Emotionally Healthy Spirituality(EHS): the wrpf journey

Peter and Geri Scazzero
Peter and Geri Scazzero

EHS: what is it all about?

It was three years ago in 2012 that our EHS journey began. Our signed up for the EHS conference held in Bethesda Bedok Tampines Church. Peter and Geri Scazzero were there to teach at the conference. Peter taught clearly about and important need in most churches: the need for emotional health and contemplative spirituality. The church has forgotten that part of maturing spiritually is being fully human and that includes emotional wholeness. And that is what the content of the EHS is essentially about: learning to be emotional healthy and to love well. Part of the ecology that supports loving well is learning to slow down and cultivate a rhythmic contemplative lifestyle.

EHS tools
EHS tools

The EHS tools

They have a package that can be used to introduce the EHS to the church. It comprises sermons on Sundays (available on-line), a devotional to be used to cultivate the contemplative spirit, a workbook and video for cell groups to use. Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is an also must read for those who are leading the cell groups and program. Except for the sermons and the devotional booklet which are available free online, the others can all be purchased from the Cru bookstore. When we did ours we received free about 12 videos and 20 workbooks which were leftover from a gracious Evangelical Free Church that had completed its program earlier.

These are the topics that the sermons and workbook dealt with:

  1. General Purpose and Introduction
  2. Problems of Unhealthy Spirituality
  3. Know Yourself to Know God
  4. Go Backward to Go Forward
  5. Journey Through the Wall
  6. Rhythms of Daily Office and Sabbath
  7. Grow Into an Emotionally Healthy Adult
  8. Develop a Rule of Life

More than a program

One thing we emphasized throughout was that EHS is more than a program. It is a journey.  It is a program that has a start and an end. It had systematic steps to get you to where it wanted you in order to fulfil the programs goals. Yet it was more than a program. It was an introduction to a journey – one that would take a lifetime to complete.

How it was introduced to church

The youth and the young adults were the first to launch into this. They did the program with the leaders of the youth and young adults’ ministry. It was a good faith formation as well as introduction to emotional health. This was later followed by the closure of all cell groups for two months so that all the cell leaders and their respective core team members could experience the program with the youth and young adult cell leaders facilitating the groups.

When all these leaders have experienced the EHS we went on to do a church wide in March 2015. There were seven sessions but we added an additional lesson to prepare the ground and give an introduction to the whole program. We also made use of two breaks where people were likely to be away on vacation to have breaks so that the congregation had time to reflect, and to catch up on the new things they have discovered. The cell leaders were trained and briefed before the program started, and at mid-point we conducted an evaluation. The program ended with a final evaluation and exploration of how we can follow up on a journey we had merely begun.

What was the feedback about the program

We gathered interesting program feedback from the leaders at mid-point. The people were struggling with the intensity of the program: the amount of reading, reflection and preparation required, and the depth of sharing required. Some were lost conceptually and were playing catch up most of the time. For young people it was difficult to look back at their short past but they shared freely and were vocal. The adults had a lot of past life and events to process but were not as open in their personal sharing. Most members did not do their workbook preparation. The program exposed many areas that the people needed to process with the Lord. We needed more pauses in the program for reflection and incorporation of new spiritual habits into their life. On the whole, everyone agreed that we could have gone at a slower pace and at greater depth so that the truths could get hold of people and reflection and life change could be deepened. Alternatively this is a survey, an introduction, and in the future we can spiral back to what we have learned: do workshops, retreats and sermon series that will help us revisit some of the practices, truths and things that impacted the people. One thing we did was to conduct a retreat using a movie and giving the people more time to work on the family genogram and to reflect on how their past upbringing affect their current behaviour, values and relationships.

Conclusion: a stirring among churches

There is a stirring among churches to embark on this journey. There have been pastors that have us asked about our journey. Whether from the Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican or whatever denomination, there is something in this program that will introduce important values and practices to the church. The church today is too performance oriented. The era of church growth ended years ago. Enlightened church pastors are thinking church health and have stopped dancing around the sacrificial altar of the numbers game. We need healthy churches that birth and grow spiritually healthy disciples. The EHS program is certainly a good way to introduce important truths and values that will seed for a promising harvest: churches that will model for us a healthy spiritual rhythm in its church life and that loves well in the community.

To find out more about EHS go to the source: http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/

A tale of two Preachers

preach the good newsA Preacher took the text and preached a rousing sermon on prayer one Sunday and exhorted the congregation to pray thirty minutes on waking every day that week. And some did and felt good, but most did not and felt short.

The next Sunday, he preached a tremendous sermon on being a witness and challenged his members to witness to one person in school or in the workplace that week. Some did and felt good, but most did not and felt short.

