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).

The New Moses

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I continued our preaching series, “Who Do You Say I Am?”, by looking at the well-known story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in Matthew 14:13-23. What does this episode tell us about who Jesus is and how can we learn to live in response to Him based on the miraculous events we encounter here? There is just so much in this passage I wish I had been able to preach 3 or 4 messages just from this text.

This message is part of the sixth part of our longer series on Matthew, which includes “Family Tree,” “Power in Preparation,” “Becoming Real,” “The Messiah’s Mission,” and “Stories of the Kingdom.”

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:13)

Jesus’ Unsuccessful Withdrawal (Matthew 14:13)

Withdrawing from Herod Antipas and the crowds

Jesus pursued by the crowds into the wilderness

Jesus’ Heart (Matthew 14:13-14)

“He had compassion on them…” (NIV)

“His heart went out to them…”

Jesus Feeds a Great Crowd (Matthew 14:15-21)

Recognizing the needs of the crowd and limited provision

The gathering of the crowd

The miraculous provision for the crowd 

Jesus’ action: take – bless – break – give 

Jesus Finally Withdraws (Matthew 14:22-23)

The disciples are sent away

Jesus goes up to the mountain

Jesus the New Moses (Matthew 14:15-23)

Out in the wilderness

A huge crowd of people who are in need

Providing miraculous food

Jesus meets with God on the mountain

Making it Real

Encounter Jesus’ heart

Encounter Jesus’ provisionBe a disciple in Jesus’ hand


Dig Deeper:

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

• Memorize Matthew 14:19
• Journal, draw, paint, or ink this story or some aspect of it as a way of reflecting on who Jesus is and how you most need to meet with Him.
• Take some time to draw away with God for a few hours or a day. Use this episode in Matthew 14 as a basis for your day alone with God. Take time in prayer and reading Scripture. Be still and rest in God. Perhaps you could use the suggestions from the Potter’s Inn as a guide here.
• Consider reading Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved, which reflects on the fourfold action of Jesus in this story (taken – blessed – broken – given) as a metaphor for the spiritual life.

The Weekend Wanderer: 17 July 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


“One million hours of prayer for Olympic host Japan” – Emily Anderson in Eternity: “Christians in Japan are asking the world for one million hours of prayer for their nation throughout the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Japan 1 Million is led by the Japan international Sports Partnership (JiSP) and Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA). They are calling on churches, individuals and families across the world to unite in prayer for Japan as it takes centre stage from the Opening Ceremony on Friday, 23 July. ‘What a gift to Japan from the global Church – one million hours of prayer for God’s Glory to fall upon our land,’ said JiSP leader Pastor Keishi Ikeda. When it comes to the good news of Christianity being spread, Japan is the second largest un-reached people group in the world. Less than one per cent of its 126 million population attend church.”


Rene Magritte - The Lovers (detail)“Why We Confess: From Augustine to Oprah” – Elizabeth Bruenig in The Hedgehog Review: “Confession, once rooted in religious practice, has assumed a secular importance that can be difficult to describe. Certainly, confessional literature is everywhere: in drive-by tweets hashtagged #confessanunpopularopinion, therapeutic reality-television settings, tell-all celebrity memoirs, and blogs brimming with lurid detail set to endless scroll. Public confession has become both self-forming and culture-forming: Although in some sense we know less about each other than ever, almost every piece of information we do learn is an act of intentional or performative disclosure. It’s easy to chalk up this love of confessional literature to the seemingly modern impulse to overshare, but public confession itself has an ancient history.”


Jesus-Way“Truth, Justice, and the Jesus Way” – This is an older post from Eugene Peterson at the Renovare blog: “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is king. If Christ is king, every thing, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things — what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’ — is required. We can — we must! — take responsibility for the way we live and work in our homes and neighborhoods, workplaces and public squares. We can refuse to permit the culture to dictate the way we go about our lives.”


