In the Name of Jesus

12596_w185Three words best describe Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, “simple but profound.” Using stories from Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 and Peter’s call to ministry in John 21:15-19, Nouwen blends the scriptural truths of these passages to discuss the essential qualities for Christian leadership in the 21st century. In the book, Nouwen identifies three temptations facing Christian leaders today, and addresses the disciplines needed within ones life to counter these challenges.

In looking at the temptation account of Jesus in the desert, Nouwen discusses the temptations for relevance, popularity, and power. In defining these, Nouwen relates that leaders are tempted to know if what they are doing is: 1) making a difference (relevant); 2) winning great applause from men (popularity); and 3) influencing people and advancing their agenda to the degree they desire (power).

As a leader in the church, I have to be honest that I often find myself facing the same temptations Jesus faced in the desert. It is a constant struggle to not look to ministry for relevance, popularity and power. I don’t think any of these things influenced my desire to be in the ministry, but I find that I often need to die to my own wants and desires, and realize that ministry is not about me, but about God and His kingdom. I have seen this in my response to the emotional highs and lows of ministry, by sometimes wondering if what I am doing is truly making a difference (relevance. I have seen this in my hesitancy to speak the truth for fear of not being popular. And I have seen it demonstrated in my anger and frustration, when a goal becomes blocked or doesn’t live up to my expectation (power).

While in the text, Jesus dealt with the temptations by quoting truth from the Scriptures, Nouwen suggests that the antidotes to these three temptations are: 1) contemplative prayer; 2) confession and forgiveness; and 3) theological reflection. For those whose temptation is to be relevant, Nouwen advises that we practice the discipline of contemplative prayer, which can keep “us from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God’s heart” (p.28), because contemplative prayer keeps us connected with our first love. For those who struggle with the temptation to be popular, Nouwen suggests practicing the discipline of confession and forgiveness within the aspect of community, because this discipline keeps “our ministry communal and mutual” (p.65). And finally for those who wrestle with the desire for power, he suggests the discipline of theological reflection because it “allows us to discern critically where we are being led” (p.65).

If Jesus was tempted in this way, who are we think that we will avoid such temptation? Plain and simple, our biggest temptations as leaders in the church will definitely be the ones Jesus encountered. Therefore we would be wise to be prepared when it comes our way, by embracing and practicing the “simple, but profound” qualities for leadership that Nouwen discusses in his book.

One Response to In the Name of Jesus
  1. Tom Reply

    Love that book. Thanks for the reminder of the message in the book. Good to be reminded regularly.

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