Recently over winter break I had some time to do some reading. One of the books I was able to finish was “The Emotionally Healthy Church: A strategy for discipleship that actually changes lives” by Peter Scazzero. I liked the book and the emphasis on this often-missing element of discipleship.

In one of the opening chapters Peter states,

“It is painful to take our first deep, long look inside of our hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 affirms: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (NASB). The reason for this goes back to the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Since then, we have been divided from God, separated from one another, and split internally within ourselves. Shame, loneliness, hiding, self-protection, lying, and other emotional pain mark Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. These responses also characterize every one of us who has ever lived since. “ (p.58)

From his own experience and research Scazzero proposes “seven principles of an emotionally healthy church” which are helpful for us:

Principle 1 – Look Beneath The Surface
This principle covers our need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves – to face pains and weaknesses and acknowledge behaviors and attitudes that come from them. It’s looking beneath the surface in the light of God’s love:

“A revelation of God’s free grace gives us the courage to face the painful truth about ourselves. As we step out onto the tightrope of discovering the unpleasant things about ourselves, we have a safety net below – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (p83)

Principle 2 – Break the Power of the Past
This principle causes us to consider the roots of our emotional and other issues in the light of our backgrounds and past – particularly our family of origin which “is the most powerful, influential group that has affected who we are today.” (p95). He writes:

“To become a Christian and to be adopted into God’s family… does not erase the past. God does not give us amnesia or emergency emotional/spiritual reconstructive surgery. God does forgive the past, but he does not erase it. We are given a new start, but we still come in as babies drinking milk and are expected to die daily to the parts of our lives that do not honor God and follow Jesus… Discipleship, then, must include honest reflection on the positive and negative impact of my family of origin as well as other major influences.” (p99)

Principle 3 – Live in Brokenness and Vulnerability
This principle acknowledges that emotional growth lays not in self-reliance or even self-resilience but in a brokenness -brought-to-Jesus. We can look to the example of the Apostle Paul who’s “growth in Christ parallels his increasing sense of weakness and sinfulness.” (p118) This principle is counter-cultural:

“Twenty-first-century culture measures strength in terms of power… Brilliant people dazzle us with their intellectual and verbal abilities… We look for building, finances, numbers of people, and large budgets to demonstrate the strength and success of our churches… Yet… Paul argues for the authenticity of his leadership by appealing, not to his visions and revelations from God, not to his successes and gifts, but instead to his weakness!” (p116)

This chart describes 2 very different ways a church lives out their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Which column best describes you personally?

PROUD & DEFENSIVE                                BROKEN & VULNERABLE

1. I am guarded & protective about my imperfections & flaws. 1. I am transparent & week; I disclose myself to appropriate people.
 2. I focus on the “positive”, strong, successful parts of myself. 2. I am aware of the weak, needy, limited parts of who I am & I freely admit to failure.
3. I am highly “offendable” & defensive. 3. I am approachable & open to input.
4. I naturally focus 1st on the flaws, mistakes, & sins of others. 4. I am aware of my own brokenness. I have compassion & am slow to judge others.
5. I give my opinion a lot, even when I am not asked. 5. I am slow to speak & quick to listen.
6. I don’t get close to people. 6. I am open & curious about others.
7. I keep people from really seeing what is going on inside me. 7. I delight in showing vulnerability & weakness, so Christ’s power is seen.
8. I like to control most situations. 8. I can let go and give people the opportunity to earn my trust.
9. I have to be right in order to feel strong and good. 9. I understand that God’s strength reveals itself in admitting mistakes, weakness, & statements that “ I was wrong ”
10. I blame others. 10. I take responsibility for myself & speak mostly in the “I”, not the “you” or “they”.
11. I often hold grudges & rarely ask                    forgiveness. 11. I don’t hold people in debt to me, & I am able to ask others for forgiveness as needed.
12. When I am offended, I write people off. 12. When I am offended, I ask questions to explore what happened.
13. I deny, avoid, or withdraw from painful realities. 13. I honestly look at the truth underneath the surface, even when it hurts.
14. I give answers & explanations to those in pain, hoping to fix or change them. 14. I am present with people in their pain & am comfortable with Mystery & with saying  “ I don’t know”.
15. I have to prove I’m right when wronged 15. I can let things go.
16. I am demanding. 16. I assert myself respectfully & kindly.
17. I am highly self-conscious & concerned about how others perceive me. 17. I am more aware of God & others than the impression I am making.
18. I see people as resources to be used for God. 18. I see people as gifts to be loved & enjoyed.
19. I see pain & disease as something to avoid 19. I see pain & disease as a gift.
20. My weaknesses are obstacles to my personal happiness. 20. My weaknesses are opportunities to experience God’s grace.

Principle 4 – Receive the Gift of Limits
Each one of us lives within natural limits – the limits of our personality, season of life, life situation, emotional, physical and intellectual capacities, and the scars and wounds of our past (pp142-143). This principle acknowledges the fact that the world is inherently out of our control and causes us to run headlong into the “core spiritual issue for us if we are to be faithful to living within our God-given boundaries and limits: Is God good and is God really sovereign?” (p150). He recognizes:

“Maturity in life is when someone is living joyfully within their God-given limits. I find most of us resent limits – in ourselves and in others. We expect far too much from ourselves and each other and often live frustrated and angry lives. Much of burnout is a result of giving what we do not possess.” (p144)

Principle 5 – Embrace Grieving and Loss
This principle recognizes that emotional maturity lies not in superficiality but in acknowledging and, indeed, embracing the losses and sufferings that are at the heart of substantial living. It recognizes that that path to Christlikeness is necessarily the path of grief, dying to self, and living for him. Using forgiveness as an example, he writes:

“Forgiveness is not a quick process. I do not believe it is possible to truly forgive another person from he heart until we allow ourselves to feel the pain of what was lost. People who say it is simply an act of the will do not understand grieving.” (p157)

Principle 6 – Make Incarnation Your Model for Loving Well
This principle of emotional health recognizes that one cannot “love well” unless there is a willingness to “be Christ” to the other person – and that that means loving with a model of “incarnation.” Basically, this means willing to be authentically oneself, but truly engaged with another person’s world, rather than simply ministering or advice-giving from the outside.

“As I sit, I close my eyes and reflect on the experience of asking people, “What is it like to be you? To walk in your skin?” I am aware of the truth that when we go out of ourselves and live briefly in the world of another person, we never return to our own lives the same person. God changes us into the image of his Son through the process. We learn to die to the ugly parts of ourselves. Our feet are kept on the ground.” (p191)

Principle 7- Slow Down to Lead With Integrity

This aspect of emotional health focuses on integrity in several areas of our lives:  Integrity with God; Integrity with Yourself; Integrity in Your Marriage; & Integrity in Your Leadership.

“As we progress in the Christian life, we find it is a never-ending process. We go back, breaking some destructive power of the past. Then later, on a deeper level, God has us return to the same issue on a more profound level. I suspect more conversions will follow for me in the years to come…Every spiritual journey takes us to the hardest realities in our lives, the monsters within us, our shadows and strongholds, our willful flesh, and our inner demons. It is essential that we understand these enemies within us or we will inevitably project them outward on to other people.” (pp.204-205)