“In Kenya, faith groups work to resettle youth returning from al-Shabab” – Fredrick Nzwili in Religion News Service: “In Kenya’s coastal region, interfaith efforts to slow down or end youth recruitment into the militant Islamist group al-Shabab are gaining progress, with some recruits abandoning the extremist group’s training grounds in Southern Somalia to return home. The group — al-Qaida’s affiliate in East Africa — had stepped up secret recruitments in the coastal and northeastern regions since 2011, when the East African nation’s military entered southern Somalia. The radicalized youth, many of them younger than 30, were often sent across the border to train as jihadists. But now, the activity has slowed down, partly due to efforts by the interfaith groups. More than 300 such youths who had traveled to Somalia for training as jihadists had been rescued and brought back to the country.”


Henri, Vincent and Me“Henri, Vincent, and Living in the World with Kindness” – Joseph Johnson in Englewood Review of Books: “Carol Berry first met Henri Nouwen in the bookstore at Yale Divinity School back in the 1970’s. As she recounts in her moving (and brief) book, Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh, he initially appeared like “a man dressed in a well-worn, baggy, moth-eaten sweater with a woolen scarf around his neck” (4). Though Nouwen may have looked like a disheveled, older student, he was actually teaching at Yale at the time, and Berry was deeply moved while sitting in on Nouwen’s lecture on Vincent van Gogh and the nature of the compassionate life. Nouwen is known by many as a deeply kind Catholic spiritual writer, and for me, his writings—and especially letters—have been a real gift. Nouwen felt a deep connection with van Gogh as a fellow wounded healer who desired to connect with other and provide them with comfort, and he worked hard to share this connection with his students (8). As Berry puts it, the hope was that, “Through Vincent’s story, through the parable of his life, we were to come closer to an understanding of what it meant to be a consoling presence” (52). Her book aims for a similar purpose.”


“Sierra Leonean evangelicals approach death penalty abolition process with caution” – Jonatán Soriano in Evangelical Focus: “Pressure from the international community and, above all, NGOs has led to a massive process of abolition of the death penalty in Africa. In 2016, Guinea took this step, joining Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo. In 2018 it was Burkina Faso. In 2019 Equatorial Guinea announced an abolitionist bill, and in 2020 Chad removed capital punishment from its legal system. This year Malawi declared it unconstitutional. As among several sectors of society, within the evangelical sphere in Sierra Leone, abolition is viewed differently.”


Music: Vigilantes of Love, “Skin,” from Blister Soul.

Power and Weakness: Part 3 of a reflection on Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”

This is the third and final post in a series on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (read part 1 and part 2). I’m writing on this significant book in order to continue reflecting on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, which serves as the basis for Nouwen’s writing, and is also the place we are at in our preaching series, “Power in Preparation,” from the Gospel of Matthew. I conclude this series of posts by looking at the third and final part of that book: “From Leading to Being Led.”

The Temptation to be Powerful
Just as Jesus was tempted by Satan to use his power to influence people for his ministry goals, so, Nouwen says, we face the temptation to do ministry relying on power to control others instead of acknowledging our weakness to be led by others.

The true way of Christian service and leadership, according to Nouwen, exhibits these characteristics:

  • downward mobility like Jesus toward the Cross – not upwardly mobile toward what is wrongly called ‘success’
  • willing to be ‘radically poor’ to follow Jesus into unattractive places – not caught up in the wealth and riches of this world
  • allowing Christ to form their entire lives – body, mind, heart – not just intellectually following the ideas of Jesus
  • helping people hear God’s voice in their real lives – not just chattering on about their own ideas

In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer at the end of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage that reads:

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life.

I wonder if our Christian service is shaped by the Cross as much as it is by pursuit of “success,” however we may define it? I wonder, what sort of leaders are we? Do we lead ‘in the name of Jesus’ or in our own name?

I wonder aloud, how can we practically let Jesus lead us in His downwardly mobile, humble, poor, and God-oriented way?

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.