Community and Identity: Part 2 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

Yesterday I began a series of three posts on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. I continue that series here by delving into the second part of that book: “From Popularity to Ministry.”

Doing Ministry Together
I have read this book several times, but I continue to be deeply impacted by Nouwen’s emphasis on the fact that ministry is shared and not something in which we strive “to do something spectacular, something that could win [us] great applause” (53). How often I have seen in myself and others a twisted motivation in ministry aimed at the wrong end: praise, attention, recognition, or accolades. We sometimes become bent on others’ opinions that we miss the true nature of ministry.

True ministry involves proclaiming the gospel together, not lifting up ourselves. True ministry comes from a place of reliance and interdependence, where trust that “the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road” (59).

Think of that. I wonder, when we engage in ministry with others, are we so together in it that we trust God to reveal himself to and through us to others? Or are doing something else entirely? Are we competing with others for the praise and glory of ourselves in the eyes of other humans?

Who We Are – Who We Are Not
Our twisted motivations often come from twisted souls. Nouwen presses the conversation of this second part of the book toward the heart of the matter: our identity in Christ. We need to know our identity and, specifically, that ministry it is not about us, but about God.

Nouwen writes:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. (62)

If you skimmed that section quickly, let me encourage you to stop and read it again. This is so important and challenging.

I wonder, do we know who we are and who we are not when it comes to ministry? I know it is such a struggle. It is vital that we let go of our need to appear competent, to be needed, and to be seen as the source of good in ministry. We are made in the image of God and valuable in that regard, but we are also, in a sense, unnecessary to God. He does not need us to do ministry, but He does desire to work in and through us. There is a holy humility to this aspect of knowing our identity. There is a freedom in letting go of our need for acclaim and simply relying upon God to work.

This can be a fierce struggle, but it also can become one of the freeing joys of truly doing our ministry in the name of Jesus.

2 thoughts on “Community and Identity: Part 2 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

  1. “It is vital that we let go of our need to appear competent, to be needed, and to be seen as the source of good in ministry.” This statement hits me right where it counts. The need to appear competent has been such a part of who I have been for so long and it is so hard to give up. May God work through me to accomplish what he desires in spite of this. I need to remember that God can work through my shortcomings just as well as through those times when everything goes perfectly according to plan!

    • Yes, Geof, how strong the temptation can be to appear “competent.” We are, in many ways, groomed toward competency, but even more so today we are groomed toward an appearance of competency. There is a humility that admits who we are and who we are not, enabling us to lean upon others’ gifts and abilities. There is a holy interdependence that can arise here.

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