I was first introduced to the writings of Henri Nouwen 4 years ago. As an exercise in reflection on Christian leadership, my cohort was given Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus to read. This book marked a turning point for me in my faith. Written from Nouwen’s own experience of leaving his faculty positions at Harvard and Yale to join a faith community in France where he would be serving adults with disabilities, Nouwen reflects on what it means to lead – in the name of Jesus.
The Temptation: To Be Relevant
Nouwen’s first chapter details his early reflections from his transition to work at L’Arche. A former professor, he struggled with feeling relevant saying, “I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections. hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment.” Nouwen’s new role forced him into a situation that worked to refine and shake about his identity because he needed to rediscover his identity in Christ. He later goes on to say, “God loves us not because of what we accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us.”
How powerful is that? What would it look like to walk into a new position at work, church, group of friends, neighborhood and no long worry about whether or not people “know” all that you’ve “done” or the “reputation” you once had. Deep down, Nouwen suggests that our temptation to be relevant to whatever context we find ourselves is rooted in the inner question: “Do you love me?”
What if we were not looking for others to love us? What if we walked as beloveds in every situation and within every relationship?
The Temptation: To Be Spectacular
Ever struggle with asking for help? Have the words,”I’m independent and capable and I can do this myself!” ever escaped your mouth? Me too.
In a society that’s wracked with individualism, we are consistently tempted to be the “star” of our own show – proving to the world that we’ve arrived better than anyone else. You may not think you struggle with this temptation but take a second to think of the last time you compared yourself to someone else. Remember the last time you worked so hard so as not to experience failure, for fear that others would see you differently, dare they see your faults or weakness.
We were not created to do life alone. As Nouwen points out, “We keep forgetting that we are being sent out two-by-two. We cannot bring good news on our own. We are called to proclaim the Gospel together, in community.”
Are you willing to let others see the “real” you—weaknesses, uglies, sadness and all? We cannot radically lead others into a soul altering relationship with God if we ourselves are not willing to to do the same.
What would it look like in your life to confess and forgive? What in the dark needs to be made visible in the light?
The Temptation: To Be Powerful
In summary: leadership means to be led. I personally believe that all of us were created to lead–that we are all leaders in differing capacities and modalities across our many contexts. Whether you are reading this and run a Fortune 500 company, are a stay-at-home parent, or take part in a Bible study at your church – you are a leader. Leaders aren’t just the ones with visionary gifting or bossy tendencies, leaders are people who own their lives and encourage others to take part in their own. Leaders teach, listen, encourage, pray, cook dinner, mow the lawn, read books to their kids and serve those less fortunate.
One of the problems that Nouwen points out in his last chapter is that leaders are often tempted to become powerful “because power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.”
This floored me. Re-read that: Power is an easy substitute for the hard task of love.
Where do you see this play out in our own society, culture, homes, communities, and schools?
Ruling over others is much easier than loving them. Power feels secure where human love does not. When you’re the one in power or control – you run less risk of being hurt because you hold all the cards. As Nouwen states, “the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat.”
What area of your life causes you to try to pick up the reigns?
What about intimacy in this area of your life feels like a threat?
What would it look like to be led by Christ in every area of your life?