Racism, Emotional Health, and the Gospel

Our first nine years at New Life (1987-1996) were a painful, difficult, and often unsuccessful attempt, to bridge racial, cultural, economic, and gender barriers. We did not “break through” our massive differences until God’s answer to our cry through what we call today Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS).

EHS transformed our approach and language around reconciliation, giving us a more fully orbed theology, a new language, new tools, and a beneath the surface spirituality that deeply transformed us. EHS enabled us to build an authentic community with African Americans, West Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Whites, Peruvians, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Poles, Jews, Palestinians, and Russians (to name a few). The result has been the miracle that New Life is today — a vibrant community of 1500+ people from over 73 nations that serves as a sign and wonder to the power of the gospel.


The principles for how this has happened are outlined in The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Truly Changes Lives (Zondervan, Updated/Revised 2010). It offers the main points of our EHS contribution to the national discussion on race, the gospel, and reconciliation. They are:

1. Look beneath the surface. Telling people to reconcile is not enough. We must equip people to open up their interior worlds so they learn to feel before God, themselves, and one another. Why? We can’t love human beings with thoughts alone. We love and connect primarily on a feeling level. We can live in another country or culture and still not enter deeply into their pain because we haven’t entered our own.

2. Break the power of the past. Everyone entering into this war with principalities and powers of darkness must be willing to look at the sinful patterns from their family of origin, and their culture, and learn how to do life in the new family of Jesus. From 1996 forward, our leaders were required to do this kind of hard, painful work (e.g. genogram your family). This also gave us a means to understand how deep racism goes back in our family and cultural histories, and why superficial solutions and programs will always fall short.

3. Live in brokenness and vulnerability. If we are going to connect across this racial chasm, it must be on the basis of our weakness, failures, and setbacks. David murdered and committed adultery, speaking of it openly in 1 Samuel and Ps. 51. Paul shared about his thorn in the flesh that he could not remove (2 Cor. 12). We resist the powers of evil through humility and brokenness, not our intellect, talents, and strengths.

4. Receive the gift of limits. Each of us was born in a particular family, at a particular moment in history, into a particular culture and race. That is a gift God wants to use for His purposes. We each must embrace the gifts and the limits of our race, culture and limit, trusting God to grant us power and grace to enter into the world of others. We also recognize how limited we are “to make reconciliation happen”. That is the miraculous work of God.

5. Embrace grieving and loss. A robust biblical theology of grief and loss is foundational to all reconciliation. If I am unable to experience my own sadness and losses, then it will be impossible for me to enter yours. I often say to my African American friends, “How can you expect this White guy to enter your feelings when he doesn’t enter his own? His own spouse doesn’t feel loved by him! The issue is much larger than him simply seeing structural racism in society or understanding White privilege.”

6. Make incarnation your model for loving well. We have to teach our people to enter the other world of other individuals like Jesus did for us. This takes character. This takes skills. This takes great maturity. That also requires a willingness to enter the sufferings of others. At New Life, we have intentionally created a new culture with a new language that was condensed, after 17 years, in what we now call Emotionally Healthy Skills 2.0.

7. A slowed down spirituality to lead with integrity. Our first passion is Jesus, not reconciliation. Reconciliation is a byproduct, an essential outworking of our following of Jesus. At New Life, we invite people to leave the world, along with the cultural American church, to radically follow Jesus. Reconciliation is a core theological outworking of the gospel, not an addendum. Slowing down for a deep, beneath the surface spirituality with Jesus is the only way our us to do this with integrity

Two opportunities are coming up that will address these issues. The first is an all-day seminar at New Life this coming Saturday, January 24, from 9:00-3:00 pm on “The Gospel and Reconciliation.” Greg Jao of InterVarsity, Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, Gabriel Salguero from the National Association of Latino Evangelicals, and myself will be speaking. The second is our Emotionally Healthy Leadership 2015 Conference on April 22-23rd where you will see this visibly fleshed out with our New Life leadership and staff.

