061 | Pete Scazzero on the Americanized Jesus, the Church and Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, and the Gifts of Grief

May 20, 2021

In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, second-time guest Pete Scazzero joins host Carey Nieuwhof to talk about the importance of leaders acknowledging their emotional health, how healthy leaders are developed and the consequences of avoiding grief.

The Church has the opportunity and responsibility to care holistically for the well-being of Christians. Too often, however, it can fall short, setting low standards for success within this realm of care. 

In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, second-time guest Pete Scazzero joins host Carey Nieuwhof to talk about the importance of leaders acknowledging their emotional health, how healthy leaders are developed and the consequences of avoiding grief.

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On Cultivating Emotional Health
Recent Barna research from Barna’s Cities initiative with Gloo found that three-quarters of non-practicing Christians (74%) say they would be interested in churches if they offered preaching and programs on mental health.

Scazzero sees the cultivation of emotional health as a central aspect of the journey of Christian discipleship. He shares, “It’s how we understand what it means to be made in God’s image as a whole person, in the Hebrew sense of we’re whole people, which has different aspects, like relational, social, spiritual, intellectual and emotional […] Discipleship has to address all of that.”

Oftentimes, you can reach a place of external success while still reaching an emotionally unhealthy place. Scazzero talks about this realization in his own life, noting, “My life was spinning out of control. I had the sense of always having too much to do in too little time, feeling overloaded, hurried or rushed. I was doing way more than my inner life could sustain. I wasn’t experiencing a lot of delight and joy in serving Jesus. I was just doing a lot for Jesus.”

When asked how he continued to justify this in his ministry work, Scazzero mentions that even in his times of struggling, he was continuing to receive affirmation for his work. “People were coming to Christ. Maybe they weren’t changing deeply, but they were coming to Christ. It was shallow, but what did I know? […] All the models around me—the standards of success, the way success was measured—I was meeting those metrics.

On Leadership Development as Discipleship
When looking to the future of the Church, Scazzero hopes to see more emotionally healthy rhythms in how leaders are developed. He notes, “Leadership development is high-level discipleship. Jesus was discipling his twelve to be leaders.”

This model of change is far different from what Scazzero sees happening with the idea of “Americanized Jesus,” where individuals walk into a church system expecting to be changed by it instead of looking to shape it out of their deep spirituality. He says, “God’s intention is that we shape [church systems] out of our deep spirituality and actually bring it to a new place. The problem is, if I go looking for the church to give [deep spirituality] to me, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Desiring to reframe this, Scazzero points out a different metric of success that he has used in his own life: becoming who Christ wants him to become and doing what Christ wants him to do. Encouraging leaders to ponder this metric, Scazzero reflects on the questions this model of discipleship raised for him. “There’s an invitation to relax in Jesus—to detach from the world so we attach to him. […] I wish I had been more focused on that: Am I really relaxing in Jesus? Am I trusting in Jesus?”

On Leaning into Grief
Creating space for processing mental health within the Church is something that many people outside the Church are seeking. Over two in five U.S. adults (44%) say that counseling is something their community needs and churches could provide. This data serves as another indicator of the opportunity the Church has to meet some of society’s deepest needs in a time of mental and emotional exhaustion. 

Scazzero adds insight to this finding by sharing what he has discovered from processing grief and loss. He points out that when individuals medicate or avoid grieving pain or loss, it’s easy to miss out on the chance to become people of compassion. More often than not, repressing these emotions can result in acting out later. 

Instead of avoiding, Scazzereo advises leaders look to practices such as silence and stillness as a way to create space for processing pain and grief. He concludes, “Silence and solitude are indispensable. […] Not just silence as a method; I’m talking about a spiritual practice before the Lord in his presence, of not getting something from him, not intercession. It’s a contemplative prayer. It’s being with Jesus, no agenda, letting go. I couldn’t survive without it. It’s saved my life over the decades.”

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About the Research
The data in this article represents the responses of 2,007 U.S. adults, collected through an online survey with adults between April 23–May 4, 2021. The sample error is +/- 2.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval.

Featured image by Umberto Gorni on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021