The Emotionally Healthy Leader – A Book Review

emotionally healthy leaderPeter Scazzero and his church, New Life Fellowship, have emerged in the past decade as models of how to navigate through the world of church, leadership, and spirituality in an emotionally healthy manner. Scazzero started with “The Emotionally Healthy Church” back in 2003 and followed up with “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” in 2006. In the midst of his sharing about his own experience, in 2010, his wife wrote “I Quit,” the story of how she had drawn the line when she could no longer put up with the emotional unhealthy ways of her husband’s approach to life and ministry.

Now Scazzero has written “The Emotionally Healthy Leader.” In this book, Scazzero shares his experience of understanding and embracing limitations (your shadow), of finding ways to lessen stress and tension, and of moving towards allowing yourself to experience better emotional health. Early on in “The Emotionally Healthy Leader, “ Peter Scazzero writes about a time in his life where he, “always seemed to have too much to do and too little time to do it,” a place that many of us have probably come to in our own lives. Scazzero shares not only out of his successes but, more importantly, out of his failures.

Scazzero shares examples of emotionally healthy and unhealthy leaders both through biblical examples as well as examples that he has encountered along the way. According to Scazzero, unhealthy leaders are those who have low self-awareness, who prioritize ministry over marriage/singleness, who do more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, and who lack a work/Sabbath rhythm. These four characteristics frame the rest of the book as Scazzero asks the reader to answer questions about facing their shadow, leading out of their marriage/singleness, slowing down for loving union with God, and practicing Sabbath delight.

It’s important and essential for leaders to practice emotionally healthy leadership by allowing themselves to be transformed in order that they can help in the spiritual transformation of those whom they lead. Scazzero emphasizes the need for analyzing success properly, not embracing a “bigger is better” model but pushing for deeper and more significant success. He writes, “When it comes to the church and numbers, the problem isn’t that we count, it’s that we have so fully embraced the world’s dictum that bigger is better that numbers have become the only thing we count.” Scazzero stresses the importance of who you are rather than what you do and how being with God improves your emotional health more than doing for God does.

A key point that Scazzero highlights is the need to address and face conflict rather than sweeping it under the rug. Too often, leaders (especially spiritual leaders) will adopt a “don’t rock the boat” approach as long as things are moving along. Scazzero points out the need to ask painful and difficult questions for the sake of everyone involved. If the “elephants in the room” are not addressed, the church and its leaders will need to pay a significantly higher price later on.

Scazzero takes the reader through the journey of self-discovery towards emotional health. He discusses the idea of facing your shadow. As Scazzero describes it, the shadow is, “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors.” Scazzero talks of the shadow side of some of the gifts that we have, things that most of us use to our advantage that can easily be used to the detriment of others if we are unaware of them. Scazzero says that, ““…we have a stewardship responsibility to honestly face our shadow.”

Throughout the book are various exercises designed to help the leaders move through these various areas towards emotional health. He talks about the importance of establishing a rule of life, a means by which one can stay consistent and maintain a healthy balance between life and work. One of those things that he sees as essential is the establishment of a weekly Sabbath to incorporate necessary rest into one’s schedule. The surveys and assessments include questions that can help the reader move towards healthiness in the areas of facing and addressing their shadow, leading out of their singleness/marriage, growing in their oneness with God, and practicing Sabbath rest.

The book is divided into two halves: the inner life and the outer life. After walking through the four essential questions that Scazzero lays out regarding your shadow, your singleness/marriage, your loving union with God, and your Sabbath, Scazzero moves on to how these things play out in ministry. He discusses the importance of planning and decision making, of culture and team building, of power and wise boundaries, and of endings and beginnings.

2/3 of the way through The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero writes, “We share openly about what God is teaching us – in sermons, staff meetings, private conversations, and with members of our small group.” I would say that may very well be the secret of his success: his humility. Scazzero leads from his strengths but is not afraid to confront, identify, and share his weaknesses and limitations. His humility is evident and he never comes across as a “know-it-all” but rather as one who wants to share his own struggles in order that others can avoid the same ones. He shares from his heart out of a desire to see others avoid some of the same mistakes that he has made in his life.

