The Christian Leader is…: 15 insights from Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

This past week our Church Council just finished reading and discussing Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. This is a book that has meant a lot to me over the years. On the inside cover of my copy I have written down various settings where I have led groups through discussions of the book. They are a college ministry student leadership group (Summer 2005), a megachurch staff team (Fall 2005), the staff of a new church plant (Spring 2010), and this past summer (2021) with our staff team here at Eastbrook.

Nouwen’s book is framed around the three temptations of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11) and Peter’s reinstatement and call to shepherd the flock (John 21:15-19). I don’t want to summarize the entire book here. For that you can look at my earlier interactions with the book here:

Instead, I want to share what I found in the back of the book while reading it this time. I found a list I made somewhere along the way of Nouwen’s descriptive statements about the nature of the Christian leader throughout the book.

It was helpful for me to remember these things, so I simply want to share them here. Nouwen tells us that the Christian leader:

  • claims irrelevance in solidarity with society’s suffering to bring Jesus’ light (35)
  • knows the incarnate heart of God in Jesus (38)
  • is a mystic who dwells in the presence of the loving Jesus by contemplative prayer (42)
  • is a vulnerable brother or sister, not a “professional” who knows clients’ problems (61)
  • makes their own limited and conditional love a gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God (62)
  • is a servant leader like Jesus, not playing the power games of this world (65)
  • must be willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness (64)
  • is called to live the Incarnation, both in their own bodies and in the corporate body (68)
  • is to be a full member of their community—accountable and affectionate—with their whole selves (69)
  • walks in the way of downward-mobility like Jesus, not the upward mobility of our culture (81-82)
  • will be radically poor, thus led where they do not want to go (84)
  • is strenuously theologically reflective (85)
  • thinks, speaks, and acts in the name of Jesus (86)
  • is called to help people hear God’s voice and be consoled and comforted by God’s voice (88)
  • is spiritually formed as a whole person (90)

If you’ve never read the book and Nouwen’s words move you or unsettle you, encourage you or confuse you, I strongly encourage you to read it. It is a great book on Christian leadership and pastoral ministry. Let me close by sharing Nouwen’s final paragraph of the book:

I hope and pray that you have seen that the oldest, most traditional vision of Christian leadership is still a vision that awaits realization in the future. I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting, leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence as you anticipate the new century. (92-93).

4 thoughts on “The Christian Leader is…: 15 insights from Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

  1. Matt, thanks for the beautiful summary of one of my favorite books. We can never be reminded enough of words and wisdom such as these. It’s clear you’ve embraced them. Thanks for that too!

    • Thanks so much, Debbie. Nouwen’s words in this book and others have really shaped my understanding of Christianity and pastoral ministry. I’m so glad you enjoyed this book, too.

  2. I loved the book and loved processing it with Eastbrook’s Council. Nouwen’s “outstretched hands” reminds me of Miraslov Volf’s image in Exclusion and Embrace. Thank you for the list.

    • Lisa, thanks for making the connection with “Exclusion and Embrace.” I hadn’t thought of that, but once I read your comment I couldn’t agree more. Two great works that touch on similar points in their own unique way.

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