The following Sunday, the Preacher motivated his members to love their wives, and he did it with tears, and confessed his lack, for he had been too busy as a pastor, and he was sure others were the same. So he gave them seven things to do to love their wives. The women loved the sermon. Many men walked down the altar with tears and arose resolute. That week roses were bought, love letters were written, and romantic dinners were had. Some felt good, and those that were still too busy, felt short.

On the last Sunday of the month, the Preacher was convinced what the members lacked was time management. So he talked about the tyranny of the urgent, and underlined the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing. He listed five things they could do to manage their time better. The members were perked with hope that if they could do the list, the nub of many problems would be solved: they would wake up to pray; they would have time to witness, to love their wives, and be a better disciple. Some did it, and felt good. Most of them fell short.

And by the end of the second month those who felt good about waking up to pray no longer thought of themselves as good Christians, for their habit faltered. Those who witnessed did it only that one week. The flush of renewed romance of those men who loved their wives had chilled. And the weekly schedule in the diaries was blank. That Sunday the Preacher looked over the congregation and saw a jaded people. They looked like a people weary of religious must do, ought to do, and should do. The trust that began their relationship with God has given way to earnest but relentless attempts to reach and maintain the C+ of Christian behaviour. They now felt weary. After some months the Preacher left the church with his shoulders slouched, his face downcast, his eyes absent of the gleam with which he started.

After several long months, the congregation found another Preacher. On the first Sunday, he preached Christ the High Priest who sympathized with man’s weaknesses and who offered Himself for the forgiveness of sins. The congregation felt the love of God and they experienced a cleansing peace and assurance wash over them. They had a new found boldness in approaching God in prayer, and though they had not prayed every morning, no pall of guilt hung over them.

The next Sunday, the Preacher exalted Christ as the Baptizer of the Spirit. The people received a fresh infilling of the Spirit, nothing emotional, more a faith thing. Strangely at the cell group that week, there were numerous reports of how members had opportunities to share Christ and pray for the concerns of friends.

The following Sunday, the Preacher talked about the length and breadth, and height and depth of the love of Christ as pictured in the Song of Songs, and the people experienced a new sense of being the Beloved of God. That experience of being loved stayed with them and they found themselves feeling affection for their spouses and children, and being patient towards the people at school and at work.

On the last Sunday of the month, the Preacher talked about the Jesus the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23 and the people were re-assured that God was watching over their ins and outs, guiding them with His staff, protecting them from all kinds of enemies with His rod, and that they need not fear anything. The members entered that week with a restedness and confidence in the Shepherd’s care for they knew in their hearts that the steps of a good man were ordered of the Lord, and that God would work all things for good.

The Preacher kept preaching Christ, and though it seemed elementary, it was fresh as he drew from the wells of Old Testament as well as New with the heart of one who had drawn near and drank from the living waters. The infectious love he had for the Lord Jesus was being passed on to the congregation. Beyond just knowing, the members were catching it.

After four months the Preacher looked over his congregation one Sunday, and saw a sea of contented faces, oozing assurance and animated with joy. Though they may not have prayed every morning, nor witnessed every week, nor loved their wives as they should, or managed their time as they ought, they knew they were forgiven, empowered, loved and watched over and guided by a wonderful Man with scars in His hands, and love in His eyes.

Making Disciples

collinsonMy main textbook was Making Disciples by Sylvia Wilkey Collinson. This is indeed a book that cries out for more readership. Well researched, readable and clear the author Sylvia Wiley Collinson has  made a significant contribution to the slowly growing literature on making disciples. Not many scholars will consider this subject weighty enough to warrant their attention, and this is sad.

The popular fare on this topic have been written by Navigators-influenced authors like LeRoy Eims, Dawson Trotman(founder), Jerry Bridges, Walt Henrichsen, Bill Hull, and  Edmund Chan. The latter two authors have written quite a bit about disciple making in a church setting but the rest write of discipling in a context that is very much independent of the church. Doing discipling one with one or with a few.

This is why I feel Collinson’s book has a place in the pantheon of classic books on discipling. The book looks at discipling in the Greece, Rome, Egypt and other cultures surrounding Israel. Then she examines discipling in the Old Testament and in each of the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles. She refines her definition as she goes along. Attention is given to the differences and changes in discipling between the gospels and after the church was formed. Then she views all her findings in the light of surveys of Australian church life and compares what she learned of discipling methodologies with recent educational research. The conclusions are not earthshaking, but give you a sense that there is much to be done in reforming educational methods of discipling in the church.It is much more than just one with one; it has to do with the whole community, with culture and values education as well.

