Review: The Emotionally Healthy Church

The Emotionally Healthy Church: Updates and Expanded Edition: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives. By Peter Scazzero

Reviewed by Richard Dawson

Peter and Geri Scazzero founded a church in the poorest part of Queens, New York 26 years ago. They were then and still are committed to a vision of the church which was both multicultural and active amongst the poor and dispossessed. Today that Church is made up of people from 73 different countries and is pastored by Rich Villodas of Hispanic heritage.

After working incredibly hard to establish the church Peter and Geri went through a huge crisis of faith in the mid 90’s because of the demands they had placed on themselves to ‘make this church work.’ In short they’d worked themselves to a standstill and had allowed their marriage and family life to become victim to their poor work boundaries. Geri simply told Peter one night that she was resigning from the church and never coming back and that he could either follow her or say goodbye.

Most of us in pastoral ministry have an idea of what this is like. No other job on the planet is quite so open to what I would call ‘quiet abuse’ by those whom it serves as ministry. Even politicians who suffer incredible abuse from time to time have, I believe, more rigorously enforced boundaries which the public must respect. But ministry calls us into close quarters with a people with whom we must share the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ This at least is a part of the cost of being committed to a community in this way and it certainly was something Jesus understood. But this shouldn’t be so costly that the marriages and children of those who are called into ministry are sacrificed on the altar of church ‘success.’

Peter and Geri took the radical step of taking both some counselling and going on retreat and somewhere over the next year they discovered together the whole world of the soul. A world of emotions, needs, hurts and delights which they’d basically ignored because they felt them to be second rate compared to the requirements of serving God and the world God loves.

At the same time they discovered that the classic disciplines of the Christian Faith handed down to us by Mothers and Fathers of the faith from the very beginning actually addressed these needs in an incredibly helpful and fulfilling way. As they walked through a process of healing and of re-organising their working life from the ground up they centred their life around some of these old disciplines and began, as it were, a new life with Christ.

This led them both to bring this newfound knowledge of the fundamental disciplines of the Christian Faith into the discipleship strategy of the New Life Fellowship Church they’d founded in Queens and they noticed a huge difference in both the joy and maturity of those they were teaching.

They initially created a curriculum for individuals to follow called ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,’ an incredibly helpful book for individuals who want to launch out into the classic disciplines of the faith and then have built on this to provide more specialist material for men and women, for leaders and, in this particular volume, the Church.

This volume provides a rationale for making Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS) a centrepiece for every church’s life and teaching. It gives a wonderful over-view of how EHS can be applied to a community’s life and then it makes some suggestions about how to develop this further in a church context.

The seven key teaching points in the EHS course are 1. Look Beneath the Surface – based on the premise that our life is largely something that exists beneath what others can see and indeed what we can see. 2. Break the Power of the Past – examine and take seriously how our past is informing our present in ways we may not even be aware of. 3. Live Out of Our Brokenness and Vulnerability – take our brokenness seriously and don’t try to hide it. 4. Receive the Gift of Limits – an extension of 3. In that we take seriously the limits of our own humanness and don’t try to do more than God is calling us to do. 5. Embrace Grief and Loss – recognise our losses and grieve properly for them 6. Make Incarnation Your Model for Loving Well – love as we have been loved by God 7. Slow Down to Lead With Integrity – trying to do too much and go too fast is a recipe for disaster.

The book is well written and the model is clear and applicable to any church small or large. It provides not only a wonderful way of taking our humanity seriously but also of applying boundaries in a manner that doesn’t make them look like walls. This is truly a wonderful book and will, if the principles in are applied, enrich all whose faith is struggling to survive within a stressed and face paced life.

This is for all in church and not just for leaders and Ministers. The principles contained within are thoroughly Christian and wonderfully helpful I can’t recommend it more highly.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Emotionally Healthy Church

  1. This teaching series (we did the whole caboodle with small groups, weekly dramas and blogs) was a very good fit for our well-educated Auckland congregation some years ago. The blend of contemplative spirituality and pastoral psychology was timely. We actually posted all our EHS resources online for a few years but they disappeared after a website upgrade; I hope to find a way to make some of it available again soon. In the meantime if anyone wants to commit to a 8 – 10 week sermon series with supporting resources, I would be happy to provide what I wrote at the time, at my normal email address.
    I have just received my copy of the Emotionally Intelligent Leader (2015) which should tie in well with my recent thesis findings that emotional intelligence is critical for pastoral leaders – and elders!

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  2. Very timely review Richard. Leadership Sub-Committee has just updated the Healthy Congregations Framework to include emotional and spiritual maturity as a measure of health. This book sounds like a great resource for faith communities who are serious about going the distance without losing themselves along the way. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

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