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Review: The Emotionally Healthy Leader

by Rev. Dr. Michael A.L. Eckelkamp

In order to review Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader, please allow me to share the illustration of a single-person sailboat. I present two options for getting this tiny boat to move. The first approach seems obvious: the sailor puts the sail into the wind, which then moves the boat. This first approach depends on external influence, knowledge, experience, and some learned physical skills.

The second sailor incorporates a much different approach. To move the boat, the sailor is dependent on how much air he himself can blow into the sail. This second method relies on his own limited power, which is highly ineffective, exhausting, and frankly, brings no joy to sailing.

Author Peter Scazzero began his ministry trying to move the church by his own power.

He took little time to rest in the Holy Spirit’s influence and regularly ignored Sabbath rest, as well as practicing basic spiritual disciplines. He worked as if the church depended on his ability get “the boat” (the church) across the lake.

Having reached a place of emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion, the author embraced a biblical, and very different, way to lead. He learned to examine his motives, deal with his “shadow self,” and set ministerial boundaries that honor God, others and himself.

Like the exhausted sailor, the emotionally unhealthy leader is operating with little or no spiritual and emotional reserves.

God desires to fill us, and for us to learn to lead from spiritual and emotional maturity and well-being.

A tremendous insight from this book, one that I never heard in my years of academic study, is the power of leading from your marriage or singleness. Our whole life as a leader bears witness to God’s love. How we lead our lives in our marriages, or in our singleness, is a powerful witness to the Gospel.

The reason I found this book seminal in my thinking, is Peter Scazzero writes how he re-learned to sail by putting his sail into the wind of the Holy Spirit. There is not a hint of “if you do this you will be successful in ministry.” Rather he conveys the wonder of joy and challenge that comes from learning how to be healthy in heart, mind and spirit.

This book will not seem relevant for the wide-eyed, well-read graduate, ready to save the world. For this novice, who has read a lot about sailing, but has yet to get wet, the advice offered in this book may seem slow and even irrelevant. But for the reader who has tried leadership their way, and is depleted of energy and hope, the Emotionally Healthy Leader will provide hope and courage to get back in the boat!


Rev. Dr. Michael Eckelkamp is lead pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Denver, Colorado. He also coaches in PLI’s Leadership Essentials.

Michael Eckelkamp

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