In The Name of Jesus | Notes & Review

Posted on February 2, 1999


Henri J.M. Nouwen. In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Crossroad, 1998. (81 pages)



I realized that it was far from easy to come up with a sane perspective on Christian leadership in the coming century. (2)

God is a God of the present and reveals to those who are willing to listen carefully to the moment in which they live the steps they are to take toward the future. (3-4)

…those who are baptized and confirmed have a new vocation, the vocation to proclaim to others the good news of Jesus. (6)


The request to reflect on Christian leadership in the next century has created quite a bit of anxiety in me. What can I say about the next century if I feel at a loss when people ask me about next month? (9)

Somehow I have to trust that God is at work in me and that the way I am being moved to new inner and outer places is part of a larger movement of which I am only a very small part. (9)

“Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?” After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger. (10)

…the term “burnout” was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death. (11)

I – From Relevance to Prayer

The Temptation: To Be Relevant

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. (17)

One of the main sufferings experienced in the ministry is that of low self-esteem. (18)

While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world. (21)

…the cry that arises from behind all of this decadence is clearly: “Is there anybody who loves me; is there anybody who really cares? Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me? Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying? Is there anybody who can hold me and give me a sense of belonging?” (21-22)

It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leader of the future will be the one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of  success and to bring the light of Jesus there. (22)

The Question: “Do You Love Me?”

Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begin to invade the human soul this is not something that comes from God. This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits. (25)

Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving him are the same thing. The knowledge of Jesus’ heart is a knowledge of the heart. And when we live in the world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than bring healing, reconciliation, new life and hope wherever we go. The desire to be relevant and successful will gradually disappear, and our only desire will be to say with our whole being to our brothers and sisters of the human race, “You are loved…” (27)

The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer

A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love. (28)

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’s incarnate Word and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness? (29-30)

II – From Popularity to Ministry

The Temptation: To Be Spectacular

Living in a community with very wounded people, I came to see that I had lived most of my life as a tightrope artist trying to walk on a high, thin cable from one tower to the other, always waiting for the applause when I had not fallen off and broken my leg. (37)

The second temptation to which Jesus was exposed was precisely the temptation to do something spectacular, something that could win him great applause. “Throw yourself from the parapet of the temple and let the angels catch you and carry you in their arms.” But Jesus refused to be a stunt man. He did not come to prove himself. He did not come to walk on hot coals, swallow fire, or put his hand in the lion’s mouth to demonstrate that he had something worthwhile to say. “Don’t put the Lord your God to the test,” he said.

| When you look at today’s Church, it is easy to see the prevalence of individualism among ministers and priests. Not too many of us have a vast repertoire of skills to be proud of, but most of us still feel that, if we have anything at all to show, it is something we have to do solo. You could say that many of us feel like failed tightrope walkers who discovered that we did not have the power to draw thousands of people, that we could not make many conversions, that we did not have the talents to create beautiful liturgies, that we were not as popular with the youth, the young adults, or the elderly as we had hoped, and that we were not as able to respond to the needs of our people as we had expected. But most of us still feel that, ideally, we should have been able to do it all and do it successfully. Stardom and individual heroism, which are such obvious aspects of our competitive society, are not at all alien to the Church. There too the dominant image is that of the self-made man or woman who can do it all alone. (38-39)

The Task: “Feed My Sheep”

…ministry is a communal and mutual experience. (40)

The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership — to use Robert Greenleaf’s term — in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need him or her. (44-45)

The Discipline: Confession and Forgiveness

Having said this, we are faced with the question: What discipline is required for the future leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism? I would like to propose the discipline of confession and forgiveness. Just as the future leaders must be mystics deeply steeped in contemplative prayer, so also must they be persons always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from those to whom they minister. (45-46)

…ministers and priests are also called to be full members of their communities, are accountable to them and need their affection and support, and are called to minister with their whole being, including their wounded selves. (50)

III – From Leading to Being Led

The Temptation To Be Powerful

…the mystery that leadership, for a large part, means to be led. (57)

One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power — … — even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are. (58)

Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. (59)

…the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. (60)

The Challenge: “Somebody Else Will Take You”

Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go. (62)

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. (62)

The Discipline: Theological Reflection

Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find int he practice of the ministry. (66)

— VIA —

It was Mike Yaconelli who I first heard say, “everyone in ministry must read this book.” I echo those sentiments today (February 2013), and consider this book as “relevant” (to use the term paradoxically from Nouwen’s use) today as then.