The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives

I’ve had Pete Scazzero’s book The Emotionally Healthy Church on my bookshelf for several years and just got around to it. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long. What a great read.

At the heart of many churches and Christians is this idea that I must put up a front to please people and God. There is also this idea that the gospel only heals certain areas of our lives, but not all of them. This leads to the problem Scot McKnight points out, “We talk about the transformative power of the gospel, but many of us are very transformed.”

Recently, I have been blown away by our church. One of our dreams in planting Revolution was to create a place where you could come as you are, scars and all, find a place in a community and meet Jesus. This has begun to happen, which is amazing. With it comes amazing responsibility and pain as we walk with people who God is healing from a number of things. We are on the inside of seeing God’s transformative power. This can also be very draining, enter this book.

Because most books on discipleship and church are just about “making you a better Christian” this books looks to make you an authentic Christian. Which is actually much different, harder, more painful, but incredibly worthwhile. I told Katie the other day, I’m realizing why churches do everything in their power to create inauthentic churches, it’s so much easier.

Scazzero’s book is a great look at what the gospel can and should do, but it also helps leaders think through how to create a church for this to play out. Many churches function in a way that keep people from changing because there is no need to change. Keep pretending that everything is okay, don’t let God into those dark places of your soul, just change your behavior and things will be fine. The problem is that eventually, those dark places come out and what lies beneath the surface finds its way to the top.

The question that this book focuses on is “Why is it that most people in our churches seem to be radically different on one level from their neighbors – they pray, read the Bible, go to church, give money to church – but on another deeper level, they are very similar?”

The chapter on the gift of limits was by far the chapter that spoke to me the most. As a pastor, I want to help as many people as I can, I want to give myself so that others can get on track, this is one of the reasons I became a pastor. At the same time, Scazzero points out, you can only go so far, at some point the responsibility for change must be on the people you are helping. He describes “the powerful principle of limits as a gift from the hand of God.”

Here are a few ideas that jumped out:

  • Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseperable.
  • The spirituality of most current discipleship models often only adds an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally.
  • The local church becomes a place, in a very real way, where I am reparented.
  • I believe the church of Jesus Christ is to be the primary vehicle of our spiritual and emotional maturity.
  • The overall health of any church or ministry depends primarily on the emotional and spiritual health of its leadership. In fact, the key to successful spiritual leadership has much to do with the leader’s internal life than with the leader’s expertise, gifts, or experience.
  • Jesus was anything but an emotionally frozen Messiah.
  • It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.
  • Huge numbers of people are totally unaware of the dichotomy between their exterior and interior worlds.
  • In emotionally healthy churches, people take a deep, hard look inside their hearts, asking, “What is going on that Jesus Christ is trying to change?”
  • We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.
  • If God allowed us to see more than 1% of our sin, we would fall down dead!
  • The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope because Jesus lived and died in your place.
  • The gospel can never be taught, urged, and repeated enough.
  • In emotionally healthy churches, people understand how their past affects their present ability to love Christ and others. They’ve realized from Scripture and life that an intricate, complex relationship exists between the kind of person they are today and their past.
  • Few consider brokenness as God’s design and will for their lives.
  • Understanding and respecting our boundaries and limits is one of the most important character qualities and skills leaders need in order to be long-term lovers of God and others.

The question we as a church have to wrestle through is what is changing about people? Are we changing people to become better people or is the gospel really transforming people to love God and love people authentically? Is the gospel changing all the dark places of those who walk through the doors of Revolution?

He also wrote a book for people who aren’t pastors called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, definitely worth checking out. You will hear more about these ideas in the coming months at Revolution and how they play out in our church.