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The Emotionally Healthy ChurchA Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives
By Peter L. Scazzero Warren Bird
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Peter L. Scazzero with Warren Bird
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAs Go the Leaders, So Goes the Church
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The overall health of any church or ministry depends primarily on the emotional and spiritual health of its leadership. In fact, the key to successful spiritual leadership has much more to do with the leader's internal life than with the leader's expertise, gifts, or experience.
It took me a long time to realize that yet another leadership seminar or more information was not the key to "successful" church leadership. In fact, my journey toward leading an emotionally and spiritually healthy church was not triggered in a seminar or book. Instead, it was brought to a head with a very painful conversation at home.
My Wife Couldn't Take It Anymore
"Pete, I'm leaving the church," my wife Geri had muttered quietly.
I sat still, too stunned to respond.
"I can't take any more of this stress-the constant crises," she continued.
Geri had been more than patient. I had brought home constant pressure and tension from church, year after year. Now the woman I had promised to love just as Christ loved the church was exhausted.
We had experienced eight unrelenting years of stress.
"I'm not doing itanymore," she concluded. "This church is no longer life for me. It is death."
When a church member says, "I'm leaving the church," most pastors don't feel very good. But when your wife of nine years says it, your world is turned upside down.
We were in the bedroom. I remember the day well.
"Pete, I love you, but I'm leaving the church," she summarized very calmly. "I no longer respect your leadership."
I was visibly shaken and didn't know what to say or do. I felt shamed, alone, and angry.
I tried raising my voice to intimidate her: "That is out of the question," I bellowed. "All right, so I've made a few mistakes."
But she calmly continued, "It's not that simple. You don't have the guts to lead-to confront the people who need to be confronted. You don't lead. You're too afraid that people will leave the church. You're too afraid of what they'll think about you."
I was outraged.
"I'm getting to it!" I yelled defensively. "I'm working on it." (For the last two years, I really had been trying, but somehow still wasn't up to it.)
"Good for you, but I can't wait any more," she replied.
There was a long pause of silence. Then she uttered the words that changed the power balance in our marriage permanently: "Pete, I quit."
It is said that the most powerful person in the world is one who has nothing to lose. Geri no longer had anything to lose. She was dying on the inside, and I hadn't listened to or responded to her calls for help.
She softly continued, "I love you, Pete. But the truth is, I would be happier separated than married. At least then you would have to take the kids on weekends. Then maybe you'd even listen!"
"How could you say such a thing?" I complained. "Don't even think about it."
She was calm and resolute in her decision. I was enraged. A good Christian wife, married to a Christian (and a pastor I may add), does not do this. I understood at that moment why a husband could fly into a rage and kill the wife he loves.
She had asserted herself. She was forcing me to listen.
I wanted to die. This was going to require me to change!
The Beginnings of This Mess
How did we get to this point?
Eight years previously, my wife and I had a vision to begin planting a church among the working classes in Queens, New York City, that would develop leaders to plant other churches both in New York City and around the world.
Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I had a vision and Geri followed. Wasn't that the biblical way large decisions were supposed to be made in a marriage?
Now, four children later, she was battle weary and wanted a life and a marriage. By this time I agreed. The problem was my sense of responsibility to build the church, and to do so for other people. I had little energy left over to parent our children or to enjoy Geri. I had even less energy to enjoy a "life," whatever that was! Even when I was physically present, such as at a soccer game for one of our daughters, my mind was usually focused on something related to the church.
I remember wondering, Am I supposed to be living so miserably and so pressured in order that other people can experience joy in God? It sure felt that way.
Weeks had turned into months. Months into years. The years had become almost a decade, and the crisis was now in full bloom. The sober reality was that I had made little time during those nine years for the joys of parenting and marriage. I was too preoccupied with the incessant demands of pastoring a church. (How well I now know that I will never get those years back.)
Jesus does call us to die to ourselves. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). The problem was that we had died to the wrong things. We mistakenly thought that dying to ourselves for the sake of the gospel meant dying to self-care, to feelings of sadness, to anger, to grief, to doubt, to struggles, to our healthy dreams and desires, and to passions we had enjoyed before our marriage.
Geri has always loved the outdoors and nature. She values her large, extended family. She loves the field of recreation, creating opportunities for people to have fun. There was rarely time for those pleasures.
Workaholics for God
We were very busy for God. Our lives were filled with serving, doing, and trying to love other people. It felt at times that we weren't supposed to do some of the things that would give me energy and joy, so that others could have these feelings. In actuality, we had died to something God never intended to be killed (as I will explain later).
I remember sitting at the dinner table with my brother-in-law as he talked about his joy in being a referee and coach for girls' basketball teams.
"Must be nice," I mumbled to myself. "Too bad I can't have that kind of freedom."
I had a profound experience of God's grace in Jesus Christ when I became a Christian at age nineteen. His love filled me with passion to serve him. Over time, however, this passion became a burden. The incessant demands of the church planting in New York City, in addition to my neglect of the emotional dimensions of spirituality, slowly turned my joy into "duty." My life became out of balance, and I slowly bought into the lie that the more I suffered for Christ, the more he would love me. I began to feel guilty about taking too much time off and enjoying places like the beach.
My spiritual foundation was finally being revealed for what it was: wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3:10 - 15). I had limped along for so many years that the limp now seemed normal.
Geri's courageous step on that cold January evening saved me. God intervened dramatically through Geri's words, "I quit."
It was probably the most loving, courageous act of ser vice she has ever done for me. It forced me to seek professional help to resolve my "vocational" crisis. Unconsciously, I hoped the counselor would straighten Geri out so I could get on with my life and the church.
Little did I know what was ahead!
Excerpted from The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter L. Scazzero Warren Bird Copyright © 2010 by Peter L. Scazzero with Warren Bird. Excerpted by permission.
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