Since Scazzero has been writing books for the last decade, the honest and reflective insights that he shares have been incredibly helpful to me. Having grown up in the home of a pastor and now being a pastor myself, what Scazzero shares is not something you can get in a basic seminary course, although it should be. Learning and embracing what Scazzero shares is essential and life-giving for those who are willing to take the time.

I think that “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” is not just a good resource, but an essential resource for any pastor or ministry leader who wants to really see the kind of transformative growth to which God calls us in both ourselves and the people we lead. If you are serious about seeking out emotional health and aren’t afraid of embarking on a journey of renewal and restoration, then you need to get a copy of this book.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Net Galley. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Jared, Josh, and Jesus

jared and joshUp until a few weeks ago, I had no idea who or what Ashley Madison was. While I probably knew that websites and services like Ashley Madison existed, I didn’t know them by name. Maybe I hoped that they weren’t true, kind of like those stories that you hear about as a kid that you keep hoping beyond hope aren’t true. Maybe it was a case of “ignorance is bliss” for me and I didn’t want to know that Ashley Madison existed.

I’ve never seen an episode of 19 Kids and Counting either. I’ve heard the Duggars name tossed around here and there, but I just kind of figured they were one of those crazy homeschool families that all of my homeschooling friends didn’t want to be associated with and all of my non-Christian friends wanted to label as “those weird Christians.”

While I eat at Subway from time to time, it’s not among my favorite places to go, regardless of its ties to my home state of Connecticut. I’ve not found myself gravitating towards the Subway diet and Jared’s connection and promotion of the food chain has had no influence on my preference or lack thereof for it.

And then, like that, all that I needed to do to hear about Ashley Madison, Josh Duggar, Jared Fogle, and the downward spiral of all of the above was to turn on the TV or hop on the internet. These names were plastered all over the screens. While it’s been said that no publicity is bad publicity, I don’t think that this is the kind of publicity that you ever want.

I mean, who wants everyone to know that the values that you touted and stood so strongly in favor of were actually a sham and that you had been living your life as a phony and a hypocrite? Who wants everyone to know that the position that you had gained to influence the world for good had actually been turned around and used for bad? Who wants everyone to know that despite the “put together” outward appearance that you had been conveying, there was a whole lot of other stuff going on beneath the surface? Who wants everyone to know what evil REALLY lurks in the hearts of men?

News of Josh Duggar’s involvement with Ashley Madison, as is often the case with the downfall of vocal Christians, was cause for rejoicing for those who consider Christianity to be a sham and who are looking for any and every possible way to disprove it because of the imperfections and flaws of its followers. It made me wonder if every ideology that was ever embraced should be questioned because of the flawed and imperfect people who embrace it.

It’s so easy in the midst of all of this to point fingers and say, “That would never be me,” but I’ve lived enough life of my own to know that the distance between me and an act of indiscretion is probably much shorter than I can even imagine. How many times have we heard someone publicly condemn a behavior only to be found guilty of that very behavior not too far in the future? How many times have we judged a person’s behavior without actually examining our own heart to see what really lurks there beneath the surface?

I’m not saying that what Josh and Jared did wasn’t wrong, it was and there are consequences for bad behavior, but instead of pointing fingers, maybe it’s an opportunity for us to examine ourselves and see if there are safeguards, guardrails, and other protections that we need to put in place in our own lives to avoid making some of the same mistakes. Not that we’re all just one step away from an affair or from being charged for child pornography and soliciting minors for sex, but maybe there are other things that seem more innocuous in comparison from which we are only one step away.

There have been times when I’ve stopped to look at my heart and I’ve been ashamed of what I saw there. There have been times when I’ve realized that as much as God has transformed some areas of my life, there are some other areas that need far more transformation than I’d like to admit. There have been times that I have begun to fully appreciate and understand just how deeply I need to be saved. There have been times when I see just how far I fall short of representing him and of being made more and more like him every day.

