Last week I spend a few days here on the blog working out the leadership culture we are trying to create at The Well. Now, admittedly I am a big leadership book junkie. I love exploring the sociology of leadership and community. But, as much as I love that stuff I realize there is a danger in it. One can become so dependent on good leadership technique that we forget that it is the Spirit that works in and through us. While technique is important, and firmly believe we can’t avoid it, we must not depend on it.

With that being said, I want to highly recommend the little book by Henri Nouwen called, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. This book is fantastic and it’s a good complement to our efforts in understanding good leadership technique. In the book, he talks through three movements we must make as leaders of the future (actually, today since he wrote this a while ago).

The three movements:

  • From Relevance to Prayer.
  • From Popularity to Ministry.
  • From Leading to being Led.

In the first section he writes about our need to stop seeking relevance. His experience of working with the mentally handicapped played a huge role in him learning this.  He went from being a sought after speaker, author and professor at Yale, Notre Dame and Harvard where everyone was impressed with him to working with the mentally handicapped who could have cared less about his books and all he had accomplished.  He writes,

“Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety. I was suddently faced with my naked self.”

From there, he was forced to discover his true identity  and concluded 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 valuable self.

My friend and former co-pastor Gary Alloway says all the time, “Remember your own irrelevance.”  This is wonderful advice (and I realize now he stole it from Nouwen!) because it reminds us that the message that we carry is that God loves and uses us as his servants, not because of what we have accomplished or how gifted we are, but because of his saving and unconditional grace.

The quesiton he asks in response to this call to irrlevancy is from Jesus himself, “Do you love me?”  That’s the question that we need to allow Jesus to ask us, “Peter, do you love me?”  Nouwen writes,

The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus?”

I’ll be honest, I know from experience it’s way too easy to be a pastor without being in love with Jesus.  Nouwen writes some more,

“Knowing God’s heart means consistantly, radically, and very concretely to annnounce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that eery time fear, isolation, or despair begins 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 conditions or limits.

So, moving from focusing on our successes to others to focusing on our love for Jesus, he submits that the practice of contemplative prayer is essential. He writes,

“If there is any focus that the Christian leader of the future will need, it is the discipline of dwelling in the presence of the One who keeps asking “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” This is the discipline of contemplative prayer.”

and later he writes,

the future of Christian leadership it is of vital importance to reclaim the mystical aspect of theology so that every word spoken, every word of advice given, and every strategy developed can come from a heart that knows God intimately.

As Christian leaders, I pray that we are not seeking approval and acceptance from the “great” things that we have done but rather we are understanding ourselves as vessels of grace.  I pray that we would be serving out of a heart that is connected to Jesus through the practice of prayer and contemplation.

LIke I said, leadership technique is good, I’m a big fan of it and I will continue to explore it to help me grow as a person and as a leader, but I am reminded again by Nouwen that all of it is a big, giant waste of time if I am not connecting to the heart of God in prayer and remembering that all I accomplish is as a result of God’s grace in my life.

May we all remember our own irrelevance.