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.