Nouwen’s second chapter of In the Name of Jesus focuses on a movement “From Popularity to Ministry.” In it, he identifies the second temptation of Jesus as a 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” (p. 38). Nouwen reflects on his own experience: “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” (p. 37).
Once again, I am inspired by Nouwen’s honesty and candor. His insight is that ministry going in one direction cannot help but become individualistic and diminish a genuine mutuality to it. Is it any wonder that we are tempted to embrace popularity and the spectacular when this is the water in which we swim?
The vision, however, is of an experience of community in which the leader fully participates. The practices of confession and forgiveness, for Nouwen, enact the true authenticity of this experience of community.
All of this does not mean that ministers or priests must, explicitly, bring their own sins or failures into the pulpit or into their daily ministries. That would be unhealthy and imprudent and not at all a form of servant-leadership. What it means is that 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. (p. 50)
This vision provokes a question: What does it look like to act prudently in relationship to one’s daily ministries, yet also minister with one’s “whole being, including [one’s] wounded” self? I do not doubt the wisdom of Nouwen’s words, but am thinking through how the implications may be worked out. He offers a concrete example: “Many, many Christians, priests and ministers included, have discovered the deep meaning of the Incarnation not in their churches, but in the twelve steps of A.A. and A.C.A, and have come to the awareness of God’s healing presence in the confessing community of those who dare to search for healing (p. 49).