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From Popularity to Ministry

July 12, 2010

I confess I easily find myself getting caught up in bad ways of thinking about “influence.”  Every couple years I benefit from revisiting a little gem of a book:  In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen. Drawing from the story of Jesus’ three temptations in Matthew 4:1-11 (to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful, as Nouwen describes them), Nouwen calls for three “conversions” in Christian leadership—from relevance to prayer, from popularity to ministry, and from leading to being led.  Adding to the power of the book is the context from which Nouwen wrote, namely, his journey from Harvard to serving with the disabled at the L’Arche community near Toronto, “from the best and the brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society.”  In speaking of moving from relevance to prayer, Nouwen writes that “the question is not:  How many people take you seriously?  How much are you going to accomplish?  Can you show some results?  But:  are you in love with Jesus?”  Nouwen offers “disciplines” to embed this fresh vision of Christian leadership:  contemplative prayer, confession and forgiveness, and theological reflection.  They are some of the best 80 pages in print.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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