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.
“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.