The temptation to be spectacular. How precisely Nouwen describes the trap leaders are prone to be caught! Being spectacular is something like to wow the audience in a show. Spectacular sermon, spectacular insight, spectacular solution, spectacular leadership, spectacular problem-solving capability, and spectacular anything… Nouwen was considered well equipped preacher and priest, who was able to do his own thing because of his “spectacular” career and achievements. But when he went to L’Arche, where the handicapped people and those without handicap live together, he came to see that he had lived most of his life “as a tightrope artist trying to walk on a high, thin cable from one tower to the other, always waiting for the applause…” To be a star or a hero is what our competitive society pursues. However, to be a Biblical leader never means to be a hero.
Jesus gave Peter the ministry of “feeding his sheep.” He sent his disciples in pairs. Nouwen explains that this task of “feeding the sheep” cannot be done individually but in community. He also says that this is not only done in community but this is a mutual experience within the community. This ministry becomes possible among the brothers and sisters who belong to the same community, among the vulnerable people who know each other, forgive each other, care each other, and love each other.
Isn’t this radically different from the concept of leadership we have today? In general, we consider it important not to mix up the roles of the one who leads with those who are led, the one who instructs with those who are instructed, the one who teaches with the students. Leaders try to protect their position or authority by keeping a safe distance and stays on the top of the echelons. But “we are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life.” That is God’s work. Whether you are called to be a leader or not, we all are “sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.” Nouwen writes,
“The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”
Recently, we often hear the word, servant leadership. Nouwen also talks about it. I have observed that this word has been used to describe a kind of leader who can bring out strength of others, or those who are willing to serve behind the scene. There is nothing wrong with those leaders as they are respectable and not seeking to be heroes. But Nouwen’s definition of a servant leadership is a leadership “in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader.”
Nouwen suggests “Confession and Forgiveness” are discipline required for such a leadership. This is a disciple for a leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism. If you try to hide your vulnerability as a leader, it might lead to hypocrisy or even enhance hidden sins. Or perhaps you could create a barrier between you and your community to whom you are to serve. But practicing confession, you could shed light to the darkness that exists in you. Receiving forgiveness will take out the dark powers out from you and from the community. If you have experienced the intimate love which is poured upon the place of confession and forgiveness, you know how this works very well.
All these do not mean priests or ministers must “explicitly bring their own sins or failures in to the pulpit.” What it means is that leaders are accountable to their communities, need their affection and support, and are called to be, not as invisible heroes, but as vulnerable and wounded individuals. The leaders are called to minister with their whole being, including their vulnerability and wounds, without hiding them. The practice of “Confession and Forgiveness” will free the leaders from unhealthy idealisms or pressure to be “spectacular.” As a result, spectacular work of God will reveal, no matter subtle or hard to be recognized in human eyes.