Review of ‘The Emotionally Healthy Leader’ by Peter Scazzero


The-Emotionally-Healthy-LeaderPeter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

In 1993, I quit my job as an associate pastor before my senior pastor could fire me. I hadn’t begun teaching heterodox doctrine or engaged in a sexual affair or some other moral failure. No, I had vociferously challenged the “seeker-sensitive” direction he was taking the church. As a 24-year-old seminary student, I felt I knew a lot more about ministry than my pastor did, and I wasn’t hesitant to download my “knowledge” on him. Needless to say, this frustrated him personally and hampered the church’s evangelistic ministry. At a tense lunch meeting, my pastor told me I needed to shape up or ship out, so I tendered my resignation and left.

At the time, I thought my quitting was a matter of principle. I realized later, however, that it was really a manifestation of emotionally unhealthiness. I was young and immature but working in a missional environment that required a spiritual grownup. Several years of apprenticeship at a more traditional church, combined with two years’ work in corporate America, wised me up and mellowed me out. In 1999, I’m happy to say, I returned to work for the pastor who had wanted to fire me, and I count those years as some of the best of my career.

“The emotionally unhealthy leader,” Peter Scazzero writes in his new book, “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.’” That described me to a tee back then. I was thinking too much and feeling too little, reading too much and praying too little, reflecting on “big ideas” too much and relating to others too little. My life was out of balance, which meant my ministry was out of balance too.

In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero encourages pastors and other ministry leaders to take inventory of their inner and outer lives, to make sure they are operating in both areas out of a spiritual and emotional surplus. Jesus said, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt. 6:45), and that lesson is true for more than what we say. Our heart determines everything. What we do reflects who we are.

The Inner Life
The first half of Scazzero’s book focuses on four practices that shape a person’s ability “to lead from a deep and transformed inner life”:

  • Face your shadow.
  • Lead out of your marriage/singleness.
  • Slow down for loving union.
  • Practice Sabbath delight.

 Scazzero concedes that there are more practices than these, but they are the ones that “emerged as foundational, both in [his] own life and in two decades of mentoring other leaders.”

Your “shadow” is “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.” Until your shadow is exposed to the light, it will undermine you, limit your service, and blind you to the shadow-side of others.

Ministry and marital status present a unique set of challenges for Christian leaders. Married leaders often prioritize ministry over their spouses, sacrificing them on the altar of service. Single leaders do the same, though what gets sacrificed in their case is any sense of the value and importance of their personal lives and friendships. “Our whole life as a leader is to bear witness for God’s love for the world,” Scazzero writes. “But we do so in different ways as marrieds or singles.”

“Slow down for loving union” means tending to our own spiritual wellbeing. Doing so reveals a dilemma faced by many Christian leaders. Scazzero writes: “Doing our part to cultivate a relationship of loving union with God requires time—time that, paradoxically, we don’t have because we are too busy serving him.”

That brings us to “Sabbath delight.” “Biblical Sabbath is a twenty-four-hour block of time in which we stop work, take rest, practice delight, and contemplate God.” I know of many pastors who preach about Sabbath rest—myself included. I know fewer who actually practice it, scheduling a regular weekly time of rest their ministerial labors. Is it any wonder that unrested ministers experience so much burnout?

The Outer Life 
The cultivation of our inner lives transforms the ways we do ministry. The second half of Scazzero’s book focuses on four tasks common to leaders:

  • Planning and decision making
  • Culture and team building
  • Power and wise boundaries
  • Endings and new beginnings

For each task, Scazzero shows how the four practices described in the first half of the book change—sometimes radically—the way we do things as Christian leaders. “There is a disconnect,” he writes, “when we fail to apply our spirituality with Jesus to such leadership tasks as planning, team building, boundaries, endings, and new beginnings. Too often, we rely instead on unmodified business practices to navigate those tasks, grafting secular branches onto our spiritual root system. This tends to bear the wrong kind of fruit… The life from our root system with Jesus must flow upward and outward into every aspect of our outer leadership tasks if we are to bear good fruit.”

* * * * *

I benefited from reading The Emotionally Healthy Leader and recommend it to other Christian leaders, whether they serve as pastors, board members, or leading volunteers. It is well and winsomely written. It does not discuss everything that could to be said about the topic, as Scazzero himself concedes, but it tries to address the most important things with advice shaped by biblical wisdom, personal and pastoral experience, and psychological insight.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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