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Mutuality of Ministry November 3, 2009

Filed under: Christianity,healing,Henri Nouwen,inspiration,Leadership,peace,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 10:52 pm

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mutuality of Ministry


“I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.”  ~~ John 10: 14-15

“…the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road.”  ~~ Henri Nouwen


I read the following passages recently and felt they challenged, in important ways, certain commonly-held cultural assumptions about ‘helping’ and ‘serving others’.  What do you think?  KS


“Ministry is not only a communal experience, it is also a mutual experience…  [Jesus] 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.


Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead…  Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles!  But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship?


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.


Therefore, true ministry must be mutual.  When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits.  The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd.  Even the so-called ‘helping professions’ have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion.  The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world.  It is a servant leadership*… in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader… a leadership that is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant-leader Jesus, who came to give his life for the salvation of many.”


                               ~~ Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership


*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.


4 Responses to “Mutuality of Ministry”

  1. Henri Nouwen is a great writer. I have his book “The Wounded Healer” as well as “The Inner Voice of Love”, a collection of insights from his journal that are so profound, I find I only read one page at a time. I got the book when I was in England in 2003 and have read it every year since.
    I like the quote you have rendered here as it helps to de-mystify Christian leadership. Leaders are indeed sinful broken people like anyone else. How much we need to encourage them and how much they need to allow themselves the comfort of ‘mutual ministry’.

  2. Karen Shafer Says:

    “The Inner Voice of Love” is my favorite of Nouwen’s books — good to hear from a fan of it. Interesting that he never intended to publish it, as being too personal. I’m very glad he did.

    Like you, I can take in about 1 page at a time because it is so profound.

    Have not read “The Wounded Healer”, but you’ve inspired me to do so.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Janet Says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Karen. Interesting…I was just having this conversation with a friend of mine. We’ve always been taught to be so removed from people so we can “minister to” them…when the reality is if we let our guard down there can be mutual ministering.



  4. Karen Shafer Says:

    How right you are, Janet. And know that this is something that you and your organization do extremely well. It’s inspiring.


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