Last month I posted my reading list for 2013, and in the comment section an old college friend recommended In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen. I was interested, because (a) it was on leadership, and (b) Nouwen, a Catholic priest, was a well-known writer whom I had never read before.

Furthermore, I was interested to read what he had to say because of what I assumed would be an interesting perspective. Nouwen was a respected professor at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, but he chose to leave that behind to live and work with developmentally disabled people.

And I was correct—he did have an interesting perspective. In the Name of Jesus offers some radical views on Christian leadership, and by that, I mean that it takes seriously the things that Jesus says in Scripture.

Here are some quotations [my comments in brackets]:

“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.” (p. 18) [The message of irrelevance is hard to hear in our success-driven society. But to the degree that we emphasize and prop up our successes, how much do we alienate ourselves from the downtrodden who are most in need of God’s Good News?]

“Indeed, whenever we minister together, it is easier for people to recognize that we do not come in our own name, but in the name of the Lord Jesus who sent us.” (p. 36)

“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.” (p. 37) [I love that—“the mystery of ministry.” As someone who is very aware of my own faults, I have certainly been struck by that irony before.]

“The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.” (p. 50) [Wow. Gut check.]

“Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly.” (p. 50) [This is a helpful perspective: the Christian is not called to be listless or apathetic, but so trusting in God that we can appear to be unconcerned at times.]

“The task of future Christian leaders is not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God’s people out of slavery, through the desert to a new land of freedom.” (p. 54)

This was an easy read (only about 80 pages including a delightful personal story that was woven throughout the book), but it was also very challenging. There are a lot of leadership books out there, but not many of them follow the model of our Leader, who emptied Himself and became lowly on our behalf.