How Healthy is Your Leadership?

Being an emotionally unhealthy leader is not an all-or-nothing condition; it operates on a continuum that ranges from mild to severe, and may change from one season of life and ministry to the next. The following is a one of the assessments I developed for the upcoming Emotionally Healthy Leader (Zondervan, 2015) book I have been writing for the last year and a half. Use the list of statements that follow to get an idea of where you’re at right now. Next to each statement, write down the number that best describes your response.


Use the following scale:

5 = Always true of me

4 = Frequently true of me

3 = Occasionally true of me

2 = Rarely true of me

1 = Never true of me


_____ 1.          I take sufficient time to experience and process difficult emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness.

_____ 2.          I am able to identify how issues from my family of origin impact my relationships and leadership—both negatively and positively.

_____ 3.          (If married): The way I spend my time and energy reflects the value that my marriage—not ministry—is my first priority as a leader.

                        (If single): The way I spend my time and energy reflects the value that living out a healthy singleness—not ministry—is my first priority as a leader.

_____ 4.          (If married): I experience a direct connection between my oneness with Jesus and oneness with my spouse.

                         (If single): I experience a direct connection between my oneness with Jesus and closeness with my friends and family.

_____ 5.          No matter how busy I am, I consistently practice the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence.

_____ 6.          I regularly read Scripture and pray in order to enjoy communion with God and not just in service of ministry tasks.

_____ 7.          I practice Sabbath—a weekly twenty-four-hour period in which I stop my work, rest, and delight in God’s many gifts.

_____ 8.          I view Sabbath as a spiritual discipline that is essential for both my personal life and my leadership.

_____ 9.          I take time to practice prayerful discernment when making ministry plans and decisions.

_____ 10.        I measure the success of planning and decision-making primarily in terms of discerning and doing God’s will (rather than exclusively by measures such as attendance growth, excellence in programming, or expanded impact in the world).

_____ 11.        With those who report to me, I consistently devote a portion of my supervision time to help them in their inner life with God and to accomplish their ministry goals.

_____ 12.        I do not avoid difficult conversations with team members about their performance or behavior.

_____ 13.        I feel comfortable talking about the use of power in connection with my role and that of others.

_____ 14.        I have articulated and established healthy boundaries in relationships that have overlapping roles (for example, with friends and family who are also employees or key volunteers, etc.).

_____ 15.        Instead of avoiding endings and losses, I embrace them and see them as a fundamental part of the way God works.

_____ 16.        I am able to prayerfully and thoughtfully let go of initiatives, volunteers, or programs when they aren’t working well, doing so with compassion and right motives.



Take a moment to briefly review your responses. What stands out most to you?

UnHealthy Leadership and the 4 Destructive Commandments of Contemporary Church Culture

In this month’s conversation between Rich Villodas and Pete Scazzero they discuss Pete’s upcoming book Emotionally Healthy Leader.  Pete shares the 4 Characteristics of Emotionally UnHealthy Leaders and the 4 Destructive Commandments of Contemporary Church Culture.  Click play below to watch the video and get ready to take notes as you watch this deeply challenging conversation between Rich and Pete.  To download or subscribe to the podcast go iTunes.


Change Your Brain through Silence and the Daily Office

In our current hurried, multi-tasking culture, an increasingly large numbers of Christ-followers are not spending time to cultivate their personal relationship with Jesus. They are Christians but are stuck, living on a spiritual auto-pilot.

I am teaching the EHS Course at New Life this Fall to about 130 people. It has been an eye-opening experience for me to dig deeply into people’s spiritual practices around spending time with God, and calling them to an intentional rhythm with God integrating silence and the Daily Office (through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day book).

Not surprisingly, silence is the greatest challenge for most people along with the cultivation of a rhythm of stopping to be with God. My stopping to be with God four times a day is indispensable for my life. (In a future blog I will describe my rhythms). Let me invite you to watch this 3-4 minute introduction on the Daily Office and download a digital version to your mobile device from Amazon , Christian Book Distributors or Barnes & Noble.

Screenshot (5)

Silent prayer goes back to the first century as a central way to enter into the contemplative dimension of life. As Henri Nouwen said so well: “Without silence it is virtually impossible to grow spiritually.” I agree. It is an invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Silent Prayeris a state of being in direct contact with God who dwells within us. It is about intention, that is, being totally open to God. It is the boot camp of the Garden of Gethsemane (“not my will, but your will”) as we consent to the presence and the action of God within us.

The following are 3 guidelines that I have learned from the Trappist monk, Thomas Keating, and his ministry of Contemplative Outreach to help me with my times of being still before the Lord (Ps. 37:7).

  1. Be in faith and love to God who dwells in the center of your being.
  2. Take up a love word towards Him (e.g. Abba, Father, Lord,) and let it be gently present, supporting your being with God in faith-filled love.
  3. Whenever you become aware of distractions, simply gently return to the Lord with the use of your prayer word.

Research with Buddhists and Christian monks has demonstrated conclusively how the practice of silence transforms the neurochemistry of the brain. That is true, of course. Why? Silence was always meant to be part of Gods’ plan for transformation of our lives.

