Mental Health Monday: OCD Personality Disorder in the Church

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is not the same thing as being OCD.  It’s related but has different symptoms.  Whereas in regular OCD there are hard to stop/control thoughts and behaviors, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is seen as an extreme type of perfectionism.

Symptoms include (from National Library of Medicine website and my class notes):

  • Over-devotion to work
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Lack of generosity
  • Not wanting to allow other people to do things
  • Not willing to show affection, lacking in expressiveness or warmth
  • Difficulty in relaxing and having fun
  • Preoccupation with details, rules, and lists

Unfortunately, this sounds like some churches and Christians I know.

You can stop laughing or being offended, because I am serious. This is a prominent manifestation of “Christianity” that does not glorify God. This “perfectionism” mentality (whether pathological or not) is why some churches are dying, while they think it’s because no believes or wants to hear their “TRUTH.”

It’s the worst case of legalism. I don’t know if you can diagnose an entire denomination or not, but many churches need help. They are believers who want to do what is right, but are consumed with doing what is right instead of being consumed with their Creator God and Savior Jesus.

Fear of not getting a list right keeps them from KNOWING God and truly having a relationship with him. It causes them to be judgmental and arrogant. It divides churches and hurts families.

Yes, there is truth and we must be faithful to what God says, but each one must decide if God’s Word/Law/Truth is being used to make oneself feel good and right and better than others, or if a love of Truth and righteousness flows out of an intimate and loving relationship with Jesus.

You can read more about the disorder HERE.


Symptoms of Emotionally UN-Healthy Spirituality

So, what does Scazzero consider unhealthy? What are the problems that lead to burnout and miserable preachers?

I will cover this chapter in a few posts, splitting up the author’s list of 10 things:

1. Using God to run from God

Busy work. This goes back to the being/doing dichotomy I talked about last time. He proposes that we often use religious busy work “as an unconscious attempt to escape from pain.” Instead of dealing with my sin, I try to stay busy doing good.

He lists some frightening examples on page 25:

  • When I do God’s work to satisfy me, not him
  • When I pronounce, “The Lord told me I should do this” when the truth is, “I think the Lord told me to do this.”
  • When I hide behind God talk, deflecting any spotlight on my inner cracks and becoming defensive about my failures
  • When I exaggerate my accomplishments for God to subtly compete with others

2. Ignoring the Emotions of anger, sadness, and fear

Scazzero: “Like most Christians, I was taught that almost all feelings are unreliable and not to be trusted……It is true that some Christians live in the extreme of following their feelings in an unhealthy, unbiblical way. It is more common, however, to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly.”

One moment of insight by a professor demonstrates why I am so excited about my counseling program. We were discussing blame and how clients (humans) will often blame others. The teacher (who has a D.Min as well as counseling degree) asked us “What good is blame?” As a preacher, I was shaking my head, saying “nothing.”  The class was generally in agreement that blame was bad.  And that is a simple, “biblical” answer that is true.

BUT!!!!!! She replied, “don’t give up on “blame” until you see what it gets you.” This is a general counseling principle that applies to anything negative.  Secondary gains are those secret, unexpected benefits from unhealthy behavior, whether blame or shoplifting.  A seminary perspective simply says, “blaming others is wrong/bad/unhelpful and you should stop doing that?”

Growth comes from understanding why.  Why am I a minister of the Gospel of Peace but filled with anxiety? Why do I preach lots of sermons on love while being filled with anger towards my elders. Putting an acronym of JOY (Jesus, Others, Self) in the bulletin is a load of baloney if I am perpetually unhappy in Christ.

We are often encouraged (overtly or implied) to hide, deny, cover up any negative emotions.  That isn’t healthy.  It doesn’t help us to heal. It becomes an obstacle in our relationship with Jesus and each other. When we are concerned with appearances, not making someone uncomfortable, not “looking” bad, how can we grow in Jesus? Scazzero says we feel bad for having this negative emotions so we “try to inflate ourselves with false confidence to make those feelings go away” by praying, quoting, memorizing Scripture.

It’s as smart as denying and covering up symptoms of cancer in our body. You can pretend and you can “get busy doing the Lord’s work” but you still have a problem.

“To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers or our personal God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in ability to love God, others, and ourselves as well.” (p. 26)

3.  Dying to the Wrong Things

“God never asked us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of life–to friendships, joy, art, music, beauty, recreation, laughter, and nature.”

Dying to self can be distorted to teach that “the more miserable you are, the more you suffer, the more God loves you. Disregard your unique personhood; it has no place in God’s kingdom.”

Many churches have an egalitarian, American, cookie-cutter view of the Christian. We don’t often appreciate uniqueness. We confuse orthodoxy and uniformity.

“God never asks us to annihilate the self. We are not to become “non-persons” when we become Christians.”

‘When I ask people, ‘Tell me about your wishes, hopes, and dreams, they are often speechless.
Why do you ask, they respond. Isn’t my only wish, hope, and dream supposed to be to serve Jesus?”


So, what about you?

In your religious experience, have emotions been valued or discouraged?

Do you feel you have been encouraged to understand your true self in Christ, or to accept a number like Jean Valjean and get in line?

Have you personally allowed churchy and religious activity to hinder your spiritual growth?

Pastoral Burnout and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Ahh….burnout.  Been there.  Done that. Couldn’t afford the T-shirt.

Juggling God’s expectations, a local church’s expectations (even among one group there is variety), and a preacher’s expectations of himself is overwhelming at times. Throw in “good intentions” and Satan, and you get terrible stats about drop-out rates, pornography addiction, depression, failed marriages and broken churches.  You can Google the stats if you aren’t familiar with them. I am going to share from the book and not spend time explaining the problem.  If you aren’t a minister, you might not even understand the need.  If you know, you know.

