Ministry became a lot harder in 2020 as the restrictions and lockdown cycle of COVID made a huge impact on the way the church gathers. The emotional cost of these changes in many ways has yet to be fully understood, yet we know that mental health issues are on the rise. Therefore, the local church has a role to offer formation to our members that will equip them to face emotional challenges now and in the future.
In response to these emotional challenges, after Easter 2021 our church offered Emotionally Healthy Spirituality to help our members reflect on their journey towards emotional health. Not only did the program help with the emotional health and spiritual growth of our members, it also helped renew the ministry in the church as we all wrestle with life in the new normal.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS) is now part of a suite of books written by Peter Scazzero from New Life Fellowship in New York. First written in 2011 the Emotionally Healthy book series has expanded to a book on leadership, a book for church health and most recently a book on discipleship. In the EHS book Peter Scazzero takes the reader on a journey toward emotional maturity and spiritual health.
Here is a list of the eight chapters in the book:
- The problem of emotionally unhealthy spirituality
- Know yourself that you may know God
- Going back in order to go forward
- Journey through the wall
- Enlarge your soul through grief and loss
- Discover the rhythms of the daily office and sabbath
- Grow into an emotionally mature adult
- Go to the ‘next step’ to develop a rule of life
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality can be covered in 8 weeks, but really EHS is the beginning of a much longer journey that could take individuals months to process. There is a lot of time spent working to identify issues that are barriers to emotional maturity and spiritual health. For any local church taking the EHS journey be prepared for the work of renewal to take place at differing pace and in different ways.
At our church we decided to combine a sermon series with a small group study so that the two enhanced each other through the 8 week journey. Each Sunday the sermon covered an overview of the topic as well as the biblical themes in each chapter of the book. In the small group time there was time for group discussion on the topic as well as personal sharing in trust groups of 3-4.
People were also encouraged to purchase the book so that they could read each chapter to explore the topics at greater depth in their own time. The small group study also provided some homework each week for people to journal or work on an issue. The time commitment at home can enhance the overall impact of EHS both for the individual and the church.
The hardest work for most people was the personal journey as they reflect on the material in their own time. People can go as deep or as shallow as they feel comfortable with. Some people might even need to park the material for a time until they have capacity to take the EHS journey. Others might need to see a counsellor if the material raises issues from their past that they haven’t dealt with.
There were a variety of results emerging out of the EHS journey in our church. A big positive for our church was that it gave us some common language to talk about issues such as emotional health, contemplative spirituality and family of origin issues. In the future it will help the church see the value of emotional health, not just intellectual knowledge about spirituality. It will also give us themes to keep coming back to as we journey together out of the changes and challenges of lockdowns.
Many individuals in our church shared that the chapter on looking back in order to go forward was a helpful exercise. Some people found that their response to the challenges of COVID were born in the way they had handled challenges in their past. For others their family of origin made an impact on how they handled emotions when facing challenges such as cancelled holidays, loneliness, job losses or restricted freedoms.
In the young adult community of our church, EHS equipped them to spot emotional awareness in those they live and work with. Some young adults learnt the skill of detachment so as not to overreact to other people’s emotional response lockdowns. Many of the young adults were able to identify their own barriers to emotional health and spiritual growth. In terms of dealing with conflict some of the young adults were able to spot a lack of emotional maturity in those at work or university.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality could be a good tool for your church as people deal with the emotional toll of COVID. EHS might also be a tool that helps create a common language for renewal in your church. As people reflect on the themes of emotional maturity and spiritual health they can identify the collective strengths and blind spots of your church. The group dynamics of your church might impact how you use this in your setting but the program is very adaptable.
In 2020 and beyond many churches realised that the spiritual habits of their members at home were more important than the Sunday gathering in a time of lockdown. A livestream service could be a lifeline to those at home, but leaders had to encourage spiritual habits and spiritual practices at home to help people continue to grow spiritually. EHS enhances spiritual habits because it encourages people to take on spiritual habits that will lead to growth. On the EHS journey each person will learn which spiritual habits they need to develop in order to grow in emotional maturity and spiritual health, rather than copying the habits of someone else.
For example, some Christians might fill their spiritual devotions with scripture reading and worship music. The challenge for them might be to consider a period of silence just to be with God. Silence might also enable them to develop their prayer life. Rather than taking a long list of prayer requests to God, a person might need to grow by listening to God and delighting in God’s presence rather than what God can do for them.
Another example might be the chapter on developing a rhythm of sabbath. Members in your church might be regular in their daily devotions but rarely switch off from the work cycle of production to have a full day of sabbath rest. A member of your church might need to develop a routine of slowing down, switch off technology and taking time for rest as part of a weekly sabbath. The encouragement for sabbath rhythms has been a well appreciated part of EHS in several churches.
I encourage you to consider using EHS in the renewal and growth of your church. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is as easy and challenging as someone makes it. On the surface it can seem so simple because it is grounded in the bible passages that we have heard so many times. Yet when people go on the journey to emotional maturity and spiritual health it can be a rewarding and challenging season.
Rev. Mark McDonald