In The Wounded Healer, Nouwen talks about the shortcomings of some of us whose vocation is Christian leadership. All I can say is “Ouch!” I’m grateful for many Christian leaders I know who have already taken his counsel to heart and are growing in spiritual leadership. Listen to his words in the context of his deep love for pastors and other Christian leaders.
“It is a painful fact indeed to realize how poorly prepared most Christians leaders prove to be when they are invited to be spiritual leaders in true sense. Most of them are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization, getting people together in churches, schools and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director. They have become unfamiliar with, and sometimes even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the spirit.” (Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Wounded Healer. New York: Image Books, 1972, p. 37-38.)
We often think of leadership in outward terms only. We think about leading services, or gatherings, or board meetings. We see the real need of leading vision and mission for a particular community of people. Of course these are important, but Nouwen recommends that there is just as much (if not more) need for inward leadership.
Spiritual leadership has first to do with choices I make and rhythms I practice. It also has to do with how I tantalize others to join me in such a way of life. I want to keep growing in my recognition of the movements of God in my life and in the lives of others.
“…the Christian leader must be in the future what [they have] always had to be in the past: a [person] of prayer, a [person] who has to pray, and who has to pray always.” (Nouwen, p. 47.)
A man or woman who truly prays discovers that they are leaders. Prayer and leadership are not either/or categories, but both/and. Organizational expertise is not enough to lead in God’s kingdom. I spoke to a capable church planter the other day. He has been training others to do what he has done. He shared that he’s begun to realize that he could probably train an atheist to be a successful church planter. If leadership is merely a matter of techiques and strategies that are barely baptized versions of best business practices, where is the room for the surprises of God, for the power of God that can only be perfected in human weakness?
I long to be the kind of leader others will look to for spiritual guidance. I want my life to be so well-guided by God that I am able to guide others by experience.