Peter Scazzero’s Journey Toward Emotionally Healthy Leadership
Peter Scazzero’s got a story church leaders need to hear, because he describes the leadership journey that seems to mark many people in ministry.
In his new book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero opens his personal storybook to share his twenty-plus year journey through emotionally unhealthy leadership to help ministry leaders become healthy.
In the introduction to this crucial guide, Scazzero describes the four stages of a personal journey that often marks others too:
- Agnosticism to Zealous Christian Leader
- Emotional Blindness to Emotional Health
- Busy Activity to Slowed-Down Spirituality
- Skimming to Integrity in Leadership
Scazzero believes “if we hope to transform the world with the good news of Jesus, we must begin by embarking on a personal journey, one that will lead us through a deep, beneath-the-surface transformation in our own lives.” (23)
How did Scazzero become an emotionally healthy leader?
1: From Agnosticism to Zealous Christian Leader
Perhaps you can relate to Scazzero's ministry start:
After he encountered Christ his sophomore year of college, “a fire ignited in my bones.” He joined the staff of InterVarsity, where he developed “a burden for the church.” After seminary, he had a vision to start a church in New York that would "bridge racial, cultural, economic, and gender barriers.” (13)
His church quickly grew to 650 people, 250 of which were attending a Spanish service. He was riding high on ministry:
People were coming to Christ. The poor were being served in new, creative ways. We were developing leaders, multiplying small groups, feeding the homeless, and planting new churches. (14)
Yet all was not well with Scazzero’s inner life.
2: From Emotional Blindness to Emotional Health
Like many in his situation, Scazzero was running on the fumes of ministry success:
While the church was an exciting place to be, there was no longer any joy in ministry leadership… (14)
Maybe you can relate: he had “little energy left;” he “dreamed of retirement;” he “struggled with envy and jealousy of other pastors;” he “wanted to be content in God to do ministry,” but didn’t know how. (14)
It came to a head when he walked into the Spanish service on Sunday and discovered his assistant pastor took 200 people to start a new church. Something broke in Scazzero: he was “unaware of my feelings and what was really going on in my interior life,” and his pain began “leaking out in destructive ways...” (15)
Through this rock-bottom experience he “discovered the inseparable link between emotional health and spiritual maturity—that it is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” (17)
3: From Busy Activity to Slowed-Down Spirituality
The way Scazzero describes the start of his ministry journey and how it progressed seems to mirror others: “I fell in love with Jesus,” yet before long “I was engaged in more activity for God than my being with God could sustain.” (17)
His journey shifted again during a four-month sabbatical with his wife, where they visited a number of monasteries and embraced spiritual disciplines. They learned “these disciplines were in fact the foundational practices” for continuing ministry, and his inner ministry life changed in important ways: (18)
- He stopped praying for God to bless his goals and prayed for his will.
- He learned to wait on the Lord for the Lord himself—not a blessing.
- He embraced a more balanced view of God’s work within and beyond us.
- He measured success by transformed lives rather than by numbers.
4: From Skimming to Integrity in Leadership
Now Scazzero’s ministry and soul were flourishing on many levels. Yet he describes “a significant disconnect between what I had learned about emotional spiritual health and my leadership role as senior pastor.” (18–19) He goes on:
although I was applying the principles of emotionally healthy spirituality (EHS) to my personal life, our family, our small groups and discipleship efforts in the church, I wasn’t applying the same principles to my leadership. (19)
He says he avoided important leadership responsibilities, including: making personnel decisions, managing staff and key volunteers, planning meetings, and following through on project details. While common wisdom says to maximize strengths and delegate weaknesses, Scazzero did the opposite:
I made the weakest area of my leadership a key focus of my work by formally incorporating the responsibilities of executive pastor into my job. (20)
Over time, he learned key executive skills and God sharpened his character so the church could go forward. “It was specifically through the crucible of leadership that God peeled off layers of my false self and taught me to integrate beneath-the-surface transformation with the tasks and responsibilities of leadership. (21)
Emotionally healthy leadership isn’t merely for a lead pastor; it’s for anyone who touches and impacts any aspect of a church’s ministry.
Whether you’re a senior or executive pastor, council member or small group leader, denominational or para-church staff person, engage Scazzero's personal journey toward emotionally healthy leadership—for the sake of your inner life and ministry.
BTW check out ehleader.com for a free study guide for everyone and free bonus content for everyone who purchases the book.
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