So I’ve been
re-reading re-skimming Pete Scazzero’s book “The Emotionally Healthy Church,” and was struck by this insight:
“It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”
Oh, snap. OH, SNAP. Authors don’t really get mic drop moments but there’s one. THIS. This is the explanation for why people don’t seem to change, why people who have been Christians for decades are still spiritual babies. Spiritual growth requires emotional growth, and many of us are not willing or not able to do the hard work of growing up emotionally.
I’m not sure what to do with this insight. When you read it it seems obvious – of course people who are emotional children can’t be spiritual elders – but much of our church programming is designed to help people grow into the deep things of God without any acknowledgement that most of them haven’t dealt with the the semi-deep parts of themselves. Our churches are full of adults with defensive walls as high as the Olympic platform dive, adults who require parenting from their own children, adults who have never finished anything in their life except a meal, adults who couldn’t name a single one of their feelings besides angry, and we want to do a six-week study on spiritual disciplines? We expect them to handle conflict productively, take the long view, suffer like Jesus? Perhaps we need to go back to the Lenten preparations the early church did for new converts, except instead of instruction in doctrine we make everyone do two years of therapy and read “Boundaries.”
This is the part of the blog where I offer caveats: Yes, I know I didn’t just describe every person in every church. And yes, I have my own stuff to work on – I’m certainly not going to pretend to you all, of all people, that I have everything together. However, the hallmark of the emotionally immature person is his inability to see his own issues (or even admit they exist); given that reality, what is the Church to do with a population that is immature and unaware?
I guess what it’s always done: trust the Spirit to do his work. Believe that through worship and scripture and bread and wine and community, people will slowly awaken to their sin, brokenness, and dysfunction. Believe that God can grow people up in both ways at the same time. Believe that Jesus meant it when he said all things are possible with God, and that includes the codependent becoming self-reliant and the selfish becoming selfless. But Spirit is not a bully; he will not force people to do the hard work of confronting reality or risking change. And if they choose not to, and from where I sit most people don’t, then Scazzero is saying spiritual growth will always be limited.
This feels profoundly not enough for me. Honestly, it makes me wonder what on earth we are doing all of this for if the mass of men not only lead lives of quiet desperation but won’t ever really know the one Way out.
What do you think – is Scazzero right? Or can people grow spiritually first and catch up emotionally later? How does this need to change the way we pray. . . . program. . . . preach?