Counter-Cultural Leadership

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Henry Nouwen once argued that the three greatest temptations for Christian leaders are to be a) relevant, b) spectacular, and c) powerful (In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Crossroads, 1987). 

Our first reaction is to question the (obvious?) hyperbole in this list. Wasn’t it good that Jesus was relevant in his teaching and spectacular in his act of throwing money changers out of the temple?  Still, to dismiss Nouwen’s diagnosis too quickly would be tragic. For we have so much to learn from it. There is, indeed, a danger that when we commit to being relevant, we forget that the purpose of being relevant is to lead people to be more counter-cultural as disciples of Jesus.   When we seek to exercise authority and power, it should be to call attention to Jesus’ lordship. When we seek to be dramatic it must never detract from our call to “feed my sheep,” a long, laborious, out-of-the-limelight task. 

I am grateful for Nouwen’s bold (spectacular?) and timely (relevant?) exercise of priestly authority (power?) in writing this book. What difference could it make in the worship life of your congregation?

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