Peter Scazzero: Emotionally Healthy Leadership (Part 1 of 2)

“As a lead pastor, my shadow ends up affecting the whole church. I want to maintain vigilance because it can erupt at any time.”

And that’s an interesting point because the closer we are in relationship with someone the more our strengths shine, but those areas of personal liability are also revealed more in deep relationships than in more superficial relationships.

Yes. I mean, basically the understanding if you were married was, Hey, be a great leader and have a stable marriage so that you can continue to serve Christ effectively. And if you’re single, make sure you stay sexually pure so you can build the church and the kingdom of God. But there wasn’t any kind of training or equipping around the fact that if you’re married, your marriage is to be a sign and a wonder for Christ. You have to be equipped to have a great marriage out of which you lead the church. There’s a whole lot more to that than just having a “stable” marriage. And the same thing if you’re single; you need to be equipped to be a single leader in your sexuality, in your relationships, so that you lead out of your singleness—even if you’re waiting or hoping to be married one day.

I mean, I cannot remember any leadership conferences talking about being a single leader, being a married leader, beside the reminder to go on a date with your spouse, be sexually pure, don’t get into pornography. It was all just kind of keep it together versus you lead from a place of such health that one of your loudest gospel messages is your life as a married person or single person. That’s a radical paradigm shift.

And the discussion between you and your wife Geri on these things became a crisis point for your own re-evaluation of what it meant to be emotionally healthy.

Our turning point was 1996—I like to say I was born again again, a second conversion. We made a commitment at that point to lead out of our marriage. So we have spent the last 19 years studying, researching, learning what that looks like practically. That’s why there’s a chapter in the book, “Lead Out of Your Marriage or Singleness.” And it’s actually the second chapter of the section on the inner life because it’s so neglected. I start with “Face Your Shadow,” then “Lead Out of Your Marriage or Singleness” then “Slow Down for Loving Union” then “Practice Sabbath Delight.” Those are four issues that need to be properly cemented in your foundation, then that informs the way you do planning, decision-making, building teams and cultures, and so forth. But that inner life needs to be grounded well.

You sometimes describe your journey as four conversions, presumably because each of these signpost experiences was a profound spiritual turning point. You speak of your conversion from agnosticism to zealous Christian leader; from emotional blindness to emotional health; from busy activity to slowed-down spirituality. In the fourth, you talk about a conversion “from skimming to integrity in leadership.”

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Actually, this book came out of that fourth conversion. In 2007, as our church and ministry continued to grow larger, I realized that there were some issues inside of me that needed to be addressed.

You know, you’ve got employees, you’re busy planning, you have a large organization you’re running. It required a level of inner life that was more complex, that needed to be deeper than I had known. I realized I was skimming on some of the applications of emotionally healthy spirituality to the core issues I talk about in the second half of the book, which is the outer life of leadership—the things we deal with every day, like planning, decision-making, power and wise boundaries.

I speak of it as a conversion because I realized I had not brought my theology fully into the way that I was leading our church. I was still picking secular models and grafting them into the tree without doing the hard work that’s required of integration. Not that we don’t learn from good secular models, we do. But you picture a tree that’s got deep roots, the tree is informed by the health of those roots.

For example?

Let’s just take making decisions, strategic planning. I brought in many strategic planners over the years to guide us in the process, each with excellent models of strategic planning. Here’s the problem: They didn’t deal with the issue of how we listen to the voice of God—corporately.

And how do we define success beyond just the metrics of numbers? For most of us it’s just, well, we have more people, more budget. It’s just numbers. But there’s a lot more to biblical success than numbers.

Just because there’s an opportunity for expansion doesn’t mean it’s God’s will either. So how do I sort all that out?

That was like another level for me. So in 2007 I decided that I would become the executive pastor for a couple years. I wanted to dig in to budget-making, supervision of staff, hiring and firing, and really do the integration theologically of the inner life to the outer life. I did not want to just skim in these areas.

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It’s one thing to preach sermons and cast vision. It’s another thing to get into the nitty-gritty of building healthy culture and confronting the elephants in the room.

My learning curve from 2007 to 2015 has been very steep. I took notes for six-and-a-half years on what I was learning, and I spent the past 18 months writing the book, addressing issues that I felt hadn’t been adequately addressed in leadership.

Our way of thinking about things feeds our actions and reactions. Those actions through repetition become habits, and they can become rather engrained. From your experience, how do we begin to break some of those unhealthy cycles as we’re moving toward health?

The question is, How do we change? And the answer is, Very, very slowly. I’m still changing. I’ve been 19 years in this journey and I’m still learning. Along the way, I ended up being exposed to a fellow named Benjamin Bloom and his “Taxonomy of Learning Domains”—how people learn. He talks about the five-stage process of how we learn and change.

First, we become aware of something. “Hey, it’s really good to slow down in life.” Then we ponder it. We read a book, listen to some tapes, maybe even preach it. Then we value it. “Slow down for God? Everybody should slow down for God.” But Bloom would say, to really know it, you’ve got to change your behavior and your actions. There’s a big gap between those who actually reprioritize their entire lives—level four—and then level five, where we actually own it. He says most people never get beyond three; they value it. They believe it, but they don’t change their lifestyle.

So I encourage people, Relax. Change is slow. Just make one or two small, incremental steps at a time. You plant those seeds and over time it’s going to bear fruit.

The changes we’re talking about in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality are a whole life change: how you live your personal life, how you do your walk with Jesus, how you listen to God, how you lead other people, how you make decisions, how you build teams. Your whole life. You have to understand, this is a journey. It’s going to take some time.

Read Part 2 here »