The Emotionally Healthy Leader: Seven Reflections

This week, I finished Pete Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader, and it couldn’t come at a better time for me. As many of you know, I recently took over as Lead Pastor for Abundant Life in Silicon Valley, California. After some prayerful consideration, Korie and I, along with our elders, thought it would be good for me to begin my role in March, which meant a season of commuting back and forth from New York, until our kids finish school. As you can imagine, the pace of our life has picked up tremendously, and trying to find some semblance of emotional health is a matter of life and death for me and our family.  Pete’s book ministered deeply to my soul and, as I devoured its pages, I found myself reflecting on seven guiding principles—that I either need to return to or begin—if I am going to lead from more than just competence, but a deep inner well:

1. “To thy own self be true.” No I’m not talking here of a radical individualism that places ourselves in the center of the universe and leaves God out at the periphery.  Instead, I need to be comfortable in how God has uniquely wired me. Words and phrases—like introverted, morning person, reader, loves to study, reflective— come to mind here. I get my energy being alone. If I go through periods that are all people with no significant times for solitude, my soul shrivels. In the midst of this busy season, I’ve got to find times to pull away. What about you? How are you wired? What gives you energy?

2. Margin. Reading Pete’s book, I found myself at times reflecting back on Dr. Richard Swenson’s gem, Margin, where he defines margin as the space between our load and our limits. If we don’t have these gaps, we won’t know what Pete describes as emotional health. To paraphrase, Pete, in one of his passages, either we voluntarily find margin, or margin will forcibly find us.

3. Sabbath delight. Here, I’m not paraphrasing Pete, but I’m using his exact verbiage. While I’ve attempted periods of Sabbath in the past, I felt both challenged and inspired to make Sabbath delight a regular part of my weekly rhythm. To point two, this will create that regular margin in my life. Six p.m. Friday to six p.m. Saturday has been good for me. I’ve really enjoyed shutting it down. No social media, emails or work. Just rest, enjoyment and focusing on God.  I can feel something going on within as I emerge from Sabbath, something I can’t yet put into words, but it’s marvelous.

4. Heart check. Pete talks a lot about the importance of processing your feelings in real time. This concept was foreign to me until I read Chip Dodd’s Voices of the Heart some years ago, where he talks in detail about being in tune with our feelings, something many men struggle with. For several years, I was in a men’s group where we used Dodd’s model to think through our feelings and to articulate them. The residual of this left me with an ongoing conversation I constantly have with myself as things happen to me in real time. Now, I “feel” as if I’m no longer just leading from competence, but am able to connect my head with my heart, which enables me to connect better with others.

5. You can’t give what you don’t have. Much of my preaching and teaching and leading in my younger days was me merely parroting what some expert, or well known deceased preacher said. I spoke in plagiarized one-sentence zingers, and came across as if I was deep, but it was a façade. If I could go back and have some sushi with my twenty-something-self, I would make a heartfelt plea to cultivate an inner life that dives deeply with God, pouring over the Scriptures and lingering through prayer in His presence. This is where real power comes, not by dragging off of someone else’s walk with God.

6. Keep turning back to the “History Channel.” Pete talks a lot about being aware of how your family of origin has impacted you. We are all born and raised into a context, with each family marking us for good and for bad. And so it is with me, and while I won’t divulge any details here, I was reminded of some things that have impacted me negatively that I must work through.

7. Lead out of your marriage. The real test of my emotional health is not in the church, but in the home. I’ve always felt the moment my wife could no longer sit on the front row and listen to me preach was the day I needed to quit the ministry.  But what’s more is that Pete talks about emotional health, not just for the husband engaged in vocational ministry, but his wife as well. Church impacts both Korie and me. In one of those recent “what if,” conversations, I asked Korie if she would marry another pastor if I died? I won’t tell you her answer, but I will say that lead into a very insightful conversation on the pressures of ministry and church on the spouse. Pete’s journey with his bride, Geri, into emotional health, revealed to me that I need to venture down this road with Korie.

I highly commend The Emotionally Healthy Leader to you. It’s one of those rare books that speak to your soul. Whatever your season of life, no matter how busy or relaxed you may be, it’s well worth your time.  

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