Nouwen and Christian Community
In preparation for student ministries at Seattle Pacific University, for the past two summers I have read Henri Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus. His reflections on the challenges on Christian leadership come from his own experience as a priest at Daybreak, a community for people with mental handicaps. Following the three temptations of Jesus, Nouwen states that the temptations of contemporary Christian leaders are to seek relevance, popularity, and power. At Daybreak, where his reputation and gifts meant next to nothing, Nouwen reflected on the prayer, confession, forgiveness, and humility that are essential to effctive ministry and healthy Christian community.
As I read this book again, for the first time not preparing for or pursuing student ministry, I find that the issues Nouwen presents are critical not only for Christian leaders, but for our communities as a whole. While espousing contemplative prayer as a means for leaders to remain rooted in Christ, Nouwen writes:
Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. (47)
How important to remember, as this summer we encounter together these ethical issues of our faith, to remain rooted in the God who lives in and through us and our community. Nouwen's exhortation to prayer, confession, humility, and fogiveness are important not only for leaders but for each member of our community, as we together grow in Christ. Nouwen's reflections are both practical and inspiring, and In the Name of Jesus offers an excellent model for Christian leaders and the communities they serve.