So let me invite you to change your brain and change your life. How? By venturing on this exciting journey with silence and the Daily Office.


Comment on How Healthy Is Your Experience of Living Out of Loving Union With Jesus? by Amy Hagerup

Awesome. I loved this. Good exercise.

…read more

Ten Principles for Exercising Power and Wise Boundaries

I have been working hard in these months writing The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Zondervan, 2015). The following is a sidebar from a chapter on power and wise boundaries that I trust you will enjoy:

  1. Do an honest inventory of the power God has granted you.
    To be faithful we need to be profoundly aware of the various sources of power God has granted us. We are at risk to use it poorly if we ignore or minimize our power.
  2. Unresolved family of origin dynamics that are buried alive resurface when joined with power. The workplace and church are key places where our triggers and “hot buttons” will emerge.
  3. Enlist wise counsel to monitor dual relationships. Mentors, therapists, wise elders and mature friends give us perspective and counsel. It is critical we know our limits and defer to others discernment.
  4. Watch for early warning signs of danger. People change. We change. The church changes. What works now may not work fifteen years from now. Have honest conversations about the risks, drawbacks, and challenges before you.
  5. Be sensitive to cultural, ethnic, gender and generational nuances. The cultural differences around power, authority, age, history is vast. Be a learner. 
  6. Release people (paid and volunteer) in a Christian way. First, determine if the person’s role can be redefined. Secondly, see if they can be reassigned. And finally, it may become clear they need to be released. Once that is determined, be honest, fair, caring and clear about their strengths and stress points in this present role.
  7. The burden to set the boundaries and keep them clear is on the person with greater power. Even though a person in our ministry may manipulate a situation, the greater burden falls on us. Why? God has entrusted us with greater power.
  8. Be friends with friends, a pastor to parishioners, a mentor to mentorees, and a supervisor to volunteers/employees. Monitor and avoid dual relationships as much as possible. Ask yourself, “What role is dominant for me in this relationship? Who am I for this person in the relationship? Who are they for me?”
  9. Meditate on Jesus’ life as you encounter the suffering and loneliness of leadership. It is lonely and a suffering to exercise the self-discipline needed to exercise your power in a way that liberates others. Take extra time to monitor the movements of your heart in reading the life and passion of Jesus.
  10. Ask God for grace to forgive your “enemies,” and yourself. You will make mistakes and hurt people. Jesus prayed all night and called Judas. People will feel betrayed by you; you will be betrayed. I have yet to meet a Christian leader who has not experienced betrayal like Christ. “A servant is not greater than his master.” 

5 Levels of Transformation

Explore how the 5 Levels of Transformation impact change and leadership in this months Emotionally Healthy Leadership podcast with Pete Scazzero and Rich Villodas. This 13 minute conversation examines learning and the slow process of personal transformation and transforming church culture.

Click the image below to watch on YouTube or click to listen to the podcast on iTunes.




How Emotional Healthy is Your Planning and Decision Making?

For years I wondered, “How is Christian planning and decision-making different? How do I safeguard we are “carrying out plans” that are God’s and not our own (Isaiah 30:1)? The integration of the word Christian with planning and decision-making was much more challenging than I imagined.

Health is best measured on a continuum. Use this brief assessment to get an idea of where you are today. Next to each statement, write down the number that best describes your response. Use the following scale:

5 = Always true of me

4 = Frequently true of me

3 = Occasionally true of me

2 = Rarely true of me

1 = Never true of me

_____ 1.      Discernment and the doing of God’s will is my most important work as a leader.

_____ 2.       I am acutely aware of the temptation to pursue more opportunities than God intends because of my own shadow or the pressure of others.

_____ 3.      I consider the inner preparation of the planning/decision making process (e.g. sufficient time alone with God) as more important than external preparation (e.g. gathering relevant data).

_____ 4.      I allow enough time for a prayerful, reflexive process for planning and decision-making.

_____ 5.      I engage in short-term pain for the long-term good of our ministry and organization.

_____ 6.      I am careful not to engage in important conversations, or make plans and decisions, when I am triggered, upset, or angry.

_____ 7.      My decisions and plans are informed by my marriage/singleness, rhythms of loving union with Christ, and Sabbath practice.

_____ 8.      I take into thoughtful consideration the impact of decisions and initiatives will have on the leaders who serve alongside me.

_____ 9.      I don’t make decisions without prayerfully, and prudently, thinking through the long-term implications.

_____ 10.   I am profoundly aware that my will often conflicts with God’s will.

Take a moment to briefly review your responses. What stands out most to you? For a practical example of how to do this with your team, see my most recent blog post: The Woodcarver, a Leadership Team Experience.

The Woodcarver: A Leadership Team Experience

When we do staff retreats at New Life, we create “being” experiences before our “doing” of the actual work. We began, for example, one staff retreat by reviewing Jesus’ rhythms of solitude and ministry (Luke 4:1,11; Lk.4:42-43; 5:12-13; 6:12-18) followed by a discussion on an ancient, Chinese story called “The Woodcarver.” This truth of doing out of our being is so profound that I look for as many creative ways as possible to keep it before us through a wide assortment of mediums.

