Discipleship Making Church Matter

Emotionally Healthy Church

February 28, 2010

We have been talking about emotional health (the past two messages are available here on our blog as video pod casts).  For too long we have delegated “emotional issues” to the therapists office, or, ignored them entirely. Emotional health and spiritual health are inseparably linked and critical to real discipleship. (Peter Scazzero’s book on the topic is an excellent resource). What can be said about an individual’s emotional health can also be said about congregations as a whole.  Church communities have an emotional health too.

As with everything in church, this is going to start with the Pastor.  And then it’s going to be shaped and determined by the emotional health of the senior staff and ministry leaders and volunteer ministers, the emotional health of the Small Groups, and the kids and student programs…and then the rest of the congregation.  An emotionally healthy church doesn’t mean everyone is perfect or emotional superstars.  I think instead, it means it’s a place where people are actively working on emotional health and hold it as a value and understand its connection to spirituality.
Others have written on the various “levels” of emotional maturity. Its probably the case that the level of emotional health in a church congregation can also be measured with some accuracy too. Here’s my take on it.
Emotionally infantile churches:
Like physical infants, these churches are all about themselves, the culture is all about the congregation expecting and getting care and comfort (usually from the Pastor).  Their attitude coming in the door is “feed me, feed me, feed me!” They are full of screamers and complainers who vocalize their displeasure at unmet needs.  These churches are experienced by newcomers as inconsiderate, insensitive and self-centered. 
Emotionally childish churches:
Like a physical child, an emotionally childish church congregation is great when everything is going the way they want. However, as soon as disappointment, stress, or any kind of element of change arises, things can unravel quickly.  Generally, feelings are not processed well.  In this kind of church there is probably no effective communication, there is a lack of cooperation, of service and ministry, a deep and abiding dislike for anything new or different, a fear and hostility of outsiders. These kinds of congregations are not likely to be interested in external service and will not tolerate any kind of challenging preaching.
Emotionally adolescent churches:
Like the physical adolescent, these churches know the right way to fit in and appear mature, they can appear as if they have it altogether.  But they don’t. They are easily threatened and alarmed, quickly defensive and hostile. Disappointments are personal, hurts are easily made and run deep. This church culture is steeped in factions and silo ministries and lone rangers who do what they want to do when they want to do it (without any accountability or connection to the mission of the whole). Gossip and intrigue and needless drama are the order of the day and probably what the Pastor spends most of his time dealing with. Service and ministry are mostly done for personal satisfaction or public acclaim. These churches always exaggerate their accomplishments and success.
Emotionally mature church:
These churches are open to outsiders and newcomers, they are welcoming and hospitable.  They are characterized by the willingness of the congregation to get involved, to do their part and more.  The congregation is respectful and honest with one another, they care about one another. They’re clear about their vision and values.  They are authentic in worship and committed to selfless service that actually helps others. They’re willing to acknowledge their problems and deal with them openly. They are modest about their success and accomplishments.
This is a very personal topic for me, because I believe that our church community here at Nativity has made a significant transition from emotional childhood (if not infancy) to adulthood.  And it has been a transition that has taken several years and lots of hard work and tough choices and difficult conversations and big risks. We have lost parishoners and major donors and staff members and time honored programs. And it was often times very very painful.  And it was worth it.  Because emotionally healthy churches are spiritually healthy churches. 

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