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Friday, August 14, 2015

"The Emotionally Healthy Leader" (Peter Scazzero)

TITLE: The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World
AUTHOR: Peter Scazzero
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (336 pages).

The author of the popular "Emotionally Healthy Church" has come up with another book on the same themes of healthy emotions that lead to healthy Christian lives. This time, instead of dealing with Church-related matters, he targets the leader's inner and outer lives. Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church, based in Queens, New York. A popular speaker, he has influenced many with his "Emotionally Healthy" series of books. This book is no different. He begins with a personal retelling of his own journey to unhealthy leadership. Arranged in four dramatic conversions, he talks about how he first became a zealous Christian after being touched by God in his teens. He went for theological training and learned Spanish. He started his own Church called New Life Fellowship Church and was soon busy with the daily grind of Church work, developing leaders and planting churches. For all the external successes, he was ignoring his internal recesses of the heart. His second conversion is about his awareness of the need to address his emotional health more seriously. He wondered about the shape of things, whether it is ok for others to be cared for spiritually while his own spirituality was suffering. The crisis came to a hilt when his own wife, Geri quit the Church. Thankfully, he recovered only to be faced with a third conversion: "From busy activity to Slowed-Down Spirituality." Influenced by the teachings and writings of the Monastic movement, he began to work more with contemplative spirituality, to let God work him from the inside out. One significant result of that conversion was his publishing of the bestselling book, "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality." Learning about spirituality and teaching about it is one thing. Connecting them all with one's life is totally another. As a result, he skimmed through many essential duties instead of paying adequate attention to them. He needed a fourth conversion: "From Skimming to Integrity in Leadership."  This book is a result of this fourth conversion. The key motive in this book is to change the world with the gospel, not through the many activities and strategies to be employed, but with a transformation of the inner self. Something must happen first inside in order to be fruitful and faithful outside. The first part of the book deals with the Inner Life while Part Two deals with the Outer Life.

Scazzero defines an unhealthy leader as follows:
"The emotionally unhealthy leader 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.'"
Some do not know what they lack. Others are not willing to deal with their own unknowns. Such "spiritual deficits" are manholes that can suck them in. One's temperament can irritate others and isolate fellow workers. Others refuse to deal with conflicts in order to remain cordial and friendly. The four characteristics of emotionally unhealthy leaders are:
  1. Low self-esteem
  2. Ministry takes priority over their marriage/singleness
  3. Their ministry for God takes priority over their relationship with God
  4. They lack a rhythm of work and rest; of work and Sabbath
Scazzero then uses very recognizable Church measurables that often hide the need for healthy emotions and spiritual needs. The four "unhealthy commandments" should ring a bell in many of us.
  1. Success is defined by numbers and quality of programs
  2. What we do becomes more important than who we are
  3. Tolerating superficial spirituality
  4. Don't rock the boat as long as work is done
Taking a lead from Benjamin Bloom's Five-Stage Process model on how we learn and change. He condenses them into four stages. First, a healthy leader will face his own shadows. This means being aware of one's "inner labyrinths" that casts sinister clouds through sinful behaviours like jealousy, judgmentalism, perfectionism, resentment, lust, greed, bitterness, and others. For instance, the desire to get things done may boil down to a need for recognition. A need for perfectionism can hide the fear of shame. A zeal for God's truth or a desire to grow the Church may mask an insecurity inside and a desire for praise respectively. Behind every outward action is an inward motivation. He lays down the consequences of ignoring our shadows, which can not only limit ourselves but constrain others. When we deal with our own shadows head on, there will be more pros than cons. Using research from the neurosciences, Scazzero proposes four pathways to help face our shadows: 1) Tame Them as We Name Them; 2) Use a Genogram to Explore Our Past; 3) Identify Negative Scripts Passed Down To Us; 4) Seek Trustworthy Feedback. 

Second, a healthy leader will lead out of his marriage or singleness condition. He shares about how he and his wife Geri tasted heaven when both of them committed themselves to minister out of the joys of their marriage. He makes an interesting observation that "married couples bear witness to the depth of Christ's love" while single people "bear witness to the breadth of Christ's love." Read how Scazzero unpacks this, but in a nutshell, our marital status is a big factor in our ministry. For the marrieds, leading out of the marriage means marriage is the "first ambition, first passion, and your loudest gospel message." Of leading out of singleness, he laments about the lack of teaching on "vowed celibates" which is a calling not to live constantly waiting for a partner but to be fulfilled in the joy of the Lord by being single.

Third, a healthy leader needs to slow down intentionally to experience a loving union with God. It is not about quiet programs but meaningful prayer. It not about doing our daily devotions or quiet time but meaningful connections and experience in God. Some clues about unloving union include a rushed temperament; a pressure of too much to do; overly defensive; talking more than listening; preoccupied and distracted; etc. A healthy and loving union means being intimate with God in the desert of one's soul. It is about establishing a "Rule of Life" that is like a trellis in which our vine can latch upon and grow. Such a "trellis" includes prayer, rest, relationships, and work.

