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What Henri Nouwen Can Teach Youth Pastors

What Henri Nouwen Can Teach Youth Pastors

I love learning about leadership.

Developing leadership skills is an important ongoing discipline for any youth pastor. Some of the best leaders in the youth ministry world are always growing, learning, thinking and developing their leadership skills.

Often I find myself asking the question of:

What should Christian leadership look like?

Well, I recently read Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. 

* Side note—If you don’t know about Henri—you should. Henri was a top notch theology professor at Harvard, Notre Dame and Yale. And one day Henri decided to leave the prestigious work at the academy to go work with mentally and physically handicapped people in Ontario.

The last section—In the Name of Jesus—talks about this idea of “from leading to being lead.”

Nouwen says the biggest temptation any Christian leader will face is the temptation of being more powerful.

What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. p. 77

A leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love is a true spiritual leadership. Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them. p. 83-84

I hate to admit it but youth pastors are inclined to have a power and control problem.

I struggle with it.

I have seen many student pastors struggle with it too.

We want to lead and rarely want to be led. I talk a lot about this struggle in the post “Teaching Youth Pastors How to Tapout.”

But how can we go about fixing the youth pastor power problem?

Nouwen suggests “theological reflection.”

Say what? Reflecting on theology?

I get it—some of you may think thinking theologically is a waste of time. Reflecting on theology doesn’t have any actionable results.

However, thinking theologically improves the mind and soul and quiets the ego. Reflection helps leaders become more self-aware and selfless. Thinking theologically means you actually have to think about how you are becoming more or less like Jesus. And this can be a really sobering reality to face.    

Few ministers think theologically. The behavioral sciences such as psychology and sociology dominate education. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological or sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms. Thinking with the mind of Christ is hard to find in the practice of the ministry. p. 85-86

To be a Christian leader, it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how the personal, communal, national and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection. p. 86-87

Youth pastors may need to move from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we discern where God is leading us and our people (p. 91-92).

In my opinion, Nouwen is a stud who writes and lives a style of leadership more youth pastors need to embrace.