Peter Scazzero, is the planter and pastor of a large multicultural church, New Fellowship Church, in Elmhurst, a working/middle class neighborhood in the borough of Queens in New York City. The church was growing, and Pete’s ministry seemed in the eyes of many very successful. In fact, he was often asked to speak about it to large gatherings of pastors. However, below the surface the church wasn’t that healthy after all, and it took a crisis for Pete to face up to the truth. His wife Jeri was becoming burned out with all the interpersonal problems in the church, especially among the staff. Finally she came to Pete and said, “I’m leaving the church. I can’t take any more of this stress, the constant crisis.” This was obviously a wakeup call and began a long journey to get personal help, but also to determine the root causes of the problems in the church.
Scazzero realized that many of the people with whom he was ministering were supposedly spiritually mature, but in actuality were infants, children, or teenagers emotionally. They demonstrated 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 own 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.”
He began to understand that emotional health and spiritual health are inseparable, but often we’re not willing to accept the glaring inconsistencies:
- “You can be a dynamic, gifted speaker for God in public and be an unloving spouse and parent at home.
- “You can function as a church board member or pastor and be unteachable, insecure, and defensive.
- “You can memorize entire books of the New Testament and still be unaware of your depression and anger, even displacing it on other people.
- “You can fast and pray a half-day for years as a spiritual discipline and constantly be critical of others, justifying it as discernment.
- “You can lead hundreds of people in a Christian ministry while driven by a deep personal need to compensate for a nagging sense of failure.
- “You can pray for deliverance from the demonic realm when in reality you are simply avoiding conflict, repeating unhealthy pattern of behavior traced back to the home in which you grew up.
- “You can be outwardly cooperative at church, but unconsciously try to undercut or defeat your supervisor by coming habitually late, constantly forgetting messages, withdrawing and becoming apathetic, or ignoring the real issue behind why you are hurt or angry.”
The author came to believe that an unbiblical paradigm has led many Christians, even Christian leaders, to regard feelings and emotions as opposed to the Spirit. These believers are emotionally numb. They’re not in touch with their real feelings and not aware of how they are impacting others.
Scazerro observed, “It is painful to take our first deep long look inside 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 … It takes work, energy, inconvenience, time, courage, solitude, and a solid understanding of the grace of God in the Gospel to grow in Christlikeness.”
Writing honestly about himself, the author states, “I had originally thought that my conversion to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord was my total surrender. Little did I know that it was only the beginning. When I discovered the link between spiritual and emotional health I had been a Christian almost twenty years. I felt like a baby beginning to crawl all over again. I was using muscles and drawing on areas of my life that had, hitherto, remained untouched.”
In Scazerro’s opinion we have been doing a decent job in evangelical churches teaching the basics of discipleship: understanding our salvation, how to have a regular time in the Word and prayer, how to use our spiritual gifts, how to share our faith, how to worship God in a community of believers, and so forth. However, we haven’t been doing a good job in teaching the emotional components of discipleship.
The Emotionally Healthy Church seeks to fill that void. One of the most useful aspects of the book is a 40 question emotional/spiritual inventory. The first part of it deals with general spiritual formation, but most of it gets below the surface to emotional components of discipleship in six important areas which the author documents scripturally:
- Principle 1: Look beneath the surface.
- Principle 2: Break the power of the past.
- Principle 3: Live in brokenness and vulnerability.
- Principle 4: Receive the gift of limits.
- Principle 5: Embrace grieving and lost.
- Principle 6: Make incarnation your model for living well.
I challenge you to take this inventory, then read the chapters that explore each of these important areas. I took the inventory as objectively as I could and scored in some areas as an emotional adult, but in others as an emotional adolescent. It showed me areas I need to grow in. By the way, I would agree with the author that to grow in the emotional components of discipleship it is important to have a mentor or at least a mature Christian friend with whom you can talk honestly.
Scazerro, who is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, grounds what he teaches in God’s Word. This is not psychobabble. Many well-known evangelical Christian leaders have written endorsements for The Emotionally Healthy Church. For example, Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City: “This book unmasks ‘super-spirituality’ in many churches that cannot deal honestly with the depth of our spiritual and emotional brokenness. Pete Scazerro shows us how the gospel frees us to admit our brokenness and then gives us many practical ways to move forward. I recommend this book for pastors and church leaders.”