There has been much hand wringing and ink spilled over the past several years regarding the decline of the church in the United States. The solutions from the experts are varied. Some argue that the answer lies in better systems for church reproduction or new facilities. Others argue that a shift in worship style can reach a broader demographic. But I think the problem is more foundational: We don’t know how to help people experience the deep transformation and healing that Jesus offers.
Think about it: Most of our discipleship structures are designed to help people learn to pray, read the Bible, get people connected to small groups, and serve our cities. These are all vital practices, and we shouldn’t let these go. But through these practices, Jesus will inevitably invite us to engage in a process of deeper transformation. The problem is that we don’t know what to do to our help our group members when that happens. It seems like the only option is to implore people to try harder, do more, and give more.
So they try. And try. And try. As leaders, we get frustrated with them when they won’t do more. But the problem is that they can’t. They can’t “be more like Jesus” any more than I can “be more like Mike” (pardon the Michael Jordan reference, but we live in Chicago after all!).
Most people show up to church not because they’re looking to be entertained, be part of a movement, make a name for themselves, or find their place in the world. Most people show up because their lives aren’t working, and they need help. Our world is rapidly changing and many people are afraid and confused—they fear for themselves and their kids. They are stressed, anxious, angry, and burdened by truckloads of guilt, shame, and pride. They don’t want to live this way, but they don’t know what alternatives they have. They need healing and they want help—and it’s the kind of healing and help that only Jesus can offer. Our primary job is to help them identify and respond to Jesus’ invitations to this deep transformation.
Just how do we do that?
Our church leaders wrestled and prayed earnestly about this, and we discovered Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course (EHS). It has been an invaluable tool to help people join Jesus in the deep transformation he offers. We started implementing EHS by having all our small groups go through the course simultaneously. After everyone had gone through it, we started regularly offering a large group experience to help people really engage the EHS course further.
To help drive home these principles, we’re currently doing an eight-week sermon series focusing on EHS. On top of that, our staff team has adopted many of the team-building, planning, and decision-making principles in The Emotionally Healthy Leader, a related book by Peter Scazzero.
The core principles of contemplative spirituality and emotional health presented in EHS have been game-changers for NewStory on six vital fronts.
1. We’re learning to recover our divine design.
We are learning to live into our authentic selves, not the self that has been constructed by fear, pride, and shame. Not the self that has been crafted by the pressures of our performance-drenched and image-focused culture. EHS encourages us to resist the voices and pressures that demand we live a story we were never meant to live. EHS sets up Sabbath and the daily office (an ancient form of fixed hour prayer) as primary tools to abide in Christ.