In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri J. M. Nouwen. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 107 pages. 1992
This short book is primarily the text for Nouwen’s address on Christian leadership in the twenty-first century on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Center for Human Development in Washington, D.C. His audience was priests and minsters. Nouwen had recently left Harvard and joined the L’Arche Daybreak community in Ontario, called to be the priest for mentally handicapped people and their assistants. His life at at L’Arche offered him new words to use in speaking about Christian leadership in the future because he had found there all the challenges that were facing ministers of God’s Word.
In his address, Nouwen uses two stories from the Gospels: the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1–11) and the story of Peter’s call to be a shepherd (John 21:15–19). He states that he is 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.
He states that the leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there. He writes that the desire to be relevant and successful will gradually disappear, and our only desire will be to say with our whole being to our brothers and sisters of the human race, “You are loved.”
He writes of the value of contemplative prayer for the leader of the future, stating that through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own heart and God’s heart. He writes that 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?”
He states that Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time, but that their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance.
He tells us that somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead. But he wonders how we can lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship? He tells us that laying down our life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.
He tells us that 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 needs the people as much as they need their leader. He writes that it is clear that a whole new type of leadership is asked for in the church of tomorrow, a leadership that 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.
He writes that much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Instead, he tells us, the way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.
Nouwen writes that Jesus sends the Christian leader out to be shepherds, and He promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go.
The book includes a helpful Study Guide, which will allow you to build on his short, but powerful message on Christian leadership, whether you read this individually or with others.