The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World

I anxiously awaited the publication of this book and even pre-ordered a copy before it was released. Throughout the last few months it is a book I have been reading slowly to take a more contemplative approach to it as to apply what I was reading while reading other books along the way as well.

If you are looking to improve your leadership and lead from a more Christ-centered position this book is a great choice!

“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.’” Unfortunately for many leaders this is easy to do. And honestly when the pace of life accelerates it can be a description of me as well. God always seems to highlight these times and bring me back on course but this is such an easy trap to fall into again and again.

In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero encourages pastors and other 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. Some aspects of this book also reminds me of John Ortberg’s book “Soul Keeping” which is another great read along with this.

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.

Demands of ministry and marital status present a unique set of challenges for Christian leaders. Married leaders often prioritize ministry demands 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 talk about Sabbath rest—myself included. I know fewer who actually practice it, scheduling a regular weekly time of rest their busy week. Is it any wonder why so many experience burnout?

The Outer Life 
The cultivation of our inner lives transforms the ways we lead others. 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.”