Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Icebergs & Success

Written by: on January 12, 2017

Here we go! Welcome to week one of our spring 2017 semester. I have been so excited. I prepared all last week to get back into our DMIN rhythm of researching, reading, blogging, and Zooming. I even fell asleep Sunday night looking forward to our Zoom at 7am PST Monday morning. However, it has been difficult for me to reenter this week though. On the surface and on the outside everything was in it’s right place. I was conscious and aware of what needed to happen. But what sabotaged my week were enemies unseen. These wicked warriors of doom scouting around my subconscious fought hard to keep me from success. In the end though, it’s Thursday and if you’re reading this, my blog is posted.

The issues of what lies beneath the surface and success are two big topics David Brooks describes in The Social Animal. Creating a story taking place in the perpetual present, Brooks uses his characters Harold and Erica to synthesize recent studies regarding non-cognitive skills and success. His premises is that real life, real successful life is lived out from so many unmeasurable things that are located below the surface. These two topics of unseen forces and definition of success are helpful in my life as a pastor, teacher, and DMin student researching bivocational pastors.

The Iceberg

My pastoring over the past couple of years has shifted since I’ve been reading and following Pete Scazzero. One of his Emotionally Healthy Spirituality concepts is that people are like icebergs. We show just a small part of who we really are. Like an iceberg where up to 75% of its formation is unseen, below the surface of the water, humans are complex and consist of mostly unseen, or what Brooks calls “non-cognitive” skills. Consequently, a person can be a Christian and still be a huge jerk; super spiritual, but emotionally a baby. Some people are very mature and emotionally astute, but lack any recognition of the spirit.

Brooks’ fictional characters, Harold and Erica not only show Brooks’ diverse knowledge of pop culture, but also his synthesis of much of current sociological thought in that on the outside people crave status, money, and applause, but on the inside we really desire harmony, connection, cause, and ultimately love. I liken Brooks’ subconscious to Scazzero’s description of the iceberg. Outside and inside become above and below surface. Harold and Erica, like all of us, demonstrate behaviors that are visible and can be judged as good or bad or in the case of Erica’s adultery, immoral. What Brooks and Scazzero are both saying, is that humans act out from a tremendous amount of things that seem invisible, but are so powerful.


By nature, definitions of success are based on cognitive skills and attributes because measurability is inherent within the concept of success. How do we know something or someone is successful unless we can quantify it? Brooks says that because of this, most people base success on IQ, wealth, prestige and accomplishments. The problem here is that non-cognitive skills are almost always hidden qualities that are not so easily measured but they are the building blocks of a happy and fulfilled life. It’s tricky!

Success and immeasurable qualities, like Brooks’ emphasis on our character, is especially tricky in churches. My research last term uncovered a huge problem in my tribe. Most bivocational pastors think of themselves as unsucessful and consequently pastor with a good amount of guilt and shame. Also, the exact number of bivocational pastors is unknown, but could be up to 50%. This means that up to half of Vineyard USA pastors are feeling bad about themselves. This is not good. One way to combat this is to culturally change the definition of success.

As a teacher I want to be like Harold’s English teacher, “Ms. Taylor’s goal was to turn her students into autodidacts. She hoped to give her students a taste of the emotional and sensual pleasure discovery brings – the jolt of pleasure you get when you work hard, suffer a bit, and then something clicks. She hoped her students would become addicted to this process. They would become, thanks to her, self teachers of the rest of their days” (82). To do this, I need to make room for more than just facts and figures. Brooks gives me permission as a teacher to focus on not just more educational hoops for my students to jump through, but on what really matters in life. Who my students are becoming and who they marry are two huge aspects of what I want to teach. Character does indeed count.

It has been raining off and on in Los Angeles all week. The cold weather combined with going back to work to both of my professions has created a significant lack of energy for me. It feels like I’ve been walking barefoot uphill in the snow both ways all week. Autoimmune disease aside, the enemy called “Low Energy” has been subdued for now though and I look forward to all that God has for us this term.

