Most times when I read a book, it leads me to another book.  Sometimes the new read is a supporting work that is cited in the first. At other times I am intrigued to read more writings on a particular topic. Reading Gwen Adams’ newly published book Crazy Church Ladies: The Priceless Story of an Unlikely Group Winning the War Against Trafficking was no exception.  Gwen mentioned that in her years of leading church ministries, she had prioritized her spiritual growth, but not her spiritual health.  Is there a difference and why does it matter? My piqued curiosity then led me to read Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Peter Scazzero.  In short, the book argues that spiritually healthy disciples can only be as mature and deeply rooted as their leaders and disciple-makers are.  

emotionally healthy discipleship

As I looked at the chapter titles, I immediately became aware that this book was more than a curious read and was going to be a convicting, challenging study.  The book is divided into two parts—the current state of discipleship and the seven marks of a healthy disciple.  The book begins with the personal story and experiences of Peter and his wife Geri. It will be familiar if you have read any of their other works.  In fact, this book started as a re-write of his previous book “Emotionally Healthy Church”. After realizing 75-80 percent of the content is new, he decided to change the title as well.  

Current state of discipleship

The first part of the book defines an emotionally healthy disciple. It also describes the current condition of many of today’s disciples.

 An emotionally healthy disciple slows down to be with Jesus, goes beneath the surface of their life to be deeply transformed by Jesus, and offers their life as a gift to the world for Jesus.

Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, p. 26

Scazzero observes that too many believers have been babied, both spiritually and emotionally. As a result, they become helpless and immature in responding to life’s challenges in a loving, Christ-like manner.  He proposes four ways that disciple-makers fail in modeling and teaching.1p. 5 of the book They:

  1. tolerate emotional immaturity.
  2. emphasize doing for God over being with God.
  3. ignore the treasures of church history.
  4. define success wrongly.2 See a blog series on this blog on the topic of defining success in ministry.

I particularly related to the emphasis of doing for God over being with God. This dug deeper into my concern about displaying the outward expressions of spiritual growth but lacking the inward peace of spiritual health. The first part of the book concludes with an assessment to assess one’s spiritual and emotional maturity.  

Marks of healthy discipleship

Part 2 includes chapters on each of the seven marks of emotionally healthy discipleship:

  1.  Be before you do
  2. Follow the crucified, not the Americanized, Jesus
  3. Embrace God’s gift of limits
  4. Discover the treasures buried in grief and loss
  5. Make love the measure of maturity
  6. Break the power of the past
  7. Lead out of weakness and vulnerability

Every chapter contains a wealth of challenging questions and applicable steps to guide disciples towards health.  I appreciated the balance of concrete explanations in the form of lists and charts, and real-life stories which further illustrated the concepts.  

Love as the measure of maturity

The chapter on using love as the measure of maturity is especially impactful.  Loving God aside from loving people is not a complete and mature spirituality.  Is the quality of a disciple’s love any different from those who do not know Jesus?  Surely, one’s zeal for spiritual disciplines is not the only evidence of love for God. As described in 1 Corinthians 13, love should pour out Jesus’ followers through actions, reactions, and attitudes.  Scazzero reminds disciple-makers that the command to love others is not dependent on whether others accept Jesus. Nor does it depend on whether they will ever contribute to the ministry. All people are made in God’s image. Mature disciples will love and demonstrate God’s love to those around them.  

Spiritual growth but not spiritual health

I have, in error, often prioritized my spiritual growth over spiritual health. Consequently, this was the model that those I was discipling saw.  Therefore, I did not read my Bible, pray, teach and help others from an outpouring of rest, authenticity, vulnerability, love, and time being with Jesus.  Spiritual growth will always end up with shallow roots if emotional health has not been a priority.  This is a great book to read if you are ready to dig deep and accept the challenge to BE and raise up emotionally healthy disciples.