men were just more comfortable being around men and women were more comfortable being around women. The final answer is that we found that we were able to dig a bit deeper and get people to a deeper level when we kind of kept them apart from one another. However, we have had groups that were out of town who were co-ed, and they also did well. But that’s kind of the explanation of why we separate the two.
Christopher Heron: Now from what I have observed culturally, people are more aware than ever about making holistic changes to their lives. We have yoga, which is experiencing enormous popularity today. Vegetarian restaurants and health food stores are popping up everywhere. Surprisingly, and shamefully, Christians seem to be the last ones to this party—the last people to embrace these new health trends and a positively healthier lifestyle that affects the body, the mind, and the soul. Why do you think Christians, and particularly Black Christians, are slow to jump on this bandwagon?
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: I think it is amazing that you have that type of insight. That’s’ great, because I totally agree with you. I think that it’s cultural. I think that we as African-Americans, we sit in the Black church, we are Black Americans, and to us everything we don’t understand seems to be demonized. When people talk about meditation, for example, we automatically assume that meditation is connected to a specific Eastern religion like Buddhism. But in reality, meditation is nothing more than an approach that we as Christians can use to deepen our connection with Christ.
So I think it has a lot to do with being culturally afraid or rejecting what we don’t understand. If I can be transparent, I wouldn’t use the word “demonized,” but I do feel I’ve been kind of excluded from a lot of Christian churches who don’t believe in this particular approach to living. They feel that it’s not God. They’ll call me things like “new age.” It’s almost as if they think that my holistic approach compromises my faith in Jesus Christ, and that’s the farthest thing from reality. However, I know that lives have been affected, that the vast majority have had a great experience, and I have had a lot of opportunities to speak in interviews.
The truth of the matter is coming to the forefront, and people are hungry for this. I think people like the fact that a Christian pastor is having this conversation, and I hope that this work that God has allowed me to do can positively open up that door and teach people about holistic health, and help people understand that the concept of eating is spiritual. We try to disconnect it, but you can’t. Eating is a spiritual act, and that’s something I will go to my grave trying to share with others.
Christopher Heron: Excellent. You are a senior pastor of a prominent ministry in Atlanta. Is your membership now at the point where they are embracing the process, or will it take more time and many more examples of transformations before not only the community is on board, but the membership of your church as well?
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: The membership has been supportive since day one. I think the biggest surprise for me is how people have embraced it. I mean, they love the process. They love what they are able to get from it in a small group—the discussion, the support that they have. I think another huge surprise for me is that the vast majority of our graduates haven’t even been members of my church, but individuals in other parts of the country—as far west as Los Angeles, as far east as New York, and everywhere in between. So it’s been an overwhelming support for our members. I think being around their pastor, they trust me. And that’s great. You want to use that trust that people give you for positive things, and not take advantage of people. And that’s’ what I think I have done.
Christopher Heron: I am curious, without giving too much away about the whole Journey, can you tell us what very important ingredient you would tell any and everybody they need to incorporate into their lifestyles immediately to begin the process of transformation—two or three things?
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: I think number one is to create—to do a personal assessment of yourself. What areas in your life are problematic?. Is it your anger? Is it your temper? Is it emotional instabilities? I would just first start off by doing that, because when we identify issues, we create targets. A lot of people aren’t hitting the mark in life because they have no idea what they are aiming at. So that’s the first thing: personal assessment. The second thing I would say is to have an understanding of what you’re putting in your body, and realize that it’s not a cliché that you are what you eat. That our skin, our hair, our nails, our organs, all of those things come from what we put into our mouths. Also, people should understand that healthy eating is about both the quality and quantity of foods that you eat. This is indicative of health, because you can eat too much of the right types of food, and it can be counterproductive. And the third thing is to exercise your state and your connection with God on a daily basis. But it can’t just be when we are in worship in a church. It has to be personal communion with God. So those are a few things that we do in The Journey, and that people can be focused on right now.
Christopher Heron: Excellent. I’m going to conclude the interview by asking if you can perhaps make a reference or quote a particular biblical text that speaks to this particular process. Something that we Christians can find comfort in, something that we can relate to, that is a biblical principle.
Dr. Joseph L. Williams: Absolutely. What I would say is 1 Thessalonians 5:23. It says, “Now, may the God of Peace himself sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, and at the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” That’s the text that I would give: 1 Thessalonians 5:23. I think that’s a powerful text, because it just gets us as Christians to focus on the fact that who we are encompasses all three entities: mind, body, and spirit.