About the Author

Aaron Peterson

I am a working priest which means that I am a husband(to Lisa), dad(to four wonderful children), senior pastor and church planter(The Hub Vineyard Church), and high school social studies teacher(Verdugo Hills High School LAUSD). I am currently working towards a DMIN in Leadership & Global Perspectives @George Fox Seminary.

16 responses to “Icebergs & Success”

  1. Pablo Morales says:

    Aaron, thank you for a heart-felt blog. I was just meeting with a pastor friend yesterday and we were discussing some of the topics you mentioned about success. The pressure to produce “measurable results” (more people and more money!) as indicators of success seems to be a reality of pastoral ministry in this country, regardless if the person is full-time or part-time pastor.

    I am preparing for our men’s study tomorrow, and Andy Stanley happens to address the concept of success in the walk of faith. Let me share with you some of my selected quotes from his book Visioneering (there are eight quotes, but they are all good so I did not want to delete any). Enjoy (:

    “One of the things that makes this stage in the development of a vision so difficult is our confusion regarding success. There is a tendency to confuse success with rewards of success. If you are where God wants you, fulfilling the responsibilities he has given you, you are successful. In fact, when that when that is the case, you are as successful as you will ever be. Granted, you may not be seeing or experiencing the rewards of your success. But you are successful nonetheless.” (46)

    “Success is remaining faithful to the process God has laid out for you.” (46)

    “[Nehemiah] He was successful before the king granted his request. Why? Because he was doing all he knew to do.” (46-47)

    “When are parents successful? When their child emerges from adolescence without a police record? When their daughter or son graduates from college? When their grown son lands his first job? When their daughter brings home the first grandchild? No. Those are the rewards of successful parenting. Those are significant markers. But a parent who has a good relationship with a responsible, mature adult child has been successful for years. Every day of responsible parenting was a day of success.” (47)

    “You are a success every day you get up and show up for duty.” (47)

    “If you measure your success by whether or not your vision has materialized, you are a candidate for discouragement. After all, there are days when it seems we are moving at light speed in the wrong direction. It is possible to go for weeks, months, even years, with no sign of progress. Confusing success with the rewards of success is on of the primary reasons people abandon their dreams.” (47)

    “If I don’t consider myself successful until I see something happen, then I am only inches away from considering myself a failure.” (47)

    “In the meantime we must see success for what it is: faithfulness to the process. And we must celebrate little successes along the way. Instead of cursing your surroundings, celebrate your faithfulness in spite of them. The problem with cursing your current surrounding is that, like anything else you curse, it becomes a focus. And to focus on what’s around you diminishes your ability to focus on what’s before you.” (48)

    • and the award for most thorough and longest comment goes to…..Pablo!
      Thanks my friend. Stanley has such a great way of communicating big concepts in such an accessible way. Thank you. Will be revisiting your reply over and over again.

  2. Claire Appiah says:

    I love the wisdom in your blog and the iceberg metaphor. I’m feeling your sentiments. I ended the last term not being my best self and started this term in the same condition. But, nevertheless, like you I’m looking forward to what God has in store for me this term.
    I’m sorry to hear that many bi-vocational pastors in your tribe are seeing themselves as unsuccessful and I am glad that you are addressing the situation in your research. You indicated that one way to change this is to culturally change the definition of success. As you mentioned, Brooks has done this and Pablo has also supplied you with several other definitions or viewpoints. I like your own ethics of inculcating Christ-like character in your students that enable them to make appropriate decisions that lead to success from the standpoint of Christ’s values.

  3. Jason Kennedy says:

    First off, cold weather….really???? That made me laugh as I think about Aaron C in Wisconsin.
    I think your blog is on point. Pastors are like everyone else. Deep down we want success and we want to be valued. I try to measure my life not by success in man’s terms, but faithfulness in God’s terms. I just want to be faithful to what he has given me. I am faithful to my family, church, the character of Christ….on and on it goes. Great synthesis.

    • Thanks Jason. I guess for me, it is difficult sometimes to determine what “faithfulness” actually means and looks like in these different situations you mention. I know one thing for sure, they take a lot of faith.

