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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No Lone Shepherds

Henri  Nouwen provides a wise perspective on the role of pastors and shepherds in the Christian community in his chapter on “The Task: ‘Feed My Sheep.’”   Here Nouwen emphasizes the value of working together, as members of a community, when providing pastoral care, guidance, and teaching.
“When Jesus speaks about shepherding, he does not want us to think about a brave, lonely shepherd who takes care of a large flock of obedient sheep.  In many ways, he makes it clear that ministry is a communal and mutual experience.

“First of all Jesus sends the twelve out in pairs (Mark 6:7).  We keep forgetting that we are being sent out two-by-two.  We cannot bring good news on our own.  We are called to proclaim the Gospel together, in community.  There is a divine wisdom here. ‘If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three meet in my name, I am among them’ (Matthew 18:19-20).  You might already have discovered for yourself how radically different traveling alone is from traveling together.

“I have found over and over again how hard it is to be truly faithful to Jesus when I am alone.  I need my brothers or sisters to pray with me, to speak with me about the spiritual task at hand, and to challenge me to stay pure in mind, heart, and body.  But far more importantly, it is Jesus who heals, not I; Jesus who speaks words of truth, not I; Jesus who is Lord, not I.  This very clearly made visible when we proclaim the redeeming power of God together.  Indeed, whenever we minister together, it is easier for people to recognize that we do not come in our own name, but in the name of the Lord Jesus who sent us.

“Ministry is not only a communal experience; it is also a mutual experience.  Jesus, speaking about his own shepherding ministry, says, ‘I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows we and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep’ (John 10:14-15).  As Jesus ministers, so he wants us to minister.  He wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.

“We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life.  We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.  The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God” (In the Name of Jesus, Crossroad, 1989, pages 57-63).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Learning About Shared Ministry

After six years of seminary training, Henri Nouwen writes that he felt “like a man sent on a long, long hike with a huge backpack containing all the things necessary to help the people I would meet on the road” (In the Name of Jesus, Crossroad, 1989, page 51).

He also carried another weighty expectation--that ministry was essentially an individualistic pursuit.  Nouwen reports that this approach was radically challenged when he was called to live and minister in the L’Arche community for handicapped women and men in Montreal, Canada.

“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” (In the Name of Jesus, page 53).

“When you look at today’s church, it is easy to see the prevalence of individualism among ministers and priests . . . 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” (In the Name of Jesus, page 56).

Today’s church is not looking for tightrope walkers.  But there are unlimited opportunities for committed followers of Jesus—servant-leaders who are willing to pray, serve, live, love, work, and grow in communities of faith.