Book Review: Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Peter Scazzero

By Sam Doerksen

A few months ago, the book Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Pete Scazzero came across my desk. I am usually excited to dive into new titles to stay on top of what’s out there. However, this book triggered a different kind of reaction.

Skeptical would be a good way to describe what went through my mind. OK, maybe that is a little harsh – maybe curious would be a better description. After having read several other books by the same author, all with similar titles, I wondered if there really would be anything more to say on the topic. The book sat unopened for a little bit, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me, so I made myself a cup of coffee and sat down to start reading.

Glancing at the titles of each chapter, I noticed that many were topics covered in his other books, so I was expecting it to be very repetitious. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised, and challenged, as I continued to read.

Common ground

To be clear, there are some principles in the book that can be found in Scazzero’s other Emotionally Healthy books, which makes sense since he is very clear that the premise of what he has found to be so transformative remains the same.

Scazzero has a style of writing that is very easy to follow, and he uses his own story to draw the reader into the narrative. If that is the style of writing you enjoy, you will not be disappointed. As he builds upon those common topics of “being before doing,” “embracing our limits,” “grief and loss” and the “power of the past,” he digs deeper and deeper into how we need to wrestle through each of these.

Scazzero displays a level of vulnerability that is refreshing and, in an odd sense, validating to the reader. I found myself almost cheering as he so honestly calls out the lies, manipulation and self-promoting that we all struggle with to some degree. We all have those thoughts, fears and downright ungodly motivations, so let’s be honest with ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to begin some deep, lasting change. This change begins in us and continues through how we approach discipleship in our areas of ministry. The author puts it this way: To grow and mature as a disciple of Jesus, leading others out of a deep inner life with Jesus.”

Some new nuggets

Aside from the recurring themes, Scazzero also introduces a few incisive new nuggets.

The first new piece that caught my attention is what he addresses as Failure #1 that undermines deep discipleship:

“Over time, our expectations of what it means to be ‘spiritual’ have blurred to the point that we have grown blind to many glaring inconsistencies. For example, we have learned to accept that:

  • You can be a gifted speaker for God in public and be a detached spouse or angry parent at home.
  • You can function as a leader and yet be unteachable, insecure, and defensive.
  • You can quote the Bible with ease and still be unaware of your reactivity.
  • You can fast and pray regularly and yet remain critical of others, justifying it as discernment.
  • You can lead people ‘for God’ when in reality, your primary motive is an unhealthy need to be admired by others.
  • You can be hurt by the unkind comment of a co-worker and justify saying nothing because you avoid conflicts at all costs.
  • You can serve tirelessly in multiple ministries, and yet carry resentments because there is little personal time for healthy self-care.
  • You can lead a large ministry with little transparency, rarely sharing struggles or weakness.”

Ouch! Talk about calling out the elephant in the room! There is a lot to sit and think on in there.

A significant emphasis of this book is maturing in our faith and what that looks like. Maturation involves seeing our weaknesses and realizing that they are not failures for us to get hung up on, but rather part of the process of learning, maturing and growing into genuine disciples of Christ.

A natural part of this type of discipleship process is that it changes how we love others. As our faith matures it becomes visible to others – not by what we are doing but rather by who we are being. This type of discipleship addresses the areas of disconnect described above.

Another nugget is the idea of how we have “Americanized” our view of what discipleship means instead of embracing the truth that we are called to follow a crucified Christ. This chapter alone makes the book well worth the read. This approach to discipleship is based on the premise that life and obedience will make us happy, prosperous and successful, which in turn is measured by the Americanization of the Gospel.

In this chapter of the book, the author is in fact returning us to Scripture to encourage us to shake off this mindset. Biblical discipleship comes with a cost. It requires sacrifice. It keeps us grounded in the truth that life doesn’t always have a happy ending, but Christ is sufficient in all of it. Suffering is not an interruption; it is part of the process of growing as followers of Jesus. Americanization would say, “Get rid of the suffering;” Scripture would say, “Learn in the suffering.”

Interesting note

While the author has gone to great lengths to present the dangers of following programs and putting the emphasis on “doing,” it is interesting that throughout the book he makes reference to joining the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship process which takes about seven to 10 years to implement within yourself and your ministry. I say this to be mindful of the “heart of being” as Scazzero suggests and to resist the temptation to turn it into another program.

Overall, I really appreciate the emphasis that as we mature in our faith in Christ, we become more genuine as his disciples.


Sam Doerksen and his wife, Pauline, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

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