Henri Nouwen on Leadership 21C

kinnon —  April 14, 2006 — Leave a comment

Imbi is busy reading In the Name of Jesus. Reflections on Christian Leadership”. (She’s reading portions out loud to me which if you know me, you know it drives me nuts – but the Nouwen quotes are worth it.) The book is based on a speech given by Nouwen in the 90’s at the Center for Human Development, Washington DC, on Christian Leadership in the 21st Century. Here are a few quotes from the book that Imbi has transcribed.

“… Ministry is not only a communal experience, it is also a mutual experience…” Pg 42.

“…We (leaders) are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. Therefore, true ministry must be mutual.When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. The world in which we live – a world of efficiency and control – has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd. The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership – to use Robert Greenleaf’s term – in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need him or her.

From this it is clear that a whole new type of leadership is asked for in the Church of tomorrow, a leadership which is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant-leader, Jesus, who came to give his life for the salvation of many. “ Pg 44-45

“…there is so much fear, so much distance, so much generalization and so little real listening, speaking and absolving, that not much true sacramentalism can be expected….” Pg 46

“…What it means is that ministers and priests are called to be full members of their communities, are accountable to them and need their affection and support, and are called to minister with their whole being, including their wounded selves.” Pg 50

Important considerations for Christian leaders, especially in this season of Christ’s Passion – the ultimate sacrificial, yet reconciling, act of leadership.

In the Name of Jesus” is a short book, and I’ve now just finished it myself. It is a very important book – and in writing that, I’m only echoing what Imbi said to me.

Here are a few more relevant quotes that Imbi transcribed.

When I ask myself the main reason for so many people having left the Church….the word “power”easily comes to mind. One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power – political, military, economic, or moral and spiritual power – even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to this divine power but emptied himself and became as we are. The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all. We keep hearing … that having power – provided it is used in the service of God and your fellow human beings- is a good thing. With this rationalization (we ended up with) crusades… inquisitions… Enslavement…… desire for position …. opulent palaces, cathedrals and seminaries, and much moral manipulation of conscience was engaged in

….. What makes the temptation to power so irresistible?Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks “do you love me”? We ask “can we sit at your right hand and left hand?” (Matt: 20) The long painful history of the Church is the history of people over and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led. Those who resisted ….. to the end…and thereby give us hope are the true saints.
One thing is clear to me: the temptation of power Is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.
” Pg 58-60

The Christian leaders of the future have to be theologians, persons who know the heart of God and are trained – through prayer, study,and careful analysis- to manifest the divine event of God’s saving work in the midst of the many seemingly random events of their time…” Pg 68

“…aware in a new way how much my own thinking about Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power. Too often I looked at being relevant, popular and powerful as ingredients for effective ministry. The truth is, however, that these are not vocations, but temptations…. Jesus…. asks us to move from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people….What I have said is, obviously, nothing new, but I hope and pray that you have seen that the oldest, most traditional vision of Christian leadership is still a vision that awaits realization in the future. “Pg 71-72

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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