A Content Leader is Hard to Find

Looking over our shoulder to more “successful” ministries is one of the most frequent sources of pain for leaders. It is also one of the great temptations that hinder us from faithfully following Jesus. We can learn a lot from the pattern of John the Baptist’s leadership as he responded to the news that he was losing people to the “new, big thing” happening around him (John 3:26-30).

Content leaders affirm:

1. I am content. I am exactly where I am supposed to be. “A person can receive only what is given him from heaven.” Yes, God gives gifts and abilities that we want to steward well. But each place of service, employment, success, or failure (a lot of God’s closest servants seem to suffer martyrdom) is under God’s sovereignty. It is tempting to strive, manipulate, and anxiously toil to push doors open that God does not have for us. But we want to receive as a gift each task given to us by God regardless of the where it leads. If you struggle with restraining your ambitions, take some time to meditate on this text in John 3:27.

2. I am second. “I am not the Messiah…I am a friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears him.” John’s self-knowledge enabled him to escape the deadly trap of envy. The fact that he could hear the voice of Jesus and bear witness to Him filled him with overflowing joy. May we never lose sight of the pure happiness found in listening to the lovely voice of Jesus in Scripture, as well as the privilege given to us to speak His words to the world.

3. I am disappearing. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John is happy to decrease, even to disappear. Are we? Calvin said it well: “Those who win the church over to themselves rather than to Christ faithlessly violate the marriage they ought to honor.” You and I will disappear some day and God will continue to build his kingdom. May we too rejoice in that process whenever God opens doors for us to disappear.

Reread John 2:26-30. What might be God’s specific invitation to you today?


P.S. For more insights on transformational leadership, register for the Emotionally Healthy Leadership Conference (April 22-23). Early bird registration ends Jan 31.

The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation

In this months Emotionally Healthy Leadership Podcast Pete Scazzero and Rich Villodas discuss the church, the gospel and racial reconciliation. We hope you will take a few minutes to listen in on this very honest conversation around a critical cultural issue.


The Back Story on Immigration

As I talk about in this 3-5 minute video, I have been deeply involved with immigrants – many without legal status here in the USA – for almost thirty years. Our borough of Queens, NYC with 2.4 million people, is over 70% percent foreign born. New Life Fellowship Church is located in the center of that borough, a kind of ground zero for USA immigration with peoples from over 120 nations living together in a very tight space.

The following is my back story on the debate:

Patience, Planning, and 2015

At the turn of every New Year, I do two things.

First, I step back to prayerfully consider:

  • What might God want us/me to do in 2015?
  • What are the 5-6 measureable goals He is inviting us/me to focus on in 2015? Which is the most important? The second most important? Etc.
    • Secondly, I remember Tertullian’s (160-220 AD) keen insight on patience:

      • Tertullian writes: “Impatience is, as it were, the original sin in the eyes of the Lord. For, to put it in a nutshell, every sin is to be traced back to impatience. I find the origin of impatience in the Devil himself.” In a brilliant essay entitled “Of Patience,” he expounds on a truth we rarely talk about – i.e. God’s nature to be patient.
      • “When the Spirit of God descends,” he writes, “Patience is His inseparable companion. If we fail to welcome it along with the Spirit, will the latter remain within us at all times? As a matter of fact, I rather think the Spirit would not remain at all.”

      Discernment of God’s direction in the clarifying of goals keeps me moving in the right direction. Tertullian’s exhortation on patience keeps me anchored in peace and joy since the realization of goals almost always take much longer than I expect.

10 New Year’s Resolutions by Geri Scazzero

New Year’s Resolutions are traditionally approached in what you will do different this year to make life better. I will go to the gym 3x/ week (or, I will find a gym!). I will get 8 hours sleep. I will take a cooking class. Here is another approach to the New Years Resolutions specifically for emotional and spiritual maturity. Instead of resolving to “do” something, how about resolving to “quit” something?

