This week, I return to a theme that has been covered in the past. I am convinced that the most important gift pastors and leaders can give to their churches is developing disciples who exhibit authentic Christian spirituality. In the past, I have reviewed the work of Peter Scazzaro and this emotionally healthy series. For the record, Scazzaro and his wife, Geri, are the leaders of a ministry known as “Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, the title of his latest book.  The Emotionally Healthy website is https://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/. The materials necessary to lead folks through emotionally healthy discipleship training are available on their website and most Christian and secular internet book sales sites.
Peter and Geri Scazzero
Years ago, Peter and Geri Scazzero reached a crisis in their marriage, ministry, and lives. The Emotionally Healthy series of books and studies emerged from their commitment to seeking healing and wholeness. In a series of books and programs, the couple has covered such areas as emotionally healthy spirituality, emotionally healthy relationships, emotionally healthy discipleship, emotionally healthy churches, and emotionally healthy leadership. For women, they have developed a course known as “The Emotionally Healthy Woman.” Once again, all these studies are readily available.
One great value of their books has to do with the transparency of Peter as he describes his journey. Peter came from an Italian immigrant family. His father worked hard, and his mother raised the children. He was not from the perfect family. However, his family life left him with an innate desire to please people and solve problems. Those character traits and intellectual gifts made him ideally suited for ministry. However, there was an element of brokenness as well.
Eventually, Peter became active in a campus ministry program. He went to seminary and became a missionary in Costa Rica with Geri, by now his wife. After a time in mission work, the couple moved to New York City and founded what is today New Life Fellowship Church. It grew and prospered. By 1986, Peter and Geri were experiencing problems that many pastors experience: chronic overwork, emotional exhaustion, family stress, staff and interpersonal issues, betrayals, etc. In the end, after a church split, Peter had to come to grips with the fact that he was angry, bitter, tired, and depressed. Geri had to come to grips with the fact that she felt like a single mother because of the programming of her husband’s life, and no longer felt a call to be a part of Peter’s ministry. You must read their books to hear the story in their own words, but it’s a wonderful and potentially life-changing read.
The Emotionally Healthy Series
Some years ago, during a difficult time in my ministry, one of our children gave me Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church.  I read the book with great interest. Subsequently, I purchased and went through his major work, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.  Kathy, my wife, and I have later taught Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and used Emotionally Healthy Relationships in our churches and marriage. In at least two churches, I have had the opportunity to put to work the principles of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and The Emotionally Healthy Leader.  We have personally seen the results in our marriage and congregations. Today, the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Relationship Courses are available as the “Emotionally Healthy Disciples Course,” which includes books, study guides, teaching videos, devotional guides, and teaching helps.
The fundamental principle that lies at the base of all the studies is quite simple: Many Christians and their leaders cannot experience the joy of their salvation or attain the level of discipleship of which they are capable of because of unaddressed emotional problems, usually stemming from their childhood. Addressing those issues releases a Christian’s emotionally-stymied discipleship capacities, promotes emotional healing, and unlocks hidden potential for churches, leaders, and individual Christians. Since churches are made up of human beings, creating an emotionally healthy congregation increases effectiveness in making and maturing disciples.
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship leads students through seven marks of healthy discipleship:
- Become Emotionally and Spiritually Formed as a Person
- Follow the Crucified Lord, not the Americanized
- Embrace God’s Gift of your Personal Limits
- Discover the Treasures Hidden in Grief and Loss
- Break Free of the Power of Your Past
- Lead out of Weakness and Vulnerability
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship can be contrasted with Emotionally Unhealthy Discipleship, which is characterized by the following:
- Using God to run from God
- Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear
- Dying to the wrong things
- Denying the past’s impact on the present
- Dividing our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments
- Doing for God instead of being with God
- Spiritualizing away conflict
- Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure
- Living without limits
- Judging other people’s spiritual journey. 
Many of us in professional ministry can identify with the list personally and from observing our own, staff, and congregant lives.
In Matthew, Jesus gives the Great Commandment, which forms the basic characteristic of Emotionally Healthy Disciples:
An expert in the law tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (See Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12: 28-34, and Luke 10:27).
Over and over, the command to love God and other people is repeated in one way or another in the Old and New Testaments. Unfortunately, the problem for some people is that they need more emotional maturity and health in order to be able to obey the command. Addressing emotional blockages to spiritual maturity and discipleship is, therefore, essential. If we are going to love God, and especially if we are going to love other people, we must have the emotional capacity to do so.
Why This Blog This Week?
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. I spent much time deciding whether to post strictly on a Palm Sunday theme, continue with the blogs on political theology, or do this blog on emotional health and discipleship. Finally, I decided that this particular blog was important. As a deacon, elder, pastor, transitional pastor, and now as a retired pastor and spiritual friend, I have seen in the lives of people I care for the terrible scars that we human beings can inflict and carry from our past into the present. I have also seen the way less terrible scars most of us carry can warp lives, promote personal and professional failure, cause unnecessary suffering, and harm families, friends, small groups, and congregations.
Interestingly, as Scazzero points out, Jesus over and over again demonstrated his human emotional maturity as well as his spiritual presence as the Light of the World. Jesus accepted the gift of limits. He was willing to be born in human form, live an ordinary childhood, delay his ministry until the right time, resist temptation, pray, rest when needed, and disappoint followers who expected the mistaken things from him. Ultimately, he was willing to accept the grief and suffering of betrayal, desertion, injustice, violence, and death—a terrible death on a cross.
Imagine the temptation Jesus experienced on Palm Sunday. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as had kings of Israel in the past. He was surrounded by crowds cheering him on and waving palm leaves, a symbol of the entry of the Messiah into the city. He knew everyone in the crowd expected him to raise an army, begin a Civil War, defeat the Romans, and re-institute the kingdom of David. All he had to do was the “human thing,” the “natural thing,” and give the crowd what they wanted. Instead, he gave them what they needed—a suffering and rising Messiah for the Nation of Israel and the Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus was willing to live in relative poverty, minister in a relatively small group in an unimportant nation at the fringe of the Roman Empire, and die in relative obscurity for the love of the human race and to glorify God. Resisting the temptations he faced required human emotional strength as well as a divine character.
I cannot speak for all pastors, but I spent much of my ministry trying to be successful by the standards of the American Evangelical movement. Church growth, good Biblical programming, the exemplary leadership structure, and a thousand other semi-important things crowded my days and nights with ceaseless activity. In the end, when it was over, like many pastors, I had to ask the tough questions, “Did I do any good?” and “Was it worth it? “Were all the nights spent away from family and friends really necessary?” I had to face some critical personal and social failures.
The Emotionally Healthy series of books is not without weaknesses, but the failings are minor when compared with the strengths of the series. Though using secular psychological models and tools, Scazzarro is careful to remain grounded in Scripture and the Christian tradition. One of the series’ strengths is the wide range of thinkers quoted and used, especially in the devotional guides, names stretching from the Desert Fathers to contemporary writers like Henri Nouwen. The devotional guides, designed to introduce readers to the notion of the Daily Office, are significant and many people who take the courses read and use them.
The books and video guides are well crafted and helpful, as are the workbooks. I have found myself returning to the devotional guides and workbooks to think about certain questions again and again, they are so meaningful.
I recommend The Emotionally Healthy Discipleship courses for church leaders, my dear churches, and the many congregants I love for one simple, straightforward reason: I love you and regret that I did not do more to help members, visitors, leaders, and churches in the way Peter and Geri Scazzero recommend in their writings. Doing the work the studies require will change your life, improve your walk with Christ, and unlock your hidden potential for joy in Christ.
Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship: Moving from Shallow Christianity to Deep Transformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021).
 Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003, 2010).
 Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality updated ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017)
 Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming your Inner Life will Deeply Transform your Church, Team, and World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017)
 See, Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, at 22 and Chuck Olson, Lead with Your Life at https://leadwithyourlife.com/book/emotionally-healthy-spirituality/ (Downloaded March 28, 2023).