  4. Aaron Cole says:


    First off, I love you Bro and thank God for you. You are uniquely gifted to hold such high degree of intelligence and to be so down to earth at the same time. To be kind and thoughtful, but possess such an incredibly sacrcastic sense of humor that makes me laugh every time. Also, to carry the heavy load of leadership at home, work, church, and in your own educational persuits. I hope you know that you have such a high degree of respect from the part of the iceberg I can see. I know that you are not perfect, none of us are, we are ALL far from it. However, you are successful today and I will continue to be.

    As for blog and Brooks, great application to your life and ministry. I will continue to pray for you as friend, colleague, and fellow leader. And by the way, I am with Jason, watch your use of the word “cold” it was 10 degrees for a HIGH on Wednesday. 🙂


    • I appreciated the kind words AC. Thank you!

      I guess, like everything else, when it comes to weather, context is everything. 🙂 Living in Los Angeles, it’s rare that we dip into the 40s and in the past decade, even rarer that it rains. So when both happen off and on for the better part of a week, it is a big deal.
      It also can be the “perfect storm” for the rheumatoid arthritis :(… But it was a beautiful sunny weekend!

  5. Phil Goldsberry says:


    You are back on! Great insight from Brooks and your rationale with Vineyard pastors. That was interesting but heart rendering. What do you see as the catalyst for change to turn this 50% group of pastors from this negative spiral?

    I read Scazzero several years ago. How deep did you dig in past the reading of his book? I looked into some of his systems. Wanted to get your spin on his work.


    • Hi Phil. I’m a big Scazzero fan! We’ve done his Emotionally Healthy Spirituality material a couple times in the Hub these past few years. His Emo-Health Leader is required reading for any leader at the Hub as well.
      I strongly recommend him.

  6. Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Aaron P for an excellent blog, It was rather interesting the way you used the iceberg.
    Just picture an iceberg looming in the distance as a metaphor for our worldview. How much of an iceberg do we actually see? Well, as the captain of the Titanic sadly experienced, very little. The tip pokes up through the water, announcing its presence to all with eyes to see, but the iceberg’s immensity lurks undetected in the depths. Similarly, our perceptions of our own culture’s patterns and pressures is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of our cultural patterns lurk below the surface, outside our realm of awareness.

    Other-words to read Scripture well, we must read ourselves and our culture well. It appears that God is using you to ,minster to bi-vocational pastors… awesome assignment.
    Your blog was a great read. Thanks, peace and blessing to you! Rose Maria

  7. Kevin Norwood says:


    Interesting that the your picture is one that I have used for my leadership core. What people really see is above the water but who you are is really below the surface. Sometimes this gets really confusing for others. People want to be on the stage or in leadership and the issue is what they have going on below the surface.

    Thanks for dissecting this book to that level. How can we help others who minister with us to expand what is below the surface so that they become more confidents in themselves. How to embrace all of this internal struggle and still be able to lead others with passion and purpose.

    Thanks for your post. God bless you.


    • Great questions Kevin. I wish I had all the answers. I think a good first step is to help our other leaders and teens in our youth group, to at first be aware that there is an iceberg and we all have a ton of “stuff” under the surface. One of the truisms that Pete Scazzero uses is, “You may have Jesus in your heart, but you have grandpa in your bones.” This means that even when we accept Christ, we have a lot of issues to deal with still.

  8. Marc Andresen says:

    Aaron P,

    My wife teaches 7th grade language arts (and some math) and is a fan of the idea of having a “growth mindset.” She sees this as an aid to learning because in this school of thought mistakes are celebrated as steps forward in learning. Growth mindset doesn’t say, “I can’t learn that,” but rather is willing to risk and not fear mistakes.

    Can you marry what Brooks says about the below-the-surface impact of our emotional valuing process to the idea of growth mindset? Or to ask this a different way; as a high school teacher, what does your experience and observation tell you about the affect of under-the-surface emotion on the learning ability of kids?

    • Thanks Marc. I haven’t heard it called Growth Mindset, but I due subscribe to a style of learning that we are holistic and interconnected. Some of my students are such strong survivors of situations I don’t think I could have ever made it through. No doubt all these things have a bearing on test scores and homework completion. This is a huge topic.

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