Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Toward an Emotionally Healthy Church

I just finished one of the best books I've every read, The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero.
Scazzero starts by addressing the problem of emotionally immaturity in the church. "The sad truth is that too little difference exists, in terms of emotional and relational maturity, between God's people inside the church and those outside who claim no relationship to Jesus Christ. Even more alarming, 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."

This book hit home in a way no other ministry book ever has. Most books I read are about how to "do" ministry and they're written by guys much more skilled than myself, which is discouraging. But for the past two years, I've been trying to focus on how to "be" more than how to "do" and this book is exactly about that. Scazzero's main idea is that after a decade of leading a growing and innovative church all the "doing" wasn't resulting in maturity. Yes, people were learning more about the bible but they weren't maturing emotionally. And unless a person is maturing emotionally they aren't really maturing. Spiritual disciplines and bible knowledge is important but it won't do the work necessary to bring a person toward maturity. Boy does that statement fly in the face of about everything you hear in our church culture.
Here's another quote, "The sad reality is that too many people in our churches are fixated at a stage of spiritual immaturity that current models of discipleship have not addressed.... I can no longer deny the truth that emotional and spiritual maturity are inseparable"

Scazzero uses examples that could've come straight from some of my struggles with people within TFC. Pastoring has made it painfully obvious that just because someone has been in church for years and knows a lot about the bible, that doesn't mean they've matured one bit. Emotional immaturity causes so many unnecessary conflicts.

Quoting John Calvin's thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13 and Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 3, Scazzero warns that churches can be building great ministries and inviduals can be excercising great gifts while still being immature spiritually. "Paul makes a clear point that you can use spiritual gifts and still be very much of a spiritual baby. The sign of the Spirit at work is supernatural love, not gifts or successful results." Ouch.

I connected on a deeper level, however with Scazzero's personal examples. What he said about church members not maturing despite years as Christians, spiritual disciplines or increased bible knowledge was even more true for him, as pastor. It's impossible to count the ways in which my own emotional immaturity has hurt people or caused unnecessary conflict. Although I've grown up a lot over the past few months, particularly because of the emotionally-focused therapy I went through during my study leave, I've still got a lot of growth to do.

And my role as pastor isn't just about "doing" but it's about "being." I've been shaped in such a way that I'm at my best as a leader when I'm acting as a model of healthy Christian living for my congregation. Which is how Scazzero ends the book, "Preaching sets a context and an environment of safety and grace to enable people to go further, but it is not enough. If you can work on yourself, then as you interact with others, the church will change. In short, if you do the hard work of allowing God to change you, the whole system will change." Wow.

Although I'm not sure what it will all look like yet, here's my plan for challenging TFC to mature emotionally.
1) I'm going to model it. I've already set up meetings with a mentor, Roy Rotz, who is going to work through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality with me. Before I can lead others in this way, I must be lead myself.
2) I'm going to mentor leaders in this area. Coming this fall will be our Leadership Community; a chance for discipleship and community-building among ministry leaders. We're going to be working through The Emotionally Healthy Church.
3) Our entire church will work through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Although I'm not sure of the details yet, Roy and I are planning how we can preach and then lead discussion groups on this topic.

Here's a final quote to share:
I don't want to wait until heaven to see an emotionally healthy, balanced, mature church. We don't need to. God desires, I believe, to initiate a Copernican revolution in our discipleship in the 21st Century, both in the US and around the world. It is a commitment, not only to see numerical growth, but more important, a quality change in the kind of disciples we are making. It is a paradigm change from the perfect, the powerful, and the big to the weak, the imperfect and the small.
I want to challenge you to apply the six principles of emotionally healthy churches first to yourself (as chapter 1 said, 'as go the leaders, so goes the church') and then to the rest of the congregation.
1 Look beneath the iceberg
2 Break the power of the past
3 Live in brokenness and vulnerability
4 Receive the gift of limits
5 Embrace grieving and loss
6 Make incarnation your model for loving well
It is the pathway to experiencing more of heaven on earth. The journey begins right now, gradually and powerfully rippling through you and then through your church to the hurting world around us."


Chris said...

I think this is super cool.

soxfaninkc said...

Very cool! I'm glad I let you borrow this book! I'm excited about how this is going to take shape in our church community! EMH is a great book and it was a big help to me as a student (we read it in Minister as Counselor class), as a leader, husband and step-father.