I don’t know what’s lurking in the hearts of Josh Duggar or Jared Fogle, but I know what’s lurking in my heart, and it’s not always pretty. I guess admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step towards fixing it. I’m not perfect and I won’t stand up and attest to any contrary admission. I need Jesus. On my own, I could be the subject of countless headlines, the recipient of endless public ridicule and scorn. On my own, I would simply do my best to present a whitewashed image of who I am while desperately hoping and praying that no one peeked to see what was really inside. Just like the Wizard of Oz said to the misfits seeking answers and gifts, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” On my own, I could do a really good job pretending that I had it all together and that the filthiness of sin hadn’t touched me.

I need Jesus.

I am striving every day to allow my life to be changed and transformed by a power that lies outside of me. I am striving every day to stop pointing my fingers so desperately at others in an effort to make me feel better about myself. I am striving every day to let the trips, falls, and failures of others act as a mirror instead to help me see just what’s lurking inside of me that desperately needs changing. I need these things to be revealed in me so that I know what needs to be changed.

Tomorrow, there will be another story in the news of someone who has fallen from grace, someone who has pretended to be something that they’re not. Tomorrow, there will be another story in the news of someone who has done something that appalls us, that may even make our skin crawl. Maybe instead of pointing our fingers at them, we need instead to take a closer look at ourselves to find out just what we’re pretending doesn’t exist within our own hearts. I think if we spent a little more time looking at our own areas in need of transformation, we might fixate less on what needs to be changed in others, and in the end, maybe we could actually help others with their stuff after we’ve allowed transformation to happen in ourselves.

Mormonism 101 – A Book Review

mormonism 101In the past, Mormonism has been labeled a cult and its teachings have been criticized for being contrary to the Bible, a book which Mormons claim to believe. There seemed hardly a doubt that there was a distinction between Christianity and Mormonism.

In recent days, there have been some who have tried to blur the lines between Christianity and Mormonism. One of the most well-known is Glenn Beck, talk show host, author, and political activist. Beck considers himself a born again Christian. In fact, Beck recently gave the commencement address at Liberty University, an evangelical institution whose founder, Jerry Falwell, was the impetus for the Moral Majority movement in the United States.

So, are Mormons Christians? Are the variations in the theologies of these two groups drastic enough to say that there is a wide gap between them? Are those theological variations among what some would consider to be non-essentials or do they redefine some of the key theological ideologies within one group or the other?

Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson have sought to offer answers for those inquiring. With a revised and expanded edition of their book “Mormonism 101,” originally published back in 2000, they painstakingly examine the beliefs of the Mormon Church, the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS). They outline the theologies and ideas embraced by the Mormon Church alongside those embraced by evangelical Christians.

The book is set up well, similar to a systematic theology book. This setup allows for its easy use as a reference tool so that the reader need not read it from front to back but instead can simply peruse the chapters and sections that are most pertinent to their needs at the moment.

McKeever and Johnson offer an exhaustive analysis of Mormonism. They reference the publications of the LDS with footnotes allowing the reader to do their own research should they desire to do so. In the reference to the LDS publications, the authors also offer biblical references to allow the reader to see the contradictions that exist between the claims of Mormonism and Christianity.

This book is a hard read to go from cover to cover. It is mostly academic in nature and I would not consider it “light reading.” That being said, as a reference, this is a great resource to thumb through when seeking answers to the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. If you are looking for a comprehensive analysis of the beliefs of LDS through a Christian lens, this book is an excellent resource.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Redemption Free

The other day, I was reading through a thread on a Facebook page that was created for my hometown. I grew up in a town that can easily be described as privileged and many would suggest that an attitude of entitlement was felt throughout much of the community. Even though most of the friendships that I still maintain from there can’t be categorized by that same privilege and entitlement, it seems that a few bad apples spoil the bunch and we, as a society, consistently characterize and categorize based upon the negative behavior of the few rather than the exemplary behavior of the many. But I digress…

The thread that I was reading had to do with the current status of a man who, when he was in high school, had been accused of raping girls. At the time, he was the co-captain of the wrestling team, a popular athlete in the school. On the brink of his trial, he fled to Europe where he lived off of his parents’ money for years, continuing his life of privilege as he was hiding out, until he was discovered and extradited back to the United States to finally stand trial.

