Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Leaders of the Future :: More than Moral

There are a number of questions and/or challenges facing Christian leaders today, but one central to Nouwen’s writings is the tension between being able to “respond creatively to the burning issues” of our time AND at the same time, being leaders consumed by and “dwell in God’s presence,” listening to His voice.

It seems that many migrate to one or the other, yet both are insufficient to the needs of our day. The Church needs to be able to extend and provide practical solutions to real problems. Yet, at the same time, the Church desperately needs to embody the Presence of God in their communities.

It seems to be a present challenge for the “experiencing God churches” to communicate in such a way that the message is understood by those seeking truth. On the other hand, other churches speak in a language and dialect that’s understandable, even practical, yet they often dance around the reality of the Spirit within, speaking, directing and leading. People, I believe, are thirsty for both and true life-change ministry will only occur when both are present in tandem.

Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, offers some thoughts along these lines, that are as penetrating today as they were two-decades ago:

“It is not enough for priests ad ministers of the future to be moral people, well trained, eager to help their fellow humans, and able to respond creatively to the burning issues of their time. All of that is very valuable and important, but it is not the heart of Christian leadership. The central question is, are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God incarnate word, and to fast fully God’s infinite goodness…
Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance. Through the disciple of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them. Dealing with the burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.”

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