Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Henri Nouwen on Leadership

While reading for my Luke class at MBBS, I came across an excerpt about Henri Nouwen. Nouwen taught for over twenty years on the collegiate level before suffering burnout. As a change of pace, he accepted an opportunity to minister in a home for the mentally challenged. It was in that setting that Nouwen came to realize how much the desire for prestige and popularity had derailed his heart for servant-leadership. For servant-leaders, starting strong doesn't always equate to ending strong. It was somewhere between the two that Nouwen recognized his burnout was the result of getting sidetracked on his priorities. In his autobiography, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Nouwen shares a frank account of his personal journey:

"My movement from Harvard to L'Arche made me aware in a new way how much my own thinking about Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power. Too often I looked at being relevant, popular, and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry. The truth, however, is that these are not vocations, but temptations. Jesus asks, 'Do you love me?' Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading.

The people of L'Arche are showing me new ways. I am a slow learner. Old patterns that have proved quite effective are not easy to give up. But as I think about the Christian leader of the next century, I do believe that those from whom I least expected to learn are showing me the way" (71-72).

Nouwen discovered that relationships, absent personal ambition and power plays, are the essence of true spiritual leaders. Shelving self for the sake of deeply relating on an authentic level with others is the path of true leadership.

It is realizing that everyone I interact with can teach me something.

It is loving Jesus by loving others.