By Pete Scazzero
I became a leader within one year of coming to Christ.
My first formal leadership role was on the staff of a parachurch ministry. Within a few years after that, I became an elder in the church, went to seminary, and began preaching.
In just a little over a decade’s time, I planted a church.
Sometimes as I look back, I say to myself, What was I thinking? I was gifted, had knowledge, and was leading people to Christ. I even went on to lead four church plants in seven years.
But the foundation of my inner life couldn’t support the ministry that was being built. I began to crumble.
A Manhattan skyscraper is the best analogy I can think of to paint the picture of the importance to a healthy foundation. These buildings require a foundation of steel pilings deep into the ground—as deep as 25 stories.
If the pilings aren’t put in properly, the skyscraper will eventually lean or have cracks in the walls.
In the occasions these foundations are installed sloppily—whether due to being in a rush or trying to save money—construction crews have had to lift the building and do the foundation all over again or even go as far as tearing the skyscraper down and rebuilding it.
That’s such a fitting analogy for leadership. If we don’t have the right foundation—the “spiritual pilings”—in place, our outer life isn’t going to support it.
I define an emotionally unhealthy leader as one who operates in a continuous state of emotional and spiritual deficit. Their being for God isn’t sufficient for sustaining their doing for God.
This describes me at one point in my ministry and life. I was growing in skills of leadership and preaching, but not growing spiritually or emotionally. I didn’t seem to have time for it.
Leaders are emotionally unhealthy when we’re giving out more than we have inside of us. And bad emotional health can’t support our most earnest kingdom-building efforts.
I’ve identified four traits of an emotionally unhealthy leader. Do you see any of these in yourself?
1. They aren’t self-aware.
This is simply being unaware of what’s going on inside of us, unable to process why we do what we do or why we feel what we feel.
When we lack self-awareness, we’re out touch with our own bodies—we’re tired, stressed, gaining weight, and maybe experience depression or illness or headaches.
A leader who lacks self-awareness doesn’t make the connection between what’s happening physically with what’s happening emotionally.
Is God trying to speak to you through sadness or fear? Why are you overreacting about certain things?
For myself, the business and pace of activity made it almost impossible for me to carve out the time to wrestle with what was going on inside of me. Take time to understand.
2. They prioritize ministry over marriage or singleness.
Most of us fail to view marriage or singleness status as solid foundation, and instead, do whatever else we feel is most important—building a effective ministry, church, non-profit, or company.
We don’t put time and energy in cultivating a great marriage or singleness that can reveal Christ’s love to the world.
I had an insufficient theology of this for years. Like most leaders, I compartmentalized marriage and singleness over to the side. I made large leadership decisions without wrestling with the impact it might have on the integrity of my marriage.
Yes—invest in your ministry. But give your best energy, thought, and creativity to your marriage or singleness.
3. They do more activity for God than their relationship with Him can sustain.
I often say it’s inhuman to be a pastor, since we aim to give out so much to other people that we don’t possess ourselves. It can sometimes even feel violent to our souls.
As church leaders we’re chronically, repeatedly overextended. We have too much to do and too little time to do it.
I trust you know what I’m talking about.
An emotionally unhealthy leader says yes to things before prayerfully, thoughtfully, and prudently considering and discerning whether what’s being asked of us is God’s will.
The notion of a slowed-down spirituality of being with Jesus to sustain doing for Him is a foreign concept to many of us. It preaches well, but it’s much more difficult to put this into practice.
4. They don’t have a Sabbath/work rhythm.
Emotionally unhealthy leaders don’t see Sabbath as a weekly, 24-hour period in which they stop, rest, and enjoy the gift of God and His grace.
They have days off, but not something that’s an anchor or boundary that enables them to lead well.
Why do we persist in these unhealthy patterns?
It’s a culture in the world, but also in the church. These damaging behaviors aren’t bound by denominations or even countries.
And it pervades the evangelical church. It’s something that’s become part of church life and church culture.
If we’re to live in health and vibrancy, leading out of an overflowing cup for Jesus, we need to be aware of these behaviors.
And most people learn the hard way—when things have gotten so out of hand they have no choice but to change them around.
Take inventory of your life by paying attention to your thought patterns and physical manifestations. Slow down. Enjoy the Lord. Prioritize your marriage or singleness.
Everything rises and falls on our own discipleship. I invite you to a life of serious discipleship. Growing into an emotionally healthy, godly leader—a mother or father in the faith—takes years.
Get on the path now to emotionally healthy leadership.
PETE SCAZZERO (@petescazzero) is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City. After serving as senior pastor for 26 years, Pete now leads Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, a global ministry transforming church culture through the multiplication of deeply changed leaders and disciples.