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Do You Reflect These 4 Characteristics of an Emotionally Unhealthy Leader?

Categories Ministry

When you think of an unhealthy leader, who do you picture? What kinds of adjectives would you use to describe them?

Angry, controlling, aggressive?

Avoidant, inauthentic, passive?

Unaware, self-absorbed, over-worked?

Here’s how Peter Scazzero describes such a leader in his new guide on the matter, The Emotionally Healthy Leader:

The emotionally unhealthy leader is someone who operates in a continuous state of emotional and spiritual deficit, lacking emotional maturity and a “being with God” sufficient to sustain their “doing for God.” (25)

Leaders who ignore their own emotional and spiritual health will suffer and will hurt others around them. As Scazzero explains, “The deficits of emotionally unhealthy leaders impact virtually every area of their lives and leadership.” (25) Which is why it’s crucial for ministry leaders to honestly self-evaluate their leadership.

He lists four characteristics that are especially evident in emotionally unhealthy leaders: low self-awareness, prioritizing ministry over marriage/singleness, doing too much for God, and failing to practice a Sabbath rhythm.

Do you exhibit any of these characteristics? Continue reading to find out.

1) Low Self-Awareness

Scazzero believes that emotional deficits are manifested primarily by a lack of self-awareness:

Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to be unaware of what is going on inside them. And even when they recognize a strong emotion such as anger, they fail to process or express it honestly and appropriately. (27)

These leaders ignore emotion-related messages from their body; don’t consider how God is teaching them through such emotions; struggle to express the “why” behind their emotional triggers; are unaware how their family background impacts their present; and are unable to read and resonate with their emotional world.

This kind of leader has “no clue how his lack of self-awareness is negatively impacting him, his staff, and the church.” (29)

2) Prioritize Ministry over Marriage or Singleness

Early in pastoral ministry I believed the lie that all pastors have two wives: their bride (wife) and the Bride (the Church). Scazzero reveals this toxic view characterizes emotionally unhealthy leaders:

Whether married or single, most emotionally unhealthy leaders…view their marriage or singleness as an essential and stable foundation for something more important—building an effective ministry, which is their first priority. (29)

Such leaders invest most of their time and energy in becoming a better leader; take very little time to cultivate their marriage or single life; compartmentalize their marriage or single life relationships; make decisions without regard for how it impacts their marriage or single life; and fail to invest their best energy, thought, and creative efforts in developing a rich family life.

The result is that “God’s work” is made primary at the expense of foundational relationships.

3) Activity for God More than Relationship Can Sustain

I’d wager most ministry leaders feel overextended. Emotionally unhealthy ones, however, are chronically overextended: “they persist in saying a knee-jerk yes to new opportunities before prayerfully and carefully discerning God’s will…” The idea that “doing for Jesus flows out of their being with Jesus is a foreign concept.” (30, 31)

For such leaders:

  • Solitude and silence is viewed as a luxury;
  • Spiritual disciplines aren’t part of their core spiritual practices or essential for effective leadership;
  • Leading an organization, team, or ministry is a primary means of impacting the world for Christ;
  • Cultivating a deep, transformative relationship with Jesus isn’t a top priority.

If you often wonder how things can be going so well on the outside when you feel like you’re dying on the inside, consider whether you are doing more activity for God than your relationship with God can sustain.

4) Lack a Work/Sabbath Rhythm

The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter ScazzeroIf you struggle to practice Sabbath—a weekly, twenty-four-hour period in which you drop all work and rest, delight in God’s gifts, and enjoy life with him—consider your emotional health.

Such leaders often view Sabbath as “irrelevant, optional, or even a burdensome legalism;” don’t distinguish between this biblical practice and a day off; use “Sabbath” time for paying bills, grocery shopping, and running errands; and believe they must finish their work or work hard enough to “earn” Sabbath rest.

Scazzero reminds us leaders that the occasional day off isn’t enough to develop the rhythm of work and rest we need to be a healthy and effective leader for our ministries.


“Did you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions?” Scazzero asks. Because “over time these leaders and the ministries they serve will pay a heavy price if such unhealthy behaviors continue unchecked.” (33)

Honestly assessing our emotional health is crucial for the long-term health and effectiveness of our ministries, because unhealthy leadership is a threat to the Church.

Scazzero’s field guide to emotionally healthy leadership will help you navigate why we persist in unhealthy patterns. So read it, sit with it, engage it, discuss it with a fellow ministry leader—all for the sake of Christ’s mission and the people he’s entrusted to your care.

BTW check out for a free study guide for everyone and free bonus content for everyone who purchases the book.

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