Addressing the Problem of Shallow Discipleship
A Review of
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship : Moving from Shallow Christianity to Deep Transformation
Hardback: Zondervan, 2021
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Reviewed by Jeff Kennon
“Becoming a pastor was the worst decision I ever made.” This was Peter Scazzero’s cry to God. And to say the least, it grabbed my attention. The reason why is not only because I know pastors and ministry leaders who have prayed this kind of lament, but also because I have voiced this kind of lament to God myself. So where do we turn? Well, for Scazzero, it led him on a journey of self-reflection in which he realized that his life with God and others was a mile-wide and an inch-deep. “I discovered that the problem wasn’t the Christian faith itself,” he writes, “but rather the way we had been discipled and were making disciples” (xv).
So for Scazzero, the way we do and think about discipleship needs to change. And the change must begin as we move discipleship to involving the whole person, specifically one’s emotional life. I feel this is a strength in Scazzero’s work. We have been rocked to sleep by our current methods which only view discipleship as a mental engagement with Scripture and have neglected the rest of our humanity. We don’t realize that when we neglect our emotions, we stunt our growth. Scazzero came to the realization that he “would remain an emotional infant until [he] acknowledged the emotional part of God’s image in [him]” (10).
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship is Scazzero’s attempt to not necessarily convince us to build a new church program per se, though that might be involved, but to change our “operating system” of how we think about and do discipleship so that it can lead us to becoming “deeply transformed by Jesus” in order to “offer our life as a gift to the world for Jesus” (26). If you are familiar with his book The Emotionally Healthy Church written some 18 years ago, this is his reworking of that book. Scazzero claims that 75-80 percent of this current book is new material. It appears that he has grown in his understanding of discipleship throughout the years.
There are seven marks of deep transforming discipleship according to Scazzero. Naturally, he devotes the majority of his time in this book defining each mark while sharing some hands-on tools to help with each. He also is careful to develop Biblical and theological premises for each mark as well. Undoubtedly there could be much written here about each of these healthy discipleship traits, but I feel that there are a couple that stand out and need to be mentioned.
First, “follow the crucified, not the Americanized, Jesus.” You can’t embrace following Jesus without the cross. For Scazzero this means that we must avoid “popularity, great-ism, and success-ism” and be willing to “embrace suffering and failure” (65). This appears counter-productive to most of us as we have been “discipled” by our culture to need to achieve the American dream (whatever that means these days). It is unfortunate that in order for ministry to be viewed as significant, it must include flash and pizzazz along with hoards of folks knocking down the doors to be a part. I’m not discrediting any such ministry. Please don’t take it that way. But what Scazzero warns us about is that when we seek success and greatness just for the sake of being successful and great, we fall into idolatry as we replace God with our work and ministry. And the end result is an emotionally shallow walk with God.
Second, Scazzero writes that we must “make love the measure of maturity.” “My focus and aim was to make disciples and to grow the church,” he writes. “But over time, it became difficult to distinguish between loving people for who they were versus using them for how they could contribute to the mission. Did I need people to come to faith in Jesus to build our church, or could I simply love them regardless of their decision to follow Jesus and serve in the ministry” (136)? I feel this is a hard question for all of us; if we are honest, we are prone to love people with an agenda that is self-serving. But the mark of maturity is to love people because they are people. Our love should come from a purity that desires others to flourish and become who God made them to be.
Now though I did enjoy the book and would highly recommend it, I have to be honest and confess that there were times in which I felt Scazzero was only highlighting another resource of his. I felt this way because in some chapters he only gave a portion or a hint towards a discipleship solution in which another tool to be purchased was needed. However, I moved past this shallow thinking as I closed the book and accepted my hastiness to judge and instead began to acknowledge that Scazzero really does want to help people and churches become truly transformed.
There is quite a bit of talk these days about church revitalization. Just google “church revitalization” and you will see what I mean. I in no way have surveyed even a majority of the literature. But the resources I have perused seem to miss what Scazzero is talking about in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. If there is going to be impact we are going to have to do more than change our vision statement (though no doubt that might be necessary). We are going to have to dive in a bit deeper. And it’s going to have to begin with you (and me).
So I encourage you to pick up Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and examine it for yourself. But be warned, as you can probably tell from the comments above, if you think the path to transformation is just a matter of plugging in some new teaching to your life or church, then you will be discouraged. Scazzero is clear that though you can read the book in perhaps 7-10 days (if you are fast reader), it might take seven to ten years to see the type of transformation he is writing about. “We didn’t get into the problem of shallow discipleship overnight,” he writes. “And neither will we solve the problem overnight” (221).
Jeff Kennon lives in Lubbock, Texas where is the director of the Baptist Student Ministries at Texas Tech University. He is also the author of The Cross-Shaped Life: Taking On Christ’s Humanity, published by Leafwood Press. You can find him online at www.jkennon.com.
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