Kenny, Dr Sylvia Collinson, Carlos

It was a pleasure to be able to discuss the content with the author as well. In lectures and in interaction inside and outside the classroom, the subject can be absorbing and exciting. Dr Collinson was able to give perspectives that come from years of research in related fields, suggesting further resources and readings in various journals and books.

The book is printed under Paternoster theological monographs and due to the niche demand, is rather expensive at $40 over. However it is worth the price and the time and effort to study and discuss it. Especially,  for those passionate about disciplemaking in the church. How I wish S.U., the Navpress, or Campus Crusade could imprint a cheaper version and make it available to a larger audience at  a lower price.

Lost shepherds in the city

Lost shepherds and waiting sheep

The Rt Revd Rennis Ponniah, the Vicar of St John’s-St. Margaret’s Church, and Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Singapore, gave an insightful message to priests and ordinands recently that was excerpted in the Diocesan Rt Rev Rennis PonniahDigest(Nov 2010). He was reminding the church of what it meant to be an Anglican priest in the church of God –the classical role of Anglican priests. Over the years, this has been greatly eroded, obscured, obstructed, and pushed aside by the pressures arising from expectations of congregations for their priests to function like CEOs. The result: lost shepherds in the church, and the consequence – more lost sheep waiting in the pews for their shepherds to do what they are truly called to do, and other sheep leaving for other pastures. The irony is that members want their priest to act like a CEO so that the church would grow, but the outcomes are exactly the opposite: priests and lay leaders suffering burnout and members leaving because they soul care has been ignored.

Lost shepherds can find themselves

What he said so accurately reflects a clear and present danger in the other churches in Singapore too, not just the Anglican. The unbiblical expectations members have of their pastors to be like CEOs,  reminded me of what Goh Keng Swee and his team of systems engineers did to the Singapore education system in the 1970’s (they killed its soul, and teachers felt lost). What Rennis said would resonate with many pastors in this land. The same has already happened in urban churches in the United States too. Shepherds today, like the ones at Christmas, need a fresh and heavenly revelation of who God is. They need to eagerly seek the One in Whom they can find their true self and calling.  Here is an excerpt of his message:

So much is expected of the priest in the modern city – chairing meetings, organizing major projects, replying emails at the speed of smartphones and sometimes initiating financial ventures – that it becomes easy to lose our way and neglect the major tasks of our calling. The affirmation of men and meeting the expectations of our congregation for dynamic leadership and management can become our priorities instead of pleasing God through our faithfulness to our calling. As one of my clergy colleagues recently remarked, “If there is a parable to describe our modern situation, it may well be entitled the ‘Parable of the Lost Shepherd.’  The hundred sheep, safely in the fold, wait hungrily for their shepherd to find his way back to them.”

We do well therefore as priests to heed the call to vocational holiness – to being true to the central tasks of our calling. What then is our vocational calling as priests? In a word, I would say that our call is not to run an organization or meet people’s felt needs, but to build a community of disciples. I often have to remind myself, “I am not running a church, I am building a community.” With this in mind, the key vocational tasks of a priest can be identified as:

1.     Preaching / proclamation of the Gospel

2.     Discipling/teaching and equipping bands of people

3.     Interceding/shaping and leading corporate prayer and worship services

4.     Pastoral care and spiritual direction(ie the role of the “wise man” in the Old Covenant)

5.     Leading the people out in mission and community service

6.     Oversight of the flock and governance.

The greatest threat to fulfilling our vocational tasks is our management responsibilities in our urbanized parishes. I am not saying that management work is not needed in priestly leadership; however, they should not stand in the way of our primary tasks. This is clear in the early account of the early church where the apostles found themselves diverted from their vocational calling because they were personally managing the task of food distribution to the needy. They learnt to delegate this task to others in order that they may give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Sadly, priests today may be delegating away their primary vocational tasks, while focusing on secondary ones. We are farming out the task of pulpit preaching to frequently-invited guest speakers, and the task of intercession to church intercessors. We are called to “prayer and the ministry of the Word”. We are called to “attend to God” in prayer and the study of His Word, and then to minister to people out of the strength of His presence. Are we attending to the needs of men (emails and mobiles) but ignoring our Lord (eg. Prayers and devotions)?