Someone had posted an article about this man’s current life, what he is doing and trying to do and how he is living. The article listed not only his successes in the business he was pursuing but his failures as well, indicating that some of the behavior which had characterized him so many years ago seemed to still be present in him. The article was posted for information purposes, but the thread underneath quickly escalated into a battleground as strong opinions emerged on both sides of the argument as to what this man deserved.

I took the time to read through the remaining thread (some of the initial posts had been deleted before I had arrived). I was fascinated at the vitriol that flowed through the black letters on the screen. It seems that the sexual assault of women is one crime for which justice is rightfully demanded. The severity of the crime was seen clearly through the passion with which people approached this thread. People were lamenting the fact that this convicted rapist was now creating a new and successful life for himself.

As I read through the comments in the thread, I was struck by the lack of grace exhibited. Of course, I realized that if the article that had been posted was true, this convicted rapist was still exhibiting some of the behavior that was indicative of his character. At the same time, when we cry for justice to be served, a conviction is handed out, and time is served, when do we stop vilifying someone for their wrongdoing and sin? At one point is it acceptable, in our eyes, for someone to move on with their life? At what point have we paid for our transgressions?

Reading through the thread, I thought to myself, “I’d hate to be friends with some of these people because I’m not sure how well they would forgive me when I did something wrong.” It struck me that we as a society are passionate about asking for and pursuing tolerance, but it seems that there are things for which we think that tolerance is unnecessary or even a moot point. While we may verbally seek tolerance on what we would consider to be ALL levels, when the chips come down, we want people to be tolerant for the things that we want them to be tolerant for.

I keep trying to reconcile in my head how a society that promotes such tolerance can be so unforgiving and graceless when it comes to perpetrators. Please hear what I am saying in this and don’t read into it what you want. I’m not saying that there should not be consequences for the crimes that people have committed, but I am saying that when justice has been meted out and sentences have been served, at one point do we promote restoration and reformation?

To be honest, the way that I see this is that true reform, restoration, and redemption can only come from one place: Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, those who claim to follow Christ can be just as guilty (if not more so) than those who don’t of pissing on the grace that has been given to them. The headlines have been hot with stories of Josh Duggar and his own indiscretions. His story is a post all its own, but I think a lot of that has to do with vilifying others for things with which you currently struggle yourself all while pretending to be living a model life.

Can people show reform, restoration, and be redeemed without Christ? I think that people can accomplish a lot on their own. I think that people can experience a certain amount of reform and restoration on their own, but redemption doesn’t seem to be achievable unless it’s perfect redemption.

This is why I think that we need a perfect savior and a perfect sacrifice. None of us by ourselves can do it. The problem with living and imperfect sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. We needed a sacrifice that was perfect, that wouldn’t back down, that would perfectly pay the price for what was owed.

The problem is that we willingly accept the gift, we willingly accept the price that has been paid, but when it comes to graciously giving the grace that’s been given to us, we stink. We’re great at receiving grace and horrible at giving it.

But we continue to try, we continue to press on, that’s the process of spiritual growth and maturity. We stumble and we fall, we continue to push forward, but we may fail more often than we succeed. That’s why we need a perfect savior, because…..We. Will. Never. Measure. Up.

I’m grateful for grace and I am trying more and more every day to mete it out as well as I receive it.

Just keep swimming….

What If

usace frf duck.ncOnce upon a time, while I was in college studying civil engineering, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction I would take when I graduated.

I had chosen civil engineering as a major because of the diversity of opportunities that it would afford me. There were so many different possibilities of things to do once I graduated that I wasn’t quite sure which direction to take.

So, during my senior year, when everyone was beginning to narrow down their options and take senior design classes that were specific to their area of concentration, I decided to take multiple senior design classes in all of the areas that I had been considering: hydraulics, project management, and coastal engineering.

I had become interested in coastal engineering while at Lehigh University. I had taken coastal engineering and was introduced to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. My class had gone on a field trip to the New Jersey shore to observe a beach nourishment project. I was fascinated that this was a field of study that I could further pursue.

Having grown up on Long Island Sound in southwestern Connecticut, I was a beach person. I never imagined myself moving too far inland from the coast, no matter where I lived.

