Thursday, February 09, 2012

Book Review: The Emotionally Healthy Church

We are a messed-up people, living in a messed-up world. Anybody want to deny that?

Peter Scazzero hit upon an interesting idea after years of hitting his head against the wall, seeking to grow disciples without any real success. His idea was this: most discipleship and evangelism programs deal with knowledge (believing the right things) and performance (doing the right things) without addressing the very real emotional issues plaguing us all. This leads to what Scazzero calls an Imbalanced Spirituality. ". . .when you go beyond the praise and worship of our large meetings and conventions and into the homes and small group meetings of God's people, you often find a valley littered by broken and failed relationships."

He puts this in practical terms in a descriptive paragraph that sounds all-too-familiar: "Many are supposedly 'spiritually mature' but remain infants, children, or teenagers emotionally. They demonstrate little ability to process anger, sadness, or hurt. They whine, complain, distance themselves, blame and use sarcasm - like little children when they don't get their way. Highly defensive to criticism or differences of opinion, they expect to be taken care of and often treat people as objects to meet their needs."

Realizing the a healthy discipleship process must include the emotional component, Scazzero set out to change the way he ministered, and the way his church discipled its people. Following the story of his personal journey in this area. the author lays out seven principles that make up the core of their understanding of emotional health:

1. We  need to look beyond the surface of our lives. "My focus was upward and outward - growing our church, reaching people for Christ, raising up leaders, buying a building. But an authentic relationship with Christ also takes us into the depths - the shadows, the strongholds and the darkness deep within our own souls that must be purged."

2. We must break the power that the past holds on our lives. "New roots are needed for new fruit. All we do is modify the same tree when we make resolutions and commitments to pray more, go to church more consistently, or resolve to stop bad behavior. The root needs to be pulled up. A new tree is needed. (this chapter spends significant time exploring genograms - the charting out of family history and its influence on who we've become)

3. We learn to live in our brokenness and vulnerability. "The choice to live in brokenness and vulnerability challenges us in profound ways to let go of what other people think and to surrender to God's love and mercy."

4. We receive our limits as a gift from God. "People with poor boundaries feel compelled to do what others want even though it is not what they want to do. They are afraid of disappointing someone or being criticized."

5. We embrace grieving and loss. In fact, embracing grief helps us to become more like God. "People in our churches minimize their failures and disappointments. The result is that for many today, at least in prosperous North America, there is a widespread inability to face pain." One of the outcomes of facing grief is the ability to truly forgive those who have caused us grief.

6. We follow the model of Jesus by making incarnation our model of love. ". . .bold announcements of what God is doing or saying are common. People who follow the humble way of Jesus are much more difficult to find."

7.  We slow down to live with integrity. "It is an illusion to imagine we can lead our people on a spiritual journey we have not taken ourselves. When we skim in our relationship with God, no program can substitute for the superficiality and self-will that inevitably follow."

Two bonuses of the book are a self-inventory to determine our current level of spiritual and emotional maturity, and a copy of the Rule of Life adopted by the church Scazzero pastors.

The strength of this book is the reminder that emotions are a crucial, yet long-neglected facet of discipleship, and that we are living in a culture that seems to create emotionally broken/stilted people. The weakness would be its brevity; each of these chapters could fill up a book in itself. Also, pastors and church leaders would be wise to discern just which emotional issues they can help with, and which are better left in the hands of qualified therapists and counselors.

In the end, it was a worthwhile and helpful read, challenging me both in how I lead my own life, and how I minister.

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