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.

Arriving One: the final destination of the church

This past weekend we concluded our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” at Eastbrook Church. To bring this great exploration of unity to a close, I traced the movement from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 to the heavenly vision in Revelation 7:9-10. In one sense this is a contrast between humanity divided and humanity united.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Humanity Divided (Genesis 11:1-9)

  • Human assertion against God
  • God’s confusion upon humanity

Humanity United (Revelation 7:9-10)

  • The gathering of the saints in the new heaven and the new earth
    • The contrast with Babel’s division centered on humanity
    • Here true unity is centered on God
  • The Great Multitude Before God
    • Unified before God: standing together, adorned similarly, crying out as one
    • Identifiable difference: every nation, tribe, people, and language

Moving Toward a Unified Arrival (Colossians 3:1-17)

  • Our focus on Christ and things above (3:1-4)
  • Take off the old self (3:5-11)
  • Put on the new self (3:12-17)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Revelation 7:9-10 in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Revelation 7:9-10 or Colossians 3:12-14
  • Read Genesis 11:1-9 – the story of the Tower of Babel – and consider what was going on here. What do you think was at work within the hearts of humanity in this story? How does this story echo the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3?
  • If you want to dive deeper into Revelation 7:9-10, consider listening to or watching another preaching series from Eastbrook called “Becoming 7.”
  • Continue with our season of prayer and fasting. Find more info here.

Praying One: learning to pray for unity from Jesus’ prayer

As we continued our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church I explored Jesus’ prayer in John 17 as a key to the unity of the church and an example for how prayer contributes to unity. I concluded the message with a time of prayer based on Jesus’ requests in John 17:20-26.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You.” (John 17:20-21)

A Summary of Jesus’ Prayer in  John 17

  • Jesus prays for Himself (John 17:1-5)
  • Jesus prays for His immediate disciples (John 17:6-19)
  • Jesus prays for future disciples (John 17:20-26)

Diving Into Jesus’ Prayer for Unity

  • Jesus’ prayer for those who will believe in Him through His disciples’ word (17:20)
  • Experiential oneness derived from the divine oneness (17:21)
  • This oneness tied to the world believing Jesus was sent by God (17:21)
  • Glory given to Jesus now given to the disciples for unity (17:22-23)
  • Unity as a reflection of being loved by God (17:23-26)

Jesus’ Prayer and Our Prayers

  • Jesus prayed uniquely
  • Our prayers can echo Jesus’ prayer
  • We will only live unified by prayer

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the theme of prayer and unity in one or more of the following ways:

A Necessary Tension: Bonhoeffer on Solitude and Community

As I continue to reflect on unity as we walk through our current series at Eastrook Church, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” here is a powerful quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together on the necessary tension between solitude and community:

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. “The challenge of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone…I will not be with you then, nor you with me” (Luther).

But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you. “If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me” (Luther).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954).

Becoming One: the developing unity of the church as the community of Christ

As we continued our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church I turned a corner from our focus on God’s part in bringing unity to our part in upholding unity. The first message in the series, “God is One,” explored how unity comes through the Triune God’s indwelling presence, and the second message, “Made One,” explored how Jesus brought unity with God and humanity at the Cross. Now we look at how we are becoming one as we choose to uphold unity through selfless love.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” (Philippians 2:5; 4:2)

The Philippian Challenge (Philippians 4:2)

  • We are one, but we don’t live like it
  • Even the mature suffer disunity and conflict

The Philippian Solution (Philippians 2:1-11; 2:12-13)

  • Choosing a different way (2:1-4)
  • Having the mindset as Christ Jesus (2:5-11)
    • pouring out (kenosis)
    • taking on servanthood
    • humble obedience
    • from humiliation to exaltation
  • Working out salvation with God’s power (2:12-13)

How Do We Uphold Unity in the Face of Conflict?

  • Live out of the overflow of life with God
  • Seek humility instead of vain conceit
  • Look to others’ interests instead of pursuing selfish ambition
  • Cultivate the same mindset as Christ Jesus

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the theme of the unity of our Triune God in one or more of the following ways: