Feb 28 – Mar 5: From Popularity to Ministry

Reading: Part II – From Popularity to Ministry (p 51 to p 70)

It has been a blessed Lenten journey thus far and I want to thank those that have enriched our book discussion with your heartfelt and meaningful sharing, in particular those who have recently begun sharing.  This week we turn our attention to Jesus’ second temptation, Peter’s call to ministry, and the disciplines of confession and forgiveness.

Knowing that we are all ministers in our own way,  you are encouraged to prayerfully consider the temptation, the question, and the discipline and to reflect on are how the truth of the Good News and the  discipline suggested by Henri may be related to your own life and spiritual journey.  I’ve included several questions that you may find helpful.  As always, to the extent you are comfortable, please share your thoughts and insights on these questions or anything you find meaningful in the reading this week.

1.  Henri tells us that his move from Harvard to L’Arche caused a significant change in his approach to ministry—from the individualistic ministry he learned during his formation and practiced as an educator, to the shared ministry that resulted from living in a close-knit community of caring and wounded people trying to live faithfully together.  Henri writes, “Jesus refused to be a stunt man.  He did not come to prove himself… When you look at today’s church, it’s easy to see the prevalence of individualism… Stardom and individual heroism… are not at all alien…” 
a)  What was it about Jesus that allowed him to reject the powerful temptation to be spectacular?
b)  What has been your experience with individualism and the tendency to stardom and heroism in your church community and its leadership?  In your own life and ministry?

2.  Henri draws our attention to John’s Gospel where Jesus gave Peter the task of ministry—that same task that we are given today.  Henri emphasizes Jesus’ intent that
“…ministry is a communal and mutual experience… We are called to proclaim the Gospel together in community.”  And he makes it more personal by writing: “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.”
a)  How have you been chosen and called to ministry—to make your love the gateway for God?  Is your ministry a communal and mutual experience or is it more individualistic?
b) What concrete steps can you take to adopt the servant leadership mentioned by Henri and to proclaim the Gospel together in community?”

3.  In the challenging discussion of the discipline, Henri tells us that ministers must be,
“…persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister… (they are) called to be full members of their community… called to minister with their whole being, including their wounded selves.”  Yet Henri also emphasizes that for ministers to explicitly bring their own sins or failures into the pulpit or their daily ministries would be unhealthy and imprudent.
a)  Have you seen Henri’s vision of imperfect (i.e., human) ministers living as full members of the church community sharing their whole being, including their wounded selves, in a healthy and prudent way and what was the response?  What about in your life?

Thanks again to all of those sharing this Lenten journey with us.  We look forward to hearing from you this week.

May the Lord give you peace and may you feel his presence walking with you this Lent.

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29 Responses to Feb 28 – Mar 5: From Popularity to Ministry

  1. David Brown says:

    As a recently retired minister of forty yrs. I have suddenly discovered I have no power on a leadership level, Three months after retirement I came out as a new Catholic as a lay person. I have been asked to be one of the Lectors. Other than that I just go to Mass. I have no power as a leader as I once did. so I pray and read and try to serve and help when ever the door opens to me. I realize that aging means sometime being taken where you would not like to go as Henri talks about.

  2. Ray Glennon says:

    There were several things this week that were particularly meaningful to me.

    First, like Henri, I have lived much of my life seeking the applause of others. It is trait that I am aware of, yet it is one that I find difficult to overcome. As I write this I am helping as a volunteer chaperone at a Confirmation retreat for 32 young people. For the past several years I have been a volunteer member of the team that planned and conducted the retreat, however, this year the parish youth minister decided to hire an outside retreat director due to a shortage of adult volunteers and to obtain a fresh perspective. And I will admit that for the first few hours it was difficult for me to adjust to the less significant, less visible role that I am fulfilling this year. I’m certain that is due my need for applause. In writing this I realize that participating in this way is a blessing and an opportunity for me to be open to whatever role the Lord wants me to fill–during this retreat and each day on my journey. This is an insight I would not have gained were I focused on “performing a role” as a retreat leader.

    Second, Henri reminds us that Jesus the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Considering our lives Henri writes, “Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.” These words touched my heart in a special way because that is precisely what happens every time a virtual community comes together in this space to discuss one of Henri’s books. Thanks to each of you for laying down your lives.
    Peace and all good.

    • Alison P says:

      Ray, I so appreciate your vulnerability in what you said about your need for applause. It is a huge temptation for me in ministry, and week after week God humbles me by reminding me that ministry is really about Jesus and the community. Again and again, I need Henri’s message. It convicts me and brings me to do just what he recommends here: confess and receive forgiveness.

  3. Pat Howai says:

    I would say that my only experience of ministry has been of individualism. It seems to be about the person who has the most charisma, as Henri says “stardom and individual heroism.” And I tend to feel like a cog in a wheel and not really part of a community. However, this past week because my country has been faced with increasing violence especially among young people, the community did respond differently this time. It wasn’t about star power but rather expressing our fears, concerns, helplessness and vulnerability in coping with the issue. We also recognized our need for practicing non-violence among ourselves and in all areas of lives. This was truly a communal effort and the experience warmed my heart. I experienced dialogue and not just “preaching”. I felt that “we’re all in this together” and God was in our midst.

  4. Susan DeLong says:

    Tonight I received a strong connection to this section of the book. When I read and reread this section this week, it didn’t resonate as much with my experience as the earlier sections had. But tonight as I read, I saw that I have an individualistic approach to ministry (p. 52) and I felt the invitation to notice where I have the opportunity to share ministry with others. One of those is opportunities is with a group of peers. I sometimes feel “less than” with this group and so I find myself in a striving stance rather than in an open stance to receive from the Holy Spirit.
    Henri says Jesus “did not have to prove himself.” (p. 55). When I read that I saw that I am often trying to prove myself when I am accompanying others on their spiritual journey. Tonight I am embracing Henri’s reminder “that we do not come in our own name, but in the name of the Lord Jesus who sent us.”
    As Henri writes: “The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.” (p. 62) Amen.

  5. Marianne says:

    This week, I underlined p. 58 where Henri is urging us to bring the good news in 2 or more. I really like this idea and I know that it’s easier to share what God has done for me when there are a few people around. The good news of the gospel is also more exciting when shared. There is always a happy buzz at our church as brothers and sisters in Christ share their lives with each other.

    Throughout the past years studying Nouwen’s writing, I have been able to cultivate a good personal relationship with Jesus. P. 65 talks about “the danger of confession/forgiveness becoming just a “ritual” with no real encounter taking place in which the reconciling and healing presence of Jesus can be experienced.” Interestingly, it’s from the many hours I have spent in bed over the years when I have migraine headaches. Jesus is working with me to be less harsh and judgmental. Sometimes in the day to day trivia, I forget that the peaceful presence of Jesus in the HOly Spirit is with me any time I want to access it.

    Thanks to everyone for your sharing.

  6. Janet says:

    It is a cold, windy day in PA and it was “heartwarming” to see two women at my door evangelizing and sharing the Good News. It reminded me of serving in ministry two by two, as we read recently. We are constantly appealing for people to share their time and talent by bring involved in ministry. Perhaps we need more catechesis that by our Baptism, we are called to serve.

  7. Nuala Doherty says:

    Before I became a Sister I was a member of NET(National Evangelization Team) in the USA and SION( A Catholic lay Community) in the UK. In both those communities we used the pratice of giving testimonies (which involved often sharing about the brokenness in our lives) in our missions and retreats. Through our sharing the people in the “pew” were able to identify with us. They realized that God loves all of us with our imperfections and failings, warts an’ all. That God can use the wounded to heal the wounded (as is clear in another of Henri’s books “Wounded Healer”). And of course, Henri himself is a wonderful example of someone who used his vulnerability in a healthy and prudent way to minister to others. Another example in the UK was Princess Di (although she was not a minister as such). She shared her brokenness with the people and it only endeared them more to her. They could identify with that wounded part. Many loved Princess Di as was evident by the great number that turned out to her funeral.
    Here in Ecuador the people tend to put Priests and Religious on a pedestal. I am forever sharing with them that I am no better. I too have my weaknesses which the ones I work more closely with realize only too wel!!! In fact, when I look at the lives and faith of some of the women in my groups I can see some quiet, unspoken of saints. The way of life I have chosen is “different” but not better!

    • Marge says:

      I, too, picked up Henri’s book, “The Wounded Healer” this week…..thinking in terms of leadership as disempowering and empowering at the same time…can it be? So appreciate Nowen’s thoughts on confession/forgiveness..p.68…confession: dark powers are taken out of carnal isolation, brought into the light and made visible….forgiveness: disarms and dispels those dark powers, a new creation possible…..makes me think important disciplines of both, omitted, overlooked or neglected in leadership group gatherings…hmmm….maybe in our board meeting, need to be more intentional in this area….listening….praying….

  8. Kim says:

    According to Henri, future leaders “must be persons always willing to confess their brokenness and ask for forgiveness” (pg64). We make this exceedingly difficult for the trained professional. My husband is a surgeon and as patients are trusting their very life to him, they need him to be strong and confident. Also, our late pastor said that as a pastor, he was actually instructed through his denomination NOT to participate in most of the “one anothers” in the Bible with his congregation.
    However, as a lay-person, and a person whose personality does not need to be in control, I have found it simple to establish an Alcoholics Anonymous style ministry for 63 older ladies in my church who are NOT alcoholics. THERE IS NO ONE LEADER. Once a year I model the depth of confession and honesty we will be displaying during a 20 minute devotion followed by 60 minute topical discussion all around a topic voted on at the beginning of the year by the participants. I only coordinate the speaker for each month but we are all equal co-leaders. An incredibly strong community of leaders has been the result since those unwilling to participate and occasionally lead fall away.
    These older ladies are finding the freedom and joy, many for the first time in life, of finally confessing that abortion, affair, or other indiscretion in life that lead them down a destructive path of self-hatred and isolation. No one is allowed to give advice or cross-talk so it has become a truly safe place.
    For anyone interested in forming this type of community within their church, I recommend learning from any one of the 22 or more different types of Anonymous groups for a successful format for mutuality and accountability. On pg 69, Henri himself actually recommends learning from Alcoholic Anonymous to “gain an awareness of Gods healing presence in the confessing community of those who dare to search for healing.”

    • Deb Hubenthal says:

      I am very interested in learning more about the workings of the woman’s group. I understand the format of an anonymous meeting, as I am a member of AA/Al-anon. I’m wondering:1. how did you arrive at a yearly topic? Can you give some examples? 2. speaker- was it an outside person to speak on topic, or was it one of the members as leader, that talked about the questions, concerns, experience of her own life…and then the discussion followed after that. This model of community in a Christ-centered setting intrigued me. Thank you for any advice.

      • Kim says:

        Hi Deb. I started the group after I lost 60 pounds through Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous over 5 years ago. I wanted to bring the same level of honesty and integrity and community that I found in “FA” to the ladies of my church. I chose 8 older ladies (I was 55) and had them over for lunch to learn my ministry idea. I showed them a list of 20 possible topics and asked if they would be willing to choose one of them to give a devotion on followed by discussion. To my surprise, each of them was willing to lead and felt the need for such a fellowship. We chose topics that applied to our older age group like “loving our adult children,” “caring for aging parents,” “travel,” “fear,” “preparing for heaven.”
        We meet once a month for 2 hours at my house. These are all lay people. I have 63 ladies, all over 55, on my email “reminder” list now after 3 years and between 15-25 show up for each gathering. The first year I supplied all the coffee and snacks until others started offering and I give each of those who choose to lead a small gift or thank you note as well as sending an email “follow-up” to everyone of what occurred at the meeting. There is sometimes some email chatter as ladies comment as well about how they were blessed by “replying to all.”
        Blessings to you as you dream about the possibilities!

  9. Lulie Calleja says:

    Want to thank Ray for asking questions:
    a) How have you been chosen and called to ministry—to make your love the gateway for God? Is your ministry a communal and mutual experience or is it more individualistic?
    I, like Henri, made a long list of things that I needed to accumulate for my “stance/posturing” and “make my own signature.”
    No. 1 the right ministry for my style?
    No. 2 My own people that I could change?
    Wrong approach to take, and being called is something that I needed to discern very carefully. Discernment was more a leading for me by others whom saw my charismatic gifts, virtues and probings to continue to strive for what Henri calls my first love.
    I am humbled by them to encourage my “relationship with Jesus” more than anything else.My individual ministry is still unfolding as I find it very difficult but with this new insight by Henri Nouwen, I’m humbled as I allow myself not to be so prideful with more own thoughts. Mystic as Henri describes, “is a person who identifies deeply and rooted in Gods first love.” I’m so contemplating as I again work on my relationship with my first love, Jesus.

  10. Jon Z says:

    How do we ‘…overcome the temptation of individual heroism’. Henri Nouwen says, “…I would like to propose the disciplines of confession and forgiveness.

    I have been in leadership positions often over the years both in my work life and in lay leadership in several of the churches we have attended over the years. Having studied and taught leadership and management as well over the years, I have also attended many work related leadership conferences and those sponsored in the Christian community. It would be tempting to say that I am an expert in the subject, and those looking at my background have often reinforced those ideas so that I believed them myself – a personal example of individual heroism.

    Further, many Christians in leadership around me demonstrated their own kind of ‘individual heroism’ in various ways. One elder in our church had memorized several thousand verses and could recall them by subject matter. Others who taught adults had an amazing command of the Bible that often left me wondering what I could ever do to compare.

    In brief, I spent many years in a performance spiral, trying to love God more and more. It took decades and a slow dawning in my brain that Jesus’ Great Commandment had two parts: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    I had spent so much time on the first part that I had ignored the second…

    • Rodolfo L-P says:

      I found this thought that complements your reflection: “To know, in Scripture, is not a matter of the head but of the heart”.ref

  11. LW says:

    Good morning,
    I work, and started, an “alongside ministry”; I think I’m struggling with the leadership part. It’s not an acknowledged church ministry but one prompted inside me (and others who’ve joined, whether religious or not, to keep it going in its third year). It reassures me to know that Jesus walked humbly in his leadership role among the people, but yet there were also times when he was the star, the leader, the savior within the psalms yet on the donkey. At times, I don’t feel confident enough to claim the leadership mantle, although its duties are on me. It is one step at a time, before I run away, and I truly cling to God to help me do this which seems beyond my powers. At this point, I should be grateful for his confidence in me, and I pray I can do what I need to do and impact those who need this space in this particular ministry. The ministry has unfolded with the right individuals and place; I know God cares for these folks I serve, although they’re often cast aside. It is a joy to work with them, although I am afraid of failing. Thanks for listening and saying a prayer for us.

    • Alison P says:

      I identify with your hesitance to take on the leadership mantle due to a lack of confidence. That lack of confidence for me is linked with fear of failure. Over the years it has been my foremost spiritual struggle. This Lent I keep going back to what we read last week about fear not coming from God. It’s such an orienting thought.

  12. Elaine says:

    All of us want to be consoled by the idea that we have done our best–that our actions have somehow made the world a better place. Many writers and thinkers have called us to ask the question: Will my eulogy or obituary say that I made millions, rocked the fashion world, or built a real estate empire, or will it say that I was a person of character and compassion whose passing will be mourned by those whose lives I touched? In a religious sense, did I win acclaim and popularity by my stirring sermons, or were people touched by a life of small but tender acts of love and mercy? Was I a person who could be counted on to lend an ear or a hand without expecting public recognition?

    I am not a religious leader, but I do put on service programs for youth. I do love good feedback about my hard work and the value of that program, but hopefully because it is a way of knowing that I have not wasted the participants’ time and that they will be the ones to go on to make a difference in the world. The best priests I have known did give provocative Sunday sermons that made us think all week long, but I remember them most for the small meaningful personal gestures: the priest who visited my mother in the hospital and held her hand, the priest who made a penitent in the confessional feel as though he had all the time in the world to make sure that she felt right with God, the priest who was truly the servant leader.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      I agree with you completely my desire for good feedback regarding my wife and my involvement with group small group of Confirmation candidates each year and, hopefully, my motives are as positive as yours. I’m helping out as a chaperone at the Confirmation retreat this weekend and my reward and the only recognition I need is the opportunity to prepare, participate, and accompany the young people, even if it is just for a short time.

      • Janet says:

        Ray – you, your wife and the Comfirmands will be in my prayers during this weekend Confirmation retreat. May the Holy Spirit guide you during these grace filled days. Our twin grandchildren will be making their First Reconciliation soon. They have the prayers and support of our church community.

  13. Hope Kelly says:

    My comment is in regards to the question of how a Pastor can bring his own weaknesses to the pulpit in a way that is not harmful to his relationship and work with God’s people.

    One of the best Pastors that I ever had was willing to reflect deeply on how God was working in His life. Out of this personal reflection, he was able to pull out the truths of God’s Word. When he spoke, the Holy Spirit was evident; he was not at all self-protective, and he exhibited true humility. Yet, at the same time, he did not pull out the sin that Paul would have groaned about: “Oh wretched man that I am.”

    I believe that as Christians, it is extremely important that we are transparent. One day, very shortly for most of us, we will walk into “heaven” and spend eternity with one another. If we can’t be real in the here and now, how on earth would be “real” for eternity. It is by being transparent, willing to admit our weaknesses, that we learn to trust one another and truly love one another. Also, transparency moves us toward a humility, an understanding of our being all too human, and therefore puts aside any inclination to pride or seeking stardom. We all have strengths and weaknesses. To embrace our weaknesses opens us up to see the strengths in others.

    Thanks for the prompt to Christian reflection.

    • Ruth says:

      Thank you, Hope, for your insight. As my husband and I minister to families trying to raise children to know, love and serve the Lord, it cannot be stressed enough that we must be authentic with our children all the time. They know who we truly are because we live in community at home. One of the most important ways to lead our children to Jesus Christ is to be willing to confess our sins to them and receive their forgiveness. We parents are not perfect but we are called to lead our families, talking about our God when we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down, and when we get up. (Deut 6:7). We do this remembering, as Henri points out, that it is Jesus who heals, who reconciles, who speaks the words of truth, who is Lord.

      What a meaningful journey this has been.

  14. Ray Glennon says:

    Here are my late reflections on the reading from last week. (I was writing them on Saturday on a computer I was unfamiliar with and I lost them twice–both times totally due to “operator error”.)

    Henri’s description of “The great message we have to carry, as ministers of God’s Word…” cited in the post is one of my favorite passages from any of his works. My wife Dawn and I present this message each year to the small group of Confirmation candidates (generally high school freshmen) we are blessed to host in our home for seven sessions for instruction and, more important, to walk together with them for a short while on their spiritual journey. We pair Henri’s words with those of Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel where he exhorts us to announce the ‘first proclamation’ that “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” Taken together, Henri and Pope Francis capture the heart of the Christian faith, express the reason for our hope in the face of the challenges and difficulties in our world today, and focus us on the love of God as the fundamental truth underlying all of creation and our existence. God is love and, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (also from our Confirmation group), “We were made by God to be like God and we were made for God.”

    Henri captures one of my personal struggles in this passage : “…every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God.” (p 38) In my thoughts I know that I am God’s beloved–it is something that I proclaim to myself and to others, often citing the words of Henri to do so. However, I all too readily allow myself to become isolated from God and those that love me when confronting the difficulties of daily life. I readily succumb to the loud voice of the secular world that says, “We can take care of ourselves…. We are in control.” (p 32) I often react to those situations by questioning my own competence and worth rather than realizing, as Henri says in the Prologue, “God is a God of the present and (he) reveals to those willing to listen carefully to the moment in which they live the steps they are to take toward the future.” (p 13) O Lord, in those times of fear, isolation, and despair, help me to place myself in your presence and to listen carefully with my heart.

    Finally, in a passage that speaks to our current political and religious climate in the U.S. (and likely elsewhere), Henri writes, “Dealing with 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.” (p 45) It is through that personal relationship that we will recognize, in the words of Bishop Robert Barron, “Love is actively willing the good of the other as other.” It is by opening our hearts to the love of God and sharing that love with our neighbor (and our enemies) that we build God’s kingdom here on earth–and not by pursuing what Thomas Aquinas calls the four substitutes for God: wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. May our contemporary society begin to see this truth and to act on it.

    Thanks for staying with this lengthy comment.

    • Debbie says:

      I find comfort that the passages that you referenced were passages I made notes about too. It just makes me feel I’m on the right track, that maybe I am learning how to pay attention to what God wants me to take away from this discussion. I have to remind myself a lot that the doubts I’m feeling in some areas of my life are not from God. I have to remind myself God will reveal to me the way He wishes me to go if only I’m willing to listen carefully. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    • Joni says:

      Thank YOU Ray, my soul definitely needed to listen to your words…listening with my heart more than my ears! AMEN!!!

  15. clarence says:

    My experience throughout a life of ministry affirms Henri’s observations on the temptation toward stardom. Regarding question 1, I have worked all my life in a context that seems to reward those with the most star power (based on personality, political astuteness, etc) sometimes irrespective of character or competence in building the Church/Kingdom. The difference with Jesus was in the clarity of His calling and the singularity of His life focus. The clarity of Jesus’ calling as from, to and for the Father, and the demonstration of His calling in His sacrificial service for others sets Him in contrast with leaders who often have little or no conviction of a divine summons to ministry and whose life and ministry focus on perpetuating an institution, be that congregation or denomination. The hierarchical context of church and culture that I have experienced contains an intrinsic compulsion toward getting to the top. This creates a fierce conflict within and among those who truly want to please God and serve others, on the one hand, while desiring recognition and reward for work well done, on the other. I have strived to maintain a worthy perspective on these dichotomies. I have not risen to high office in my denomination, as many of my peers have. But on reflection, I have been highly privileged to serve within the ‘sweet spot’ that God has given me. And I now feel more assured that I am finishing well. This enables me to bless and celebrate those who have ‘surpassed’ me and to influence younger leaders toward life and ministry that is consistently more authentic than what I have experienced and observed, that is unmistakably ‘In the Name of Jesus’.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you for sharing the story of your ministry with us. May all God’s people be blessed to encounter people in their lives that minister “In the Nsme of Jesus.”
      Peace and all good.

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