I have been reading Henri Nouwen during Lent. The latest of my reading has been his In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Though it was published in 1989, I find it as timely as anything published tomorrow.
This book is a collection of essays or speeches Nouwen put together for a conference at Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. They come not long after he left Harvard to become a part of the L’Arche community in Toronto, where he lived with mentally-handicapped adults.
Perhaps you can imagine going from faculty positions at Notre Dame, Yale, then Harvard, to living in community with mentally handicapped adults. I can, but only as a matter of scale.
I know the feeling of wanting to move up; to make connections, impress the right people, gain fame. As one clergy friend of mine once euphemistically described it, the desire “to impact as many people as possible on behalf of Jesus.”
Nouwen, however, brings me back to reality. There is a tendency in our society to mass-produce, to formulize, to hunger and thirst after bigness.
As Mark Yaconelli reminds us, after three years, “Jesus had twelve followers, and one of them wanted to kill him.”
I contend now, I think in line with Nouwen, that the more we try to “impact” greater numbers of people, the less impact we finally have with any of them. It’s like we are doing discipleship as drive-by: hit-em with Jesus, move on.
Christian Leadership happens, Nouwen shows us by his life and in this book, when we refuse to move on.
Go and do likewise.