Based on the recommendation of a friend of a friend that came to my apartment the other night (to watch the NCAA Championship game), I started reading a book called “In the Name of Jesus!” This is a book that has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for quite some time. I was required to read it in college but I don’t think I actually did read it, or at least I don’t have a recollection of doing so. Anyway, I’ve only read a few chapters so far and something stuck out to me that I want to write about today.
The book is written by Henri Nouwen and it is geared toward Christian Leaders; hence the inscription at the bottom that reads, “Reflections on Christian Leadership.” In the Introduction to this book, Nouwen tells of how he went from 20-some years of being in the academic community at Harvard to living in a community of mentally handicapped people. God called him there and he went. The first two sentences of the first chapter say, “The first thing that struck me when I came to live in a house with mentally handicapped people was that their liking or disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then. Since nobody could read my books, they could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to school, my twenty years at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard did not provide a significant introduction.” I quoted these sentences to you to help lead in to what I really want to write about in this post…
Nouwen goes on to say that his moving to the mentally handicapped home was the most important experience of his new life. He said that it forced him to rediscover his true identity. He said, “These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self-the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things-and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments. I am telling you all this because 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.”
I showed you all of these quotes because I honestly believe that what Nouwen said was correct. The Christian leader of the future (or should I say, the Christian leaders that we need to become), needs to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world (in our different ministry context’s) with nothing to offer but our own self. This is what true relationship is about: Being completely honest and open with people. Or, as some of my youth ministry friends would say, being authentic with people. I believe that if we are truly going to make a difference in people’s lives, we need to be real to them and get on their level. We need to show them that we genuinely care and that we are not there to benefit ourselves, but to benefit them.
Nouwen was right in saying that it doesn’t matter how many books we have read or written, how many prestigious schools we have attended or plan to attend, or how smart we are. It’s about real relationship and being genuine with people. We need to be open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments (or distractions…I added this) that we have in our lives.
The question I will leave you with is, “Do we need to live in a community of mentally handicapped people in order for us to realize that sometimes we are being fake: that we need to learn how to be real with people?” Let’s drop the act of how great we are or how much we have achieved and let’s stay focused on what it is all about: loving God and loving people!