Feel free to use this with your leadership team.

Slowly read the poem twice, underlining and taking notes on what speaks to you. Afterwards, answer the questions that follow.


Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

-The Way of Chung Tzu

We asked the entire group: What words or phrases call out to you from this poem? (5-10 minutes)

We then gave them time alone for personal reflection around these questions: (25 minutes)

  1. From what do you need to do to guard your spirit?
  2. From what do you need to fast?

What do you need to forget?

  1. What practices or ways might you use that parallels Khing’s fasting and forgetting to arrive at a place of inner freedom?
  2. Consider the work that is before you. What difference does it make when you approach your work from Khing’s place: “I was collected”?

They then met in groups of three and shared together (25 minutes)


As a result of doing this exercise multiple times alone and with others, I have written in the jacket of my journal: “Guard your spirit from trifles. Fast from over-consuming. Forget others. Be a Woodcarver.”

Why Building Deep Must Precede Building High

When we build upward without building deeply, cracks form and churches lean dangerously.

Manhattan consists almost entirely of bare granite, a very hard and strong type of rock. To carry the weight of a 75 or 100 story skyscraper, foundations known as “piles” are used. These are concrete or steel columns hammered into the ground with a massive crane until they penetrate solid rock.

building pilings

Some pilings go twenty-five stories under the ground. The heavy weight of the skyscraper is then distributed through each of the deep “piles” in the ground below. Together they are capable of supporting the structure’s enormous weight.

If the pilings are drilled in poorly, cracks eventually appear in the structure. Entire buildings may lean. Then they must be torn down or lifted completely so the piles can be reset – a costly and time-consuming process.

Why don’t we drill deeply into our own life in Christ, and into the lives of key leaders around us? The answer is simple: It is very hard and very slow work to hammer spiritual pilings into the hard granite of our own lives – let alone into the hard granite of our team.

Think about it.

What are your other choices? How long will it be before the building leans, if it isn’t leaning already?





Lead Out of Your Singleness

For the first 1500 years of the church, singleness was considered the preferred state; it was considered the best way to serve Christ if you were a leader. Singles sat in the front of the church. Marrieds were sent to the back. After the Reformation in 1517 AD, single people were sent to the back and marrieds moved to the front – at least among Protestants.

Yet the New Testament describes, and deeply affirms, two types of Christian singles.

The first is a vowed celibacy, for those who “renounce marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.” They freely choose not to marry but to set themselves apart in a total, exclusive and lifelong gift to Christ and His church. A very few are invited to receive this grace and gift from him (Matt. 19:11-12).

The vast majority of Christian single leaders fall into the category of dedicated celibates. This term encompasses a broad range of people. Some are single because of divorce or the death of a spouse. Many others have not met someone, or at least the person, with whom they are compatible. A few postpone marriage until they get established in their career.

An increasing number of leaders in the body of Christ are single. That is a wonderful gift desperately needed in the church today. Daniel, Jeremiah, Jesus, Anna the prophetess, John the Baptist, and Paul were all single. They each bore rich fruit for God.

While significant challenges and pressures come to bear on being single today, God purposes that we enjoy the freedoms, the privileges, the opportunities, and the joys that accompany Christian singleness. This requires we make health a priority over rushing out to lead others without thinking of ourselves. Why? So we can offer Christ to others out of a cup that overflows with his life and love.

The following are my top five recommendations.

First, devote yourself to excellent self-care. Build into your leadership strong rhythms and boundaries for proper self-care. “Watch your life…closely” (1 Tim.4:16).

Secondly, invest in community and at least one or two companions for the journey. Leadership can be lonely, especially after a long day. Jesus had his twelve, as well as close friendships with the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Offer hospitality regularly. Create a home with others.

Thirdly, learn emotionally healthy skills to bond with others. Research has also demonstrated that our need for bonding extends throughout our lives – from infants, to young adults to elderly people in their 90’s. Be intentional to learn skills to bond well with others. (See Emotionally Healthy Skills 2.0)

Fourthly, remain open to meet someone.The desire to meet someone is good.  Continue to pray that God will open doors for you to meet someone. Look for opportunities to meet Christians of the opposite sex when possible –whether you are in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and beyond. I have seen God connect couples at all stages of life.

Finally, bear witness to the Lord Jesus through your singleness. This does not mean denying your unique challenges. God intends your singleness to serve as a sign of the how broadly and widely he loves the church and the world. You are not giving your body away. You are not “hooking up.” Why? Because you are married to Jesus Christ and your body belongs to him. Every day you choose to live as a prophetic sign of the kingdom of God to the church and the world.

Take up the leadership role God has for you in the Body of Christ, ministering to marrieds and singles, old and young people –out of your unique vocation as a single person. God does not grant to every person the physical fruit of children, but He does call all of us to birth spiritual children and serve as spiritual mothers and fathers in our communities.

You might also want to view our recent  Emotionally Healthy Leadership podcast – Leading Out of Your Singleness.