I recently picked up Henri Nouwen’s book In The Name Of Jesus; Reflection of Christian Leadership. I’ve been reading and dialoging over another leadership book with some folks at church and this book came to my mind. It’s a very different angle on leadership and is structured largely around Jesus and his temptations in the desert that took place right before he stepped into his earthly ministry / leadership role. The thought is that if Jesus faced these temptations as he was getting ready to lead so will we.
Here are the temptations as Nouwen sees them and the corresponding discipline for said temptation…
* The temptation to be relevant // the discipline of contemplative prayer
* The temptation to be spectacular // the discipline of confession and forgiveness
* The temptation to be powerful // the discipline of theological reflection
I think these temptations in Christian leadership, really any kind of leadership, are spot on! I’m have see then, experienced other leaders who have given into them and have struggle with them myself.
Nouwen provides great thoughts and challenges as he reflects on Jesus’ life and his own life. He largely draws from his experience as a priest living with and serving alongside folks who are mentally handicapped in his community L’Arche .
For me, this book raises some extremely helpful questions and challenges some very common notions that are prominent for myself and for anyone in leadership but are questions and challenges that I think every Christian leader will be better for having engaged.
Here are just a few quotes and thoughts.
Really I wanted to record these quotes for myself, as reminders and recurring challenges to the ever present temptations I will face as a leader in the modern day church. Since I was typing up some of my favorites I thought I would share here as well.
“I asked myself, ‘What decisions have you been making lately and how are they a refection of the way you sense the future?’ Somehow I have to trust that God is at work in me and that the way I am being moved to new inner and outer places is part of a larger movement of which i am only a very small part.”
— Intro, p.9
(personally for me that is HUGE these days and I really want to live into this and believe it deep in my bones! But it’s hard, right?!?!)
“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of human life.”
— From Relevance to Prayer, p.17
“The leader of the future will be the one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there.”
— From Relevance to Prayer, p.22
“The question is not: how many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? How can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Perhaps another way of putting the question would be: Do you know the incarnate God? In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, that cares, that reaches out and wants to heal. In that heart there is no suspicion, no vindictiveness, no resentment, and not a tinge of hatred. It is a heart that wants only to give love and receive love in response.”
— From Relevance to Prayer, p.24
(As like most of these quotes I could keep going. This is a really great little chance though!)
“Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God’s heart. Contemplative prayer keeps us home, rooted and safe, even when we are on the road, moving from place to place, and often surrounded by sounds of violence and war. Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God, even though everything and everyone around us keeps suggesting the opposite.”
— From Relevance to Prayer, p.29
“I have found over and over again how hard it is to be truly faithful to Jesus when I am alone. I need my brothers and sisters to pray with me, to speak with me about the spiritual task at hand, and to challenge me to stay pure in mind, heart, and body.”
— From Popularity to Ministry, p.41
“Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead.”
— From Popularity to Ministry, p.43
“Medicine, psychiatry, and social work all offer us models in which “service”takes place in a one-way direction. Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles! But how can anyone lay down his life for those which whom he is not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship? Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to other as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of Life.
We are not 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.”
— From Popularity to Ministry, p.43-44
“The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership, in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who need 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.”
— From Popularity to Ministry, p.44-45
“When ministers and priests live their ministry mostly in their heads and relate to the Gospel as a set of valuable ideas to be announced, the body quickly takes revenge by screaming loudly for affection and intimacy. Christian leaders are called to live the Incarnation, that is to live in the body—not only in the their own bodies but also in the corporate body of the community, and to discover there the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
— From Popularity to Ministry, p.48
“Ministers and priests are also 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.”
— From Popularity to Ministry, p.49
(He goes on here to talk about ministers and priests needing a truly safe place to share with people who do not need them. This is where some of the tension comes in, right. Most ministers and priests use this tension to disconnect themselves and have a good “professional distance” from their parish. I think that can’t be the best and only option. Thoughts?)
“I am also getting in touch with the mystery that leadership, for a large part, means to be led.”
— From Leading to Being Led, p.57
(And he isn’t simply spiritualizing and talking about being led by Jesus. That’s part of it be even the leader needs to let their community lead them from time to time.)
“The temptation to consider power an apt instrument fro proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all.”
— From Leading to Being Led, p.58
(I think of the recent implosion of a certain mega church illustrated this perfectly.)
“…we always see that a major cause of rupture is the power exercised by those who claim to be followers of the poor and powerless Jesus.
What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.”
— From Leading to Being Led, p.59
“Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future. It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is make manifest. I, obviously, am not speaking about a psychologically weak leadership in which the Christian leader is simply the passive victim of the manipulations of his milieu. No, I am speaking of a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love. It is true spiritual leadership Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly.”
— From Leading to Being Led, p.63-64
“Wealth and riches prevent us from truly discerning the way of Jesus. Paul writes to Timothy: ‘People who long to be rich are a pretty to trail; they get trapped into all sorts of foolish and harmful ambitions which plunge people into ruin and destruction’ (1 Tim. 6:9).
“If there is any hope for the Church in the future, it will be hope for a poor Church in which its leaders are willing to be led.”
— From Leading to Being Led, p.64
“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 diving event of God’s saving work in the midst of the many seemingly random events of their time.”
— From Leading to Being Led, p.68
(I would completely agree with this but might also point out I don’t think this necessarily means a seminary degree or Phd. It might, but it might not.)
“I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence as you anticipate the next century.”
(I typed up all these quotes. There may be some typos, I did it fast! Go pick up the book to get the official goods!)