Henri Nouwen gives voice to what he calls the climate of secularization that is shaping people’s view of God, faith, and people who want to serve in His name: “We can take care of ourselves. We do not need God, the church, or a priest. We are in control. And if we are not, then we have to work harder to get in control. The problem is not lack of faith, but lack of competence. If you are sick, you need a competent doctor; if you are poor, you need competent politicians; if there are technical problems, you need competent engineers, if there are wars you need competent negotiators. God, the church, and the minister have been used for centuries to fill the gaps of incompetence, but today the gaps are filled in other ways, and we no longer need spiritual answers to practical questions.”
Nouwen, however, pinpoints a different reality. “Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. 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 deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world.
He refers to the novel Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis as a graphic account of the “moral and spiritual poverty behind the contemporary façade of wealth, success, popularity, and power.”
According to Nouwen, these all turn into specific personal longings and questionings: “Is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who really cares? Is there anyone 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?”
“It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there” (In the Name of Jesus, Crossroad Publishing, 1989, pages 32-34).