Jack Hayford at Love Singapore Pastors’ Forum

Jack Hayford at Pastors Forum, Love Singapore

Jack Hayford. That name alone should pull in quite a crowd of senior pastors and staff. Jack Hayford was the senior pastor of the Church on the Way, a Foursquare Church at Van Nuys, California. Most people would know the song he composed, Majesty, worship His Majesty. Over a hundred pastors were at Trinity @ Paya Lebar to attend the Love Singapore Pastors’ Forum. Jack Hayford talked about the need to focus on the essentials and to avoid jumping from one new methodology or model to another. Don’t go for the numbers, he says, but work on the essentials. All his years as a pastor he never had numerical targets. Its not about acquiring people but discipling the people the Lord sends. The essentials were birthed out of his experience. They are:  1) work on a discpling plan to teach and incarnate the word among the people; 2) develop the worship life of the church as it opens the people up to the Spirit’s presence and power; 3) cultivate a ministry focus, releasing people to minister outside the church building;  4) and have a prayer strategy, of which he had no time to elaborate, or I dozed off.

Reasons why members leave or stay in a church

sheep migrationThe topic was important. Sheep-stealing is a derogatory term, especially when thrown at you. You turn defensive and reply, “The hole in your fence is too big. Can I help it if the grass over here in my pastures is crunchy, smells better and is more nutritious?”  That adds salt to the wound, and a fight is about to break out in the body of Christ.

Well many of the pastors who gathered at the discussion of membership loss and gain found that they had similar reasons for why members left their church. About eighty pastors discussed in twos and then in tens. These are some of the main reasons that were listed, but not in order of importance:

1. Unresolved conflicts and disagreements with other members or leaders.
2. General dissatisfaction and frustration with their, their children’s or church’s progress.
3. Location and convenience.
4. Members from other churches enthusiastically inviting them to their churches.
5. Attractive and better children’s and youth programs of bigger churches.

And what about the main reasons why people choose a particular church to start attending?
1. The pastor and his strengths, usually the preaching.
2. To a megachurch in order to have minimum involvement, no questions and commitment asked, and to remain anonymous while recovering from hurts or burn-out.
3. To a small church to know and be known, love and be loved, and to find an avenue of service.
4. They were persuasively invited by a friend.
5. Great music or other programs that meet the family’s needs.

John Maxwell: what I would have done differently as a pastor

John MaxwellJohn Maxwell is well known in the church world and in the secular organizations. He is a trainer and motivator of leaders. As an author he has sold 13 million books. His training organizations have trained more than 5 million people. He left Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego to concentrate on training leaders. He has enough distance from his pastoral ministry to offer insights that would help younger, and even experienced pastors. Here is his reflection on what he would do differently if he had a chance to, fifteen years after he has left the pastorate. This extract comes from an interview done by Michael Duduit and was published in the Preaching magazine (Jul-Aug 2010).

Question: You have been at this for a long time- you have been preaching since you were a young man and you continue to preach. What are some things you have learned about preaching, things you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

John Maxwell: Well, something interesting has happened. I resigned Skyline in San Diego, Calif.- this just shocks me – 15 years ago. when I left the local church after pastoring it for 25 years and loving it so dearly, I felt pretty satisfied, successful. I felt that my churches grew, that a lot of people came to faith in Christ. I felt I had the respect of the Christian community as far as being a “successful pastor.”

Now that I’ve gotten away from it 15 years, I get more disillusioned with my work every year. I told Margaret, “I’m not sure I can live long enough here in this process. I just feel like I didn’t do a good job.” I wish now that I had done this differently.

Just like I was talking about – I would talk to my people about how to share their faith. I didn’t teach them how to get respect in their business world. I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t do nearly enough social stuff that really would get into their world – help people with hunger, clothing needs or whatever. I didn’t do that enough. Now I look back and think, “I could’ve done so much better in my teaching and communicating.” I just came from my perspective all the time. I never would do that again.

If I was developing messages on a weekly basis, I would find un-churched people – hopefully uninterested people – and I would ask them to meet with me on a monthly basis. I’d bounce ideas off of them and see if I ever sparked their interest, see if I ever connected with them in any way. I would put a lot more of that teaching into my messages. One of the things I love now is that I don’t have to develop a message weekly, so I have more time to let it work in me.

When I was younger, I wanted to do a great work for God, which I over-emphasized and under-emphasized God doing a great work in me. I see it now, my shallowness. I get disappointed. I thought, “Wow, If I had been more interested in God doing a great work in me, my messages would’ve been more transforming. They maybe would not have been applauded as greatly, because they maybe wouldn’t have been as well honed, but they sure would have been from the heart. They would’ve been out of brokenness and out of a journey I was taking.” I wish I had known that when I had that opportunity.

Again, I look back and am very surprised at how disappointed I am in where I was. The only comfort I get out of it is that I know I did my best. I didn’t lack integrity in trying to give my best effort; I just lacked direction and wisdom about things that I could’ve done  a lot better.”