Fourth, a healthy leader practices Sabbath delight. Confessing his frustrations at how leaders can be quick to agree on the keeping of the Sabbath and at the same time failing to practice it. He shows us the difference between a "secular rhythm" and a "sabbath rhythm." The former has work as the main thing followed by pockets of vacation time. The latter has a consistent rest and work pattern. He points out further the "four foundational characteristics of Sabbath." It is firstly to stop all forms of work, both paid and unpaid. By doing so, we remind ourselves that we are not as indispensable as we think. Secondly, it is to rest. It requires planning and discipline. It is also a diversion from work. The third characteristic is delight. Sabbath is not some chore or tiresome program on the weekly list. It is to be enjoyed as a gift from God. The fourth is to contemplate. That is about worship, about focusing on God. It is what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel calls as "practice eternity in time."  Leading out of Sabbath essentially means not needing to do something productive in order to feel loved. It is that special place in which we know we are loved by God for who we are, not by what we do. Sometimes, when we fail to keep the Sabbath, God may have to step in to force us to rest.

On the Outer Life, once our inner house is in order, our outer life will be directed from that position of stability. Four major areas of leadership are discussed. The first is about planning and decision making. It does not mean simply beginning or closing meetings in prayer. Neither does it mean defining success according to man's parameters. It means keeping in step with God's leading. It means the doing of God's will as the measure of success. Prayer means asking for wisdom and prudence in executing the work to be done. It also means learning to respect our limits, to know when to move forth in faith and when to restrain ourselves. More importantly, it means creating a space in our hearts for God and for the love of people.

The second is Culture and Team Building. Sometimes, Christians tend to be nice people all around that they fail to cage the tigers among the lambs. In doing so, the controlling ones tend to dominate the leadership. By recognizing the culture of the team can then one work on team building. Scazzero identifies four characteristics of emotionally healthy boards. He provides eight tools to develop "emotionally healthy skills." He affirms the need for congruence between work and personal formation. He challenges us to ask the four questions:
  1. Are you willing to face your own shadows?
  2. Are you prepared to lead out of your marriage or singleness?
  3. Will you slow down to keep in step with your team?
  4. Will you commit to practicing the Sabbath delight?

The third is Power and Wise Boundaries. We are reminded that power is a test of character and integrity. The author shares about how his relationship with a staff member broke down when he flashed his authority card, "because I am the senior pastor." For Christians, power is about the "capacity to influence." In this sense, every member is a leader. We need to recognize the six different types of power and the characteristics of healthy power and wise boundaries. It requires us to identify our power; steward our power so that it comes under others; and to manage the dual relationships of different roles and giftings. Scazzero touches on an interesting aspect of family members serving together in the same church and shares that there are many biblical examples of families serving together under one roof: Moses and Aaron; Peter and Andrew; David and Solomon; Priscilla and Aquila; and so on.

The fourth is Endings and New Beginnings. Like the biblical teaching that there is a time for everything, Christians need to do better in recognizing that there is an expiry date to every program or church initiative. Leadership is about navigating the streams of change. Instead of seeing endings as a kind of failure, see it as a new opportunity to rebrand or to recast our nets. Endings are connected to our spiritual formation in Christ.

In one word, this book is powerful. It opens up fresh understandings of our inner selves and the intricate connections to our personhood and our work as leaders. Sometimes, we may think that Scazzero is merely rehashing old teachings and archaic formulas of the bestselling Emotionally Healthy Church book. This book shows some familiarity but can also stand on its own for three reasons. The first reason is that it is targeted at leaders and leadership matters. Many of the questions, examples, and exercises are full of leadership scenarios, from boardrooms to staff relationships; hierarchies and church power structures. The title of the book would have given it away. This brings me to the second reason. Assuming that leadership is about the wise and humble execution of power, and that influence and giftings are legitimate faces of power, this book certainly would be beneficial reading not just for existing leaders but also for leaders to be. In other words, the book prepares readers to be leaders in their respective capacities. Leadership is not a title. It is about influencing others to adapt to change. Spiritual leadership is about facilitating change according to the discerning of God's Spirit at work. The third reason is about harnessing the power of emotions and to lead in such a way as to show others the meaning of servant leadership. For any church or Christian community to survive, new leaders must constantly be developed. If anyone is concerned about the church future, this book certainly ranks among the must reads.

I am full of praise for this book and highly recommend it for general reading by laypeople and compulsory reading for all leaders now and the future. Past leaders can also benefit by sharing their stories and how the ideas in the book can be better put to practice.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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