Loved this book…and also disagree

Reflections on Christian LeadershipI’m at Wabash College and as part of the Wabash Pastoral Fellowship (read about that by clicking here).  With 17 other pastors from around the state, I just finished a discussion on Henri Nouwen’s simple and profound book about Christian Leadership.  I read it 15 years ago in undergrad.  It was different this time.

Most of the difference was in my pastoral experience.  And the most significant piece was in my always-strengthening bias toward active leadership.  I find myself more willing than ever to question authors and understand that books are written and read because they have a compelling and uber-focused point.  Real Life tends to be more nuanced and situational.

My two cents on the book this time around:

1.  It’s a wrestling match book and that is good.  Nouwen makes you think.  And the most important thing he has me thinking about is the role of contemplative prayer as the basis for ministry leadership.  It should trump all other motives (especially unhealthy ones) when it comes to direction and leadership.  Nouwen says, “Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time.  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.”

2.  I disagree with more of what he says than ever…at least in it’s broad application.  A few quick examples:

-he pushes for a move “from the moral to the mystical”.  My question…why not both?  Mystical is powerful and needed, but i don’t think it’s an advance from the moral.  It is situational.

-he pushes for communal and mutual leadership.  I know there is value in that.  Collaboration is a high value for me.  But not always.  Sometimes the role of leadership is to stand against the direction a “community would take things.”  Lots…and I mean lots…of times God designated a leader to…well, LEAD!  Sometimes it was against all of man’s advice.  Sometimes there were close advisers.  Sometimes it was because the moment demanded urgency.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes it failed.  I think what you would have to conclude is that God doesn’t have one way for this to happen.  It is situational.

-Practically, I always wrestle with the question of process vs. result.  It’s never extreme on either side, but Nouwen definitely emphasizes process.  I tend to emphasize result.  I’d argue this is healthy for anyone who thinks in terms of mission (which Jesus did and the early church did).  There is a world to be redeemed with the grace of God and I’m interested in using whatever process helps to accomplish that goal.  Can’t be naive.  Can’t think just short term.  Can’t just use people in unhealthy ways.  Can’t do something sinful or ungodly.  But given those parameters (and more), the accomplishment of mission is more important than any process to get there.

Wow.  That was longer than I intended.  More on our discussions tomorrow.

~ by Greg Lee on January 19, 2009.

One Response to “Loved this book…and also disagree”

  1. Interesting reflections…I am glad I am not the only person who reads books deemed spiritually significant and disagrees with what the author says.
    One push back -or at least- possible explanation of your first point. Not having read the book in about 20 years I might be wrong on this…but isn’t his point in emphasizing mystical over moral that if we are “spiritually connected” with Christ, in a deep and abiding relationship with Him, the moral aspects of life take care of themselves, so to speak. In other words, I don’t have to focus on living a “moral” life, I focus on living a spiritually connect life and by default I make moral choices that honor God.

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