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The Spiritual Importance of Becoming an Emotionally Healthy Preacher

Key issues to address as we look beneath the surface

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All preachers know that we need to prepare our souls to preach, but what exactly needs to enter into that preparation? Obviously it is not enough simply to punch the clock in prayer for a certain period of time, so what should we pray about? How do we discern the condition of our own souls? In this insightful interview with Peter Scazzero, author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Nelson) and The Emotionally Healthy Church (Zondervan), we learn specifics about essential places to turn our attention as we prepare our hearts to proclaim God's Word.

PreachingToday.com: You've written two books on what you call emotionally healthy spirituality. Could you provide a brief overview of what you mean by that term and why it's important?

Peter Scazzero: Basically, it's a paradigm for how ordinary Christians can experience real transformation in Christ. It's taking people beyond outward changes and moving into the depths of their interior life in order to be transformed.

We look at this process in two broad strokes. First, we say that every Christian should have a contemplative life. Simply put, that means that each follower of Christ needs to cultivate a deep relationship with Christ—without living off other people's spiritual lives. That requires slowing down and structuring your whole life in such a way that Christ really becomes your Center.

Secondly, emotionally healthy spirituality means that emotional maturity and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. It's simply not possible to become spiritually mature while you remain emotionally immature. And emotional maturity really boils down to one thing: love. So if you're critical, defensive, touchy, unapproachable, insecure—telltale signs of emotional immaturity—you can't be spiritually mature. It doesn't matter how "anointed" you are or how much Bible knowledge you have. Love is that indispensable mark of maturity. Emotionally healthy spirituality unpacks what that looks like.

Why is there such a glaring need for this approach to our life in Christ?

I think it addresses some missing components in the way we approach discipleship, especially in the West. We can be very intellectually driven. We can also be driven by success and big numbers, so the idea of living contemplatively—sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary in Luke 10—feels very counter-cultural to many of us. It's counter to our church culture as well, especially if you're a pastor. That's why this has such a huge impact on preaching: it starts with the transformation of the person in the pulpit.

So how does emotionally healthy spirituality change a pastor's approach to preaching?

That's probably best summed up by the 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas, who said that all of our preaching or teaching should be the fruit of contemplation. In other words, as a preacher I don't just study and exegete a text; I don't just find good stories to illustrate the text; I also let it pass through my life in such a significant way that the Word has transformed me—not just on the surface but in the depths of my heart. I am a different person because I've been steeping in this text all week long. I've sat at the feet of Jesus. That's the fruit of contemplation.

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mabel radebe

January 21, 2013  8:58pm

Thanks for the insightful and challenging article. It is very important to sit at the feet of Jesus with your text and hear what he He says to you about it and what He wants you to share with others and how. Preachers should not take preaching lightly and talk to God's people unprepared.

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Shirley McCowin

September 28, 2012  4:25pm

An outstanding article! IF only more pastors could be as open and honest; sharing this article with my pastor. Without a doubt, I am able to relate this article to the passage of scripture Jeremiah 3:15 "And I will give you pastors according to my heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. I am not a pastor but a servant in the ministry; however, this message resonates with me. Thank you.

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Mary Newton

September 24, 2012  2:39pm

Outstanding article! Thank you. I am striving to be more authentic in my preaching and I know that comes with "listening" to GOD, spending more time in prayer and wrestling with the text. As a pastor of a small congregation, I am confronted with a multitude of tasks that come my way each weeek. I know that it is imperateive to "slow down" and sit at Jesus' feet; to hear from God. I will admit that is my greatest struggle in preaching, to put sufficient time in and to begin early. This article has helped me to re-focus and priortize; to be "Mary" and not "Martha".

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SCOTT VERMILLION

July 23, 2012  12:02pm

Thanks for your candor and insight. I find preaching to be an art of vulnerability every week. And this art can be really bad at times. If I am honest with myself, it is easy to create bad art every week by falling to the temptation of hiding behind the word or in making the sermon about me. Teaching the scriptures is one thing, but modeling how to interact with God in front of people who are constantly evaluating you is tough work. Thanks for the prophetic call to continue to wrestle with God and his word in prayer before you preach.

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Dave Rolph

May 21, 2012  1:03pm

Great article! It should be obvious that those who teach others need to first discover a healthy place for themselves, but healthy preachers seem to be the exceptions nowadays. Authentic preaching can be very therapeutic for everyone involved, while hypocritical preaching damages all, perhaps the preacher even more than the audience.

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