When I sought to pursue a graduate degree in engineering, I looked primarily for schools that had programs in water resources or coastal engineering. I applied and was accepted to a few coastal schools like University of Maryland and University of Rhode Island, but because I had not done as well as I would have liked in my undergraduate studies, there were no scholarship or fellowship opportunities for me. I ended up getting my Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of New Haven.

After 10 years in the engineering field, I had risen through the ranks and begun my ascent towards management. I had gone through project management training through my company and received my professional license, but I never felt fulfilled. I felt as if the dreams and desires that I had for my engineering career were elusive and always one more step away from me. Those 10 years were a wrestling match as I tried to discern where I would end up, both professionally and geographically.

I finally ended up doing what most pastor’s kids swear that they will never do: I became a pastor.

Over the 11 years since I became a pastor, there have been occasions here and there where I have thought and wondered about what would have happened had I stayed in engineering and had my career taken a different turn there. As I’ve begun to find my own place in full-time ministry and have begun to live into my strengths, my own fulfillment in what I do has increased and there aren’t many time when I have those moments of wondering.

But sometimes, they still come…

While we were in the Outer Banks last week, one of those moments came…

As we drove to the house where we were staying, we passed the Field Research Facility for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Duck, North Carolina. Those feelings started to bubble up within me and I thought about my dreams of working at the beach, of being part of projects that would be enjoyable and beneficial, both for me and for others.

On one of my morning runs, I ran down to the Field Research Facility and lingered at the sign that gave information about what happened there. As I looked into the distance at the tower that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean, I wondered what it would be like to live and work here, in what might be perceived as “paradise” to many people.

I let myself get lost in the moment and didn’t rush out of it too quickly, but eventually I came back to reality. I thought about the “what ifs” but I also thought about the “what is.”

I realized just how blessed that I am to be where I am. I realized that my journey had never been a straight line and had always taken anything but a linear pathway. I realized that the fulfillment that I was finding in what I do was a far cry from the lack of fulfillment in what I used to do once upon a time. I work with some incredible people and minister with and to some incredible people as well. I have opportunities that I can take advantage at this place and at this time that I might never have again, all by simply being a pastor.

Sure, there will always be days when the “what ifs” will creep up. I still have my engineering license and my degrees, I worked too hard to forget about them, but I’m not sure that I will ever work full-time in the field again.

There are times that I wish that I had multiple lifetimes to pursue all of my dreams and desires, but in the meantime, while someone’s trying to invent a DeLorean time machine, I’ll simply find contentment in knowing that I’m doing what I was created to do…….and I’ll smile!

Flip Flops and No Watches

flip flops and sandThere’s something about going on a vacation where you only pack shorts, T-shirts, a swimsuit, flip flops, and the essentials. When you take off your watch at the beginning of the week and don’t put it on until the end of the week. When you take a deep breath as you enter into relaxation and disconnecting with just about everything but your family. All of these things are an indicator that I’m on my way to a relaxing week.

I do my best to practice Sabbath every week, but to have an entire week of that is a blessing that I sometimes forget about. Stopping to breathe and take everything in is a luxury that life rarely affords us, yet when we don’t do it, we will find ourselves burned out and bitter.

The sound of the ocean waves lapping on the sand of the beach ranks up there as one of the most relaxing sounds that I can hear. Watching the ebb and flow of the tide, listening to the waves, watching the birds and the people, it can consume me to the point of trance-like focus and concentration.

The biggest problem with taking the time to step away and practice extended Sabbath is that there is always reentry. There is always the moment when reality seems to slap you in the face. No matter how far your feet get off the earth, there is always that moment when they need to touch down again and reacquaint themselves with their normal routine.

I’ve grown a lot over the years, I’ve come to know myself better too. I know what I need to make transitions easier. I know the process of reentry and what can make the transition easier for me.

I’ve grown in not being so confined to the plan that was made at the onset of a trip. I try to stay as flexible as I can, not allowing “road blocks” to derail and frustrate me. After all, when you’re stuck in traffic or waiting on a line, if you’re with your family, it could be worse.

I’m settling back in and trying to prepare myself for the busyness that has a tendency of consuming me. I’m doing my best to ease in rather than jumping head first.

I’ll let you know how that goes!