I will quit being afraid of what others think

I will not say “yes” when I really want to say “no” because I’m are afraid the other person will be angry, sad or disappointed. I will quit agreeing with people if I really don’t agree with them. I won’t be okay with myself only if you are okay with me.

I will quit lying

I will be honest with MYSELF. I will admit what I am really thinking, really feeling, and what I really want. I will declare my truth to others, not fearing what they think. That truth can be as simple as “I don’t want to eat at that restaurant” or “I don’t want to see that movie”, or as big as “I was deeply hurt that you did not call” or “I lied to you.”

I will quit dying to the wrong things

I won’t put things most important, like self-care, at the mercy of things least important, like always putting others before myself. I will actively pursue a day of rest and what is fun for me. I will make time for those things that are a delight to my unique soul.

I will quit denying sadness, anger and fear.

I will no longer believe inhuman rules like “don’t be sad”, “it’s bad to be angry”, or you’re weak if you’re afraid.” I will feel all my feelings and not mark any of them as bad or weak. I will treat them as “guests” sent to teach me something. I won’t put them in the driver’s seat and let them control me, or put them in the trunk and ignore them. I will pay attention to them all and then decide what to do with them.

I will quit blaming

I acknowledge it is a comfortable reaction for me but I realize that I am actually giving away my personal power of choices when I blame. I will take responsibility for my life because no one else is responsible for my life and happiness but me.

I will quit overfunctioning

I will quit doing for others what they can and should do for themselves. I will stop perpetuating their immaturity or my false sense of indispensability. When tempted to overfunction I will ask, “why do I want to do this?” I will use my extra time to think about my life’s goals.

I will quit faulty thinking

I will not assume I know what others are thinking without checking it out with them. I won’t jump to negative interpretations in my thoughts when I don’t have all the information. I will not take things personally.

I will quit living someone else’s life

I will pay attention to my personal rhythms for waking, sleeping, playing and working. I will nurture those things that bring me life and minimize that which brings me death. I will put boundaries around everything that breathes. I will follow what is important to me and live the one, unrepeatable life given to me by God.

Each of these “Quits” are further explored in Geri’s book The Emotionally Healthy Woman (Zondervan, 2011) and the further applied in the small group curriculum: The Emotionally Healthy Woman Workbook and accompanying DVD.


God calls us to serve the poor and marginalized, the people the world discards. We do so because we need them for our own spiritual lives as much as they need us. The prisoner, the mentally ill, the elderly, the “illegal” immigrant, the oppressed, the orphan, the homeless, the severely disabled, etc. – keep us grounded and honest, reminding us of what is important in life.

I recorded this 4 minute video for the Nines Conference sponsored by Leadership Network around this topic. At EHS we felt it was particularly appropriate to share this at Christmas.

So take a look. And remember, the roots of gift giving at Christmas is St. Nicholas, the former bishop of Myra, who took the churches gold and gave it to poor families. He did so in hope that they would not sell their daughters into slavery in order to put food on the table!

Comment on Change Your Brain through Silence and the Daily Office by meskerem tadese

i loved the teachings.thanks

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Comment on Wine and the Slow Work of God by Dawn Randle

How wonderfully said. It explains simply how God’s grace shapes and molds us IF we would just let Him. Our duty as a child of God is to step self aside and make God our pilot in EVERY aspect of our lives. Our God is an awesome God.

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Comment on UnHealthy Leadership and the 4 Destructive Commandments of Contemporary Church Culture by Rose

Thank you Pete and Rich for the Podcast. Having started the journey of emotionally healthy spirituality last year, I can clearly see how It has allowed the Holy Spirit to do His ministry in my life, as a result, having a more robust relationship with God, the Father. My prayer for “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” book is that God cause ALL church leaders to get a copy and truly get the message. Thank you Pete for such a wonderful dimension to christian spirituality/ maturity.

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