In the Name of Jesus (by Henri J. M. Nouwen) Part 2

Dr. Sachi Nakamura (Christian Books Translator, JCFN Board Member, Spiritual Director)

 

We continue from the last month, from the Chapter 2 of the book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” by Henri Nouwen.

For the last article, click HERE.

 

[II] From popularity to ministry 

     The Temptation: To be Spectacular

     The Task: “Feed My Sheep”

     The Discipline: “Confession and Forgiveness”

 

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.

In the Name of Jesus (Henri J. M. Nouwen) Part 1

Dr. Sachi Nakamura (Christian Books Translator, JCFN Board member, Spiritual Director) 

 

Starting this month, I would like to share from the book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” by Henri Nouwen in three parts.

Henri Nouwen wrote many books and was a Dutch Catholic priest. He also taught pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School, and was appointed at the Harvard Divinity School as Professor of Divinity and Horace De Y. Lentz Lecturer. After two years at Harvard, he resigned the position as he was not able to enjoy its ambitious and competitive environment. He then accepted an invitation to become a priest for one of L’Arche Communities, an international movement of communities to welcome mentally handicapped people, in Toronto, Canada. He chose the path to live with people with disabilities.

Nouwen was a well-known, very popular professor at Yale and Harvard. But for the people in the L’Arche Communities, he was nobody. He started living among the people who did not know anything about his title or accomplishments, or even who did not care anything like that at all.  The book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” was written based on what Nouwen reflected on the Christian Leadership in the future through his experience in the community.

This book consists of the following three parts.

[I] From Relevance to Prayer
  The Temptation: To Be Relevant
  The Question: “Do You Love Me?”
  The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer

[II]From Popularity to Ministry
  The Temptation: To Be Spectacular
  The Task: “Feed My Sheep”
  The Discipline: Confession and Forgiveness

[III]From Leading to Being Led
  The Temptation: To Be Powerful
  The Challenge: “Somebody Else Will Take You”
  The Discipline: Theological Reflection

In the Chapter 1, “From Relevance to Prayer”, Nouwen tells us that a new Christian Leadership is not to claim and offer “what we do or accomplish.” Rather, as the one who is loved, chosen, and redeemed by God, it is a leadership to proclaim God’s love by offering its vulnerability.

 

Nouwen talks of “contemplative prayer” as the discipline needed for such a Christian Leadership. He even says, “We have to be mystics.” Contemplative prayer is not a kind of prayer to bring our petition to God, but a kind of prayer to keep us safe in the presence of God. It does not require many words. It is a prayer that helps you taste the love of God. Contemplative prayer keep us in the love of God who keeps asking “Do you love me?” and it helps us rooted there. That makes possible for us to dwell in God’s presence.

He writes,

“It is not enough for the priests and ministers of the future to be moral people, well trained, eager to help their fellow humans, and able to respond creatively to the burning issues of their time. All of that is very valuable and important, but it is not the heart of Christian leadership. The central question is, Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?” 

 

Nouwen continues to explain our need of contemplative prayer. “The original meaning of the word ‘theology’ was ‘union with God in prayer.’”

 

Nouwen says, “It is of vital importance to reclaim the mystical aspect of theology so that every word spoken, every word of advice given, and every strategy developed can come from the heart that knows God”, “the incarnate Word, Jesus” intimately.

 

Perhaps you might remember your own experience. When being asked for an advice, you might have responded based on your own knowledge or experience. Your urge to appeal that your knowledge or experience is relevant to the burning issue is rooted in the temptation. But if you sincerely listen to God in prayer, the Spirit will give you wisdom and words, flexibly, deeply, and timely to the situation. God would not lead you with simple solutions. The longer you have been in a leadership role, the harder to refrain from finding answers from what you have already obtained. But please remember to listen to the One who gives us the living water. You might be provided with something you had never expected. You might be able to unexpectedly touch the heart or the situation of the one you would like to help. There is no formula in this. Just rely on God’s heart. The Spirit will lead you.

Lent

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(JCFN Board member, Christian books translator, Spiritual Director)

 

Hi everyone. The Lenten season started March 6 this year. How are you spending days in this Lent? As many Reformed churches do not emphasize liturgical calendar, some of you might be unfamiliar with the meaning of Lent.

The universally accepted calendar we use today is called Gregorian calendar and finds its origin in Julian calendar used in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire first adapted a calendar starting on January 1st. Meanwhile, the liturgical calendar starts at the beginning of the Advent. Also in this calendar, a year is divided into seasons of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, according to the life of Jesus and works of the Church. Acknowledging the seasons on the liturgical calendar in our daily life, we are reminded that we are living in Kairos (time of God) as God’s people.

 

Now, Lent is the forty days (without counting Sundays) before Easter. It is the season for us to return to God, the season to reflect and repent, and the season to rededicate ourselves through prayers, Scriptures, and fasting. Traditionally, inspired by the forty days of Wilderness experience of Jesus, people have given up some food or activities.

 

Some people say that the purpose of fasting and giving up in Lent is not to create pains and suffering to ourselves but to create a room for a better nourishment. For instance, by restricting food, we gain deeper insight from the Scriptures; by restricting our regular activities, we gain time for prayers. Historically, some people donated for the poor by saving money for their meat and/or wine. Several years ago while going through a trying time, I gave up “worrying” during the Lent and tried to give thanks to God instead of worrying. There is no instructions in Bible about how to spend Lent. So we can seek for God’s guidance in prayer to find a way to spend Lenten season.  Isn’t it awesome that we are given opportunities to rededicate ourselves to the Lord, day by day, season by season, as often as possible?

 

About half of Lenten Season is past this year. But there are still three more weeks before Easter. If you have not thought about Lent but now you started feeling led, may I encourage you to spend the next three weeks in prayer and reflection, thinking of Jesus’ Passion on the cross for our sins, examining to see if you find an area of life where you are led to return to the Lord?

Scroll to top