Pete Scazzero, after leading New Life Fellowship Church for 26 years, co-founded Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, a groundbreaking ministry that moves the church forward by slowing the church down in order to multiply deeply changed leaders and disciples.
Pete hosts the top-ranked Emotionally Healthy Leader Podcast and is the author of a number of bestselling books, including The Emotionally Healthy Leader and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Pete and his wife Geri also developed The Emotionally Healthy Discipleship Course (Part 1 and 2), a powerful resource that moves people from a shallow to a deep relationship with Jesus.
Pete and Geri remain vital members of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, NY.
For more information, visit emotionallyhealthy.org or connect with Pete on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Early Life & Education
Pete Scazzero was born on July 10, 1956 in New Jersey to an Italian-American immigrant family. His grandparents, of both his mother and father, were from a small village outside Naples, Italy. Their family owned an Italian bakery before moving to Leonia, a New Jersey suburb less than two miles from Manhattan. Here he learned early on working to be productive and efficient.
In 1974, Scazzero attended college, taking up B.A. English and History, and became a Christian through a Bible study group. After college, he taught English in a high school, and a year later, he joined the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at Rutgers University and other colleges in New Jersey.
Three years later, he studied theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton north of Boston, Massachusetts, from which he graduated with a Masters.
He met his wife, Geri, also an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff, and moved as a newlywed to Costa Rica for a year to learn Spanish at The Spanish Language Institute.
The following year, they returned to Queens, New York City, where he served as an assistant pastor in a Spanish immigrant community and taught in a Spanish-language seminary. He received his PhD from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1987, Scazzero founded the multicultural New Life Fellowship Church in Corona and Elmhurst in the Queens in New York City together with Geri. Today, New Life Fellowship Church includes several hundred people from 73 countries. He also works with his wife as a marriage and family counselor. Together, the two founded the Center for Emotional Health and Spirituality, which aims to promote and balance people’s emotional health and spiritual growth.
Scazzero describes that formative time as follows: “During this time, Geri and I not only perfected our Spanish but were immersed in the world of 2 million undocumented immigrants from around the globe. We became friends with people who had fled death squads in El Salvador, drug cartels in Colombia, civil war in Nicaragua, and implacable poverty in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. It was just the preparation we needed for starting a new church in a working-class, multiethnic section of Queens where more than 70 percent of the 2.4 million residents are foreign born. It also shaped our understanding of the power of the gospel and the church, and how much the largely invisible poor have to teach the prosperous North American church.” National Geographic named “Elmhurst 11373 the most ethnically diverse zip code in the United States.” In another study, it was called, “perhaps the most ethnically mixed community in the world.”
This context was foundational to the New Life Fellowship’s mission to build a Christcentered community that bridged racial, cultural, economic and gender barriers.
The Journey of New Life Fellowship
In 1987, Scazzero launched New Life Fellowship Church, first in English, and then in Spanish (Iglesia Nueva Vida), serving as lead pastor of both congregations. At the same time, he founded New Life Community Development Corporation to serve the poor in the community through ministries such as: homeless outreach, a food and clothing pantry, a community health center, tutoring, English second language classes, success groups, mentoring of youth, etc.
In 1996, Scazzero began his journey to integrate emotional health and spiritual maturity when he faced a crisis – “tired and stressed as a Christian, losing my soul as I was gaining the world. I experienced the ugliness of a church split and saw how easy it was for people to know their Bible well and appear spiritual but still be defensive, arrogant, mean-spirited, and unloving. Finally, my marriage wasn’t going well. The lack of any spiritual formation in emotional health was evident all around me and in me as well. There was no running away from it.”
Four factors launched Scazzero (“kicking and screaming” as he describes it) into what is widely known today as emotionally healthy discipleship. First, he was overworked, harried, and frustrated as a pastor/leader. Secondly, the Spanish congregation split with two hundred people leaving to start a new church. This left him “angry, bitter, and depressed –preaching love and forgiveness on Sundays and cursing alone in (his) car on Mondays.” Thirdly, his wife Geri was lonely, tired and feeling like a single mom with four young daughters. And finally, he could no longer deny that the discipleship and leadership formation in his own life, along with that of the church, was shallow and unsustainable long-term.
He wrote: “With all my education and background in prayer and the Bible, it was quite a shock to realize that there were whole layers of my life that nevertheless remained untouched by God. I discovered that the problem wasn’t the Christian faith itself but rather the way we had been discipled and were made discipled.”
Scazzero, his wife, and his team embarked on a journey of research, study, and intentional personal growth over the next twenty five years. They dedicated themselves to seeking wisdom and biblical principles leading toward transformation — family systems theory, monastic movements and spirituality, contributions from the global church, two thousand years of church history, historical theology, marriage and family studies, interpersonal neurobiology, ministry to the poor and marginalized, Quaker spirituality. Their goal was simple – to move from a traditional discipleship model to a transformative one in which people experienced deep change for the sake of the world.
Scazzero turned into a pastor who paid more attention to honesty, balance and integrity. His life and his spirituality are now characterized by perceiving and allowing all feelings, careful listening, constructive conflict behavior, a healthy rhythm of life, integrated sexuality and contemplative moments. Mindful being and loving became more important to him than activities and doing.
The Launch of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship
From 1996 to 2003, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (EHD) was developed within the crucible of New Life Fellowship Church. During this time, Scazzero supplemented his research by earning a Doctor of Ministry in Marriage and Family so that he could apply that discipline’s contribution to leadership development and discipleship.
In 2004, Scazzero released his first book on the topic–The Emotionally Healthy Church. It won the Gold Medallion Award of The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association and went on to be translated in over twenty languages.
At that point, Pete began the movement of working with Pastors and Leaders from a broad spectrum of denominations, races, cultures and countries on how to integrate EHD into their churches. After running annual pastor conferences for a number of years, Pete and Geri launched Emotionally Healthy Discipleship as a non-profit dedicated to transform church culture through the multiplication of deeply changed leaders and disciples.
Scazzero, along with his wife Geri, have travelled extensively around North America and the world to countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America as well as to Australia and New Zealand.
His books are used in many theological seminaries, Bible schools, and leadership training programs around the world – from Fuller Theological Seminary to Harvard Divinity School to the Baptist Theological College of Cebu, Philippines.
Scazzero’s podcast, called The Emotionally Healthy Leader podcast, remains one of the top leader podcasts in the world with over 2 million downloads per year from 199 countries and territories.
Through The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero continues to teach pastors and leaders to be more aware of their feelings, their weaknesses and limits, to be skillful into entering deeply into the feelings and perspectives of others, and to establish a consistent and sustainable rhythm of life, overall in a way that their “being with God” is sufficient to sustain their “doing for God.”
Scazzero is firmly convinced that tried and tested rules of life such as work and rest days, breaks and daytime prayers, silence and reading scriptures in order to recognize and live God’s priorities and rhythm, to grow up lovingly and emotionally. For him Joseph, Job and Daniel are good biblical examples of people who have trusted God under difficult circumstances and have grown as a result. Mourning in particular, including lamenting and crying, can be a blessing when people can accept losses. Jesus also spoke of the fact that the grain of wheat in the ground must die in order to bear fruit; the greatest fruit is an intimate and deepened relationship with God.
Scazzero believes that disciplines like a consistent 24-hour Sabbath, regularly timed prayer (such as the Daily Offices), and silent time with God can aid leaders during crises. This may limit leaders as he puts it, “God gives us the gift of limits to restrain our rebellion… The question is what are the gifts? How’s God coming to us through these limits?”