I really believe that Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality provides a BIG part of the answer. There are at least two facets and both are affected by spiritual warfare.  Many congregations are sick systems.  Traditions and leadership methods which are unhealthy and ineffective are passed down.  Sometimes everyone sees it but nothing changes.  Other times leaders and members are oblivious.  Changing these systems takes a lot of prayer, time, intention.  I think the book would be helpful for sincere churches to make changes as a group but I think the book focuses (and I choose to focus) on the other aspect: the preacher himself.

What can he do to prevent, heal, and continue?

DISCLAIMER:  Yes, I am a counseling student so I am interested in mental health.  Scazzero doesn’t have a mental health background, but 20 plus years of ministry experience, a bad case of burnout, and being on the receiving end of counseling lead him to write this book.

The book actually combines two of my favorite things that I am still learning about but excited about their being mixed up together:  emotional health and contemplative spirituality.

Scazzero had a successful ministry from the outside, from a modern, worldly perspective, but it wasn’t of the Spirit.

Here is the author’s realization:

“It wasn’t until the pain exposed how much was hiding under my surface of being a “good Christian” that it hit me: whole layers of my emotional life had lain buried, untouched by God’s transforming power.  I had been too busy for “morbid introspection,” too consumed with building God’s work to spend time digging around in my subconscious. Yet now the pain was forcing me to face how superficially Jesus had penetrated my inner person, even though I had been a Christian for twenty years.”

If you don’t believe the past affects the present, you won’t like this book (and you will continue to be controlled by your past).

If you feel emotions are dangerous for Christians and should be left out it, you won’t like this book (and you will be missing out on an important part of your relationship.  Also hope to read and blog about Descarte’s Error at some point).

If you don’t accept that healing often hurts at first before you feel better, you might be wasting your time with this book.

If you think being a pastor is all about doing but don’t really think about “being,” you might not get this book.

If you don’t believe you have ulterior motives, pride, bad habits from family/childhood that affect everything you say and do, you won’t like this book and you will never get past the plateaued cycle of burnout.

So, I guess what I saying is: 

if you are about to give up, if you are questioning your ministry, if you are miserable as a preacher, and are willing to consider all options………you will love this book and it will help you.

Some of you know of Jim Woodruff. He was the interim preacher where we worshipped a decade ago.  He told the story of a lady who came to him with this revelation: “all my life I have been a human doing, instead of a human being.”  Or something like that.  I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.

We can emphasize doing and not doing without ever being. Or without ever knowing Jesus. Yes, obedience is a sign of love and totally necessary, but it is soooo much easier to do a lot of good things (and not do the bad things) than it is to really see ourselves as God sees us and allow Him to transform us from the inside by his Spirit. That’s what we should strive for. Being more, not just doing more.

Alcoholics have to recognize the addiction so they can overcome.  Christians are encouraged to get busy doing good, and that will make someone a “good person.” Okay, now I am preaching and rambling.

More to come!!

In the meanwhile, meditate on this phrase from Scazzero: “how superficially Jesus had penetrated my inner person…”

What I been Reading

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

You can read the DSM and doctor’s comments but reading a narrative by a gifted author (Sophie’s Choice, etc.) about what it’s like to have Major Depressive Disorder is enlightening.  He talks about how his view of depression (and suicide) change after suffering himself.  He talks about suicide, including how close he got, and various artists he knew who killed themselves. Provides great insight into severe depression.

His writing skill, personal experience, and research (he himself read about his disease in the DSM) provide for a fascinating and brief (less than a 100 pages) read.

Scarred Faith by Joshua Ross

I have already loaned my copy so I can’t quote much except this: “May God forgive us for taking better care of our buildings than we do our neighbors.”

The book is very personal and very powerful.  It focuses on the loss of Ross’ sister who died unexpectedly at a young age and that death’s impact on his faith. He says a lot of important things about risk, adventure, and faith. His style is humorous and down-to-earth but also be warned: Don’t read it in public unless are you okay with crying in public. Big, ugly crying.

The second half of the book has a lot of great stories about what God is doing in Memphis.

Would be great for anyone who has lost a loved one, for ministers, and Jesus followers of all kinds.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Only halfway through this one but it is interesting.  It’s a personal account about living with Bipolar Disorder (technically Schizo-Affective because she also had delusions/hallucinations but she focuses on the more commonly known Bipolar) written by a psychologist.  She does a great job of painting the picture of the mood swings, especially the highs of mania and the spending, risky behavior, etc. that accompanies it.  Jamison does a good job of explaining why so many who suffer from BPD resist taking medication in spite of the severity of the symptoms.

The most interesting tidbit so far is that she made it all the way through graduate school without recognizing she had Bipolar Disorder.  She was well aware of her moods and struggles but didn’t connect the dots.

Coming Soon! Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Well, the book.  Well….a review/discussion of the book by Peter Scazzero.

I am a couple of chapters in and fascinated. I believe it is vital information for church leaders and Christians. It combines two of my favorite topics: faith/spirituality and mental health in a very challenging yet clear way.

As a hard-working, sincere pastor, Peter Scazzero finally recognized that he had no joy, he was angry, bitter, and depressed, and his wife was miserable to the point of quitting his church because of him.

He says, “while I sincerely loved Jesus Christ and believed many truths about him, I was an emotional infant unwilling to look at my immaturity.”

The author dealt with ministry burn-out and unhappiness until taking a long look at some pre-conceived myths that were hurting his faith, marriage, and church after many years of ministry.

I highly recommend THE BOOK and will be reading and blogging about it here.