Peter Scazzero stands on the steps outside New Life Fellowship in New York City swilling coffee between services. Queens Boulevard is a sidewalk away, and the people ascending and descending the steps seem to come from every nation under heaven. Scazzero breaks from a conversation momentarily to flag down a passing church member. "Hey, Miao!" he shouts to a woman on the other side of the sea of people. "Good to see you again. Let's talk later!"
This is where the Italian-American, New York-born-and-raised pastor seems most comfortable. But he wasn't always this at ease. Twenty years ago he was in his mid-30s, already pining for retirement, a ministry workaholic in a church rife with conflict.
That's when a series of events led him to what he calls "emotionally healthy spirituality." The new focus revitalized him, his marriage, and his church. Drew Dyck spoke with Scazzero about his journey and the kinds of practices that led to his transformation.
Early in your ministry you had some experiences that compelled you to seek emotional health and spiritual transformation. What were they?
What precipitated my transformation was simple: things were not going well at church or at home. Five or six years after planting New Life we were growing and people were coming to Christ. But people were not changing deeply. It really showed when there was stress and conflict in the church. It was clear to me that we had a big problem. Initially I looked at everybody else and said, "They aren't changing!" We had a lot of people saying they were on fire for Jesus, but they were still arrogant, still proud, still nursing conflicts like they were 12 years old. I thought to myself, Something's not right here.
So I started doing everything I could to help them grow: Scripture-teaching, worship, prayer meetings, community-building, spiritual warfare, prophetic ministry, gifts of the Spirit—you name it. We were doing it all, but something was still missing. I wrestled for a few years trying to identify the problem. It was a real wall.
I was exhausted. Then things started to go very wrong in the church. One of our congregations had a split, and I saw some ugliness in our people, and I felt hurt and betrayed. But I kept my head up, just kept going, kept pastoring. I thought I was being spiritual by keeping composed, but inside I was a mess.
I had been too busy building, leading, reaching people for Christ. Those are all good things, but it didn't leave a lot of time to look inward.
One of those experiences was an important encounter with your wife. What happened?
Around this time Geri came to me and just laid it all on the table. She said, "Pete, I'm leaving the church. I can't take any more of this stress, this constant crisis. This church is no longer life to me. It is death."
By this point we had experienced eight years of unrelenting stress. I had brought home constant pressure and tension from church, year after year, and she was done. She said she was tired of living like a single mom. She said my leadership stunk, pointing out that I was unwilling to confront members who needed to be confronted.
It was incredibly painful to hear that, but God used her. So the pain was God's means of transformation. God was trying to get my attention for years, but it took a lot to stop me. I'm a Type-A guy: "make it happen, keep pushing." For God to stop me, and get me to look at my inner life, sadly, it took a ton.
If you are married, your first "neighbor" you are to love is your spouse. I was loving the whole world, and my wife didn't feel loved by me.