Virtual Reality | Day 1
In, Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri Nouwen addresses a number of challenges facing Christian leaders in the twenty-first century. I’ve always loved Nouwen’s style, and this little book was no exception, stirring me to consider afresh what it means to be a Christian leader today. Using the temptation of Jesus as his basis, Nouwen unpacks the dangers of pursuing ministry that is relevant, popular, and powerful. Nouwen invites us to replace these pursuits with a commitment to pray, minister, and follow. He argues that we make these shifts through rediscovering contemplative prayer, ministry, and theological reflection.
Another leadership book was thrust into my hands at the same time as Nouwen’s. Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges’ book, The Servant Leader: Transforming your heart, head, hands and habits, has a very similar emphasis to Nouwen’s book. They write,
As we explore what it means to lead like Jesus we will be journeying through two internal and external domains. The motivations of our heart and our leadership point of view can, at first, be something we can keep inside and even mask over if it suits a private purpose. Our public leadership behavior and habits as experienced by others will determine how they follow. When the Heart, Head, Hands and Habits are aligned, extraordinary levels of loyalty, trust, and productivity will result. When they are out of alignment, frustration, mistrust, and diminished long-term productivity are the result.
Engaging our head, heart, and hands for the sake of Christ’s cause in the world is the common theme of both books, published some fifteen years apart.
I connected with both books because as I read them, I was also part-way through a devotional journey of 2nd Timothy. I’d taught 2nd Timothy a few years prior. Sensing the desire to revisit 2nd Timothy, I’d pulled out that study for my own quiet times, reading all three simultaneously.
In that devotional study I had suggested that Paul’s final instructions to his young protégé could be framed around four virtues: knowing, being, living, and reproducing. I wrote that Paul wanted Timothy’s head, heart, and hands to sync for the cause of serving Christ.
It’s here that I discovered the connection between the two books and my study. Nouwen concludes his book with these words:
I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence as you anticipate the new century.
It wasn’t the new century on my mind but the new year. As I’ve been working through 2nd Timothy in my own devotional time, I sensed the Spirit challenging me to be intentional about ensuring my head is focused on the word, my heart is nourished by the Spirit, and my hands are ready to serve; all for the glory of Christ in the world.
I am convinced that what the church needs today are Christian leaders who are as concerned with the hidden matters of what’s going on in their head and heart as we are with the work of ministry itself. As one commentator put it:
The skills and professional knowledge needed for service to God today can be gained in many ways. What is less attainable are character and wisdom. These are qualities that are sometimes lacking in professional religious figures. The seminary, church, mission, or other parachurch organization can help candidates for service by concentrating as much as possible on their personal and spiritual well-being.
While I’m not convinced that the application of 2nd Timothy is best reserved for candidates for ministry, I do believe that for every child of God what is happening in our head and our heart drives how we react to what’s going on around us. More than that, what is happening in our head and heart influences our capacity to see what Christ is doing in the world and therefore our ability to follow Him into it. When a leader’s head and heart are out of sync with Christ, problems arise for the church. Conversely when the head and heart are synchronized the Christian leader is able to face any challenge with hope and experience the full promise of life offered in Christ Jesus.
Food for Thought:
Which of the three challenges Nouwen highlights is the biggest challenge you face in your leadership?
The battle to stay relevant?
The temptation to be popular?
The desire to be powerful?
Which of these is the biggest battle for the church? Why?
Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments box below. I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions.
 Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, The Servant Leader: Transforming your Heart, Head, Hands and Habits, Thomas Nelson: Nashville (2003), p15.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reflections on Christian Leadership, Crossroad Books: New York (1989), p92-93.
 W. L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House (1999), (p. 228)