Ally’s #6: The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero

Jim and I picked up this book based on the recommendation of the equipping pastor at our church. This weekend, we’ll be attending a course called “Geography of the Soul” that uses this text as a jumping off point for discussion on emotional health as a key ingredient to spiritual maturity and genuine discipleship. The author, Peter Scazzero, nearly lost his wife, family, and church by constantly looking “outward and upward” rather than inward into the depths of his own issues. He writes out of his own experiences and weaves refreshingly honest stories of his failures throughout each chapter.

The basic premise of the book is this:

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. Why? The answer is what this book is about. The roots of the problem lie in faulty spirituality, stemming from a faulty biblical theology.

While the book is written from a pastor’s point of view and directed at those who are leaders within the church, the material is valuable for anyone in the church involved in discipleship (which should be everyone). For the first few chapters, Scazzero lays out the issue of emotional health within the church and pleads for change. Before diving into his seven principles of an emotionally healthy church, he offers a five page inventory to determine where one might fall on the scale of emotional maturity: emotional infant, emotional child, emotional adolescent, emotional adult. It was a good punch in the gut, and it was spot on. Here’s where I scored:

Emotional Adolescent: I don’t like it when others question me. I often make quick judgments and interpretations of people’s behavior. I withhold forgiveness to those who sin against me, avoiding or cutting them off when they do something to hurt me. I subconsciously keep records of the love I give out. I have trouble really listening to another person’s pain, disappointments, or needs without becoming preoccupied with myself. I sometimes find myself too busy to spend adequate time nourishing my spiritual life. I attend church and serve others but enjoy few delights in Christ. My Christian life is still primarily about doing, not being with Him. Prayer continues to be mostly me talking with little silence, solitude, or listening to God.

Ouch. What’s even sadder is that I actually patted myself on the back a little for scoring in the top 75%.

Principle #1 is looking beneath the surface–developing an awareness of what we’re feeling and doing, asking ourselves why, examining these answers in light of the gospel, and then tearing down the facade that masks who we really are. Principle #2 is breaking the power of the past–identifying how we are shaped by our families, discerning the major influences in our lives, allowing the gospel to “re-parent” us, and recognizing that everyone brings their own baggage to the table. This section sparked some particularly good contemplation and conversation in our home. Principle #3 is living in brokenness and vulnerability–understanding that weakness automatically became part of our lives through the Fall, accepting whatever “thorn in the flesh” we’ve been given as God’s perfect will, and recognizing that vulnerability starts with the pastor. If the leadership hides their weaknesses, so will the congregation.

Principle #4 is receiving the gift of limits. As a person who likes to have ten thousand things on my plate and then wonders why I feel overwhelmed, this chapter was especially helpful. The chapter focuses on Jesus’ embracing of human limitations and poses questions to help the reader discern their own limitations based on their personality, season of life, physical capacities, etc. Principle #5 is embracing grief and loss. The author lost me a bit in this chapter, but these lines did sink in:

I used to believe that grieving was an interruption, an obstacle in my path to serve Christ. In short, I considered it a waste of time…I resisted stopping from all my busy activity [because] I did not want to face the sadness that was waiting for me.

Principle #6 is making the incarnation your model for loving well, which, the author argues, can only be done if progress is made in the first five principles. Scazzero focuses heavily in this chapter on active listening, though he refers to it as “incarnational” listening. I’m not really sure why he felt the need to rename it, but whatever. Principle #7 is slowing down to lead with integrity.

How often do we hear the world encouraging us to “slow down,” or to follow any of these principles, really? What I hear it saying is “put your best foot forward,” it’s the “survival of the fittest,” and it’s okay to use people as a “means to an end.” We enjoy watching shows like Jerry Springer and The Real Housewives of L.A. because their problems make us feel better about our problems, and we can continue fooling ourselves into thinking that perfection and strength can be attained (or at least we can appear to have attained them). I will end my mini-rant here, because no one says it better than God:

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. ~1 Cor 3:18-19a

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