Nouwen

Three Temptations of Jesus - Relevancy, Spectacular, Powerful

Henri Nouwen writes in his book In the Name of Jesus there are three temptations Jesus faces in the desert with Satan. He frames them as:

Jesus is the leader, we are followers  -  Photo by  Kevar Whilby  on  Unsplash

Jesus is the leader, we are followers  -  Photo by Kevar Whilby on Unsplash

  • Relevancy - turning stones into bread
  • Spectacular - leaping off the temple
  • Powerful - bowing to satan

Why is power a temptation? Nouwen mentions one of the great mysteries of leadership when he says, "leadership, for a large part, means to be led." Christians are called to follow Jesus, not lead him. Christian leaders are those who show others how to follow properly. 

For the largest part of the Christian tradition, too many leaders fall for the temptation of power for noble reasons. Nouwen says, "We keep hearing from others, as well as saying to ourselves, that having power - provided it is used in the service of God and your fellow human being - is a good thing." Then he is quick to point out that this is the same rationalization for the Crusades, enslaving native people, the inquisition, opulent buildings, etc. 

The most cutting critique of power Nouwen makes is that "power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love." It seems it is easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than love life. Jesus asks, 'Do you love me?' We ask, 'can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your Kingdom?'"

Rather than upward mobility, Nouwen echos other thinkers as he promotes downward mobility leadership. It is "leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love." 

Three Temptations of Jesus - Relevancy, Spectacular, Powerful

Henri Nouwen writes in his book In the Name of Jesus there are three temptations Jesus faces in the desert with Satan. He frames them as:

Photo by  Darius Soodmand  on  Unsplash
  • Relevancy - turning stones into bread
  • Spectacular - leaping off the temple
  • Powerful - bowing to satan

Why is being spectacular a temptation? Nouwen writes about "after six years of training and formation, I was considered well equipped to preach, administer the sacraments, counsel, and run a parish. I was made to feel 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."

As he walked on this road, he discovered ht "did not have the power to draw thousands of people" and "could not make many conversations" or "were not as popular with the youth, the young adults or the elderly." Despite these truths, he still felt like he should have been able to do it all and do it successfully.

Many clergy feel that we have to be spectacular in order to grow the church. We are told to preach the best sermons each week, visit every person at home, respond to each crisis with care, speak truth to power, maintain boundaries and uphold a spiritual life while developing vibrant children's ministry and keep those graduating youth involved in the church. And if the church is not growing then we are failing.

So pastors and churches are tempted to do something spectacular that grabs the attention of people for a while. Of course when people respond to the spectacular there is the temptation to keep on doing the spectacular, so we do. One day our spectacular comes to an end and we crash. The pastor and church feel dejected and because numbers drop and people do not show up. When this happens clergy and churches grow in anxiety and fear of death.

The spectacular is tempting because it works to draw people in, but often the spectacular points people to elevate the the pastor or Church and overlook Jesus. The humble pastor and humble church are neither relevant or spectacular but are often called ineffective or bad thus adding pressure to fall into the temptation.

Three Temptations of Jesus - Relevancy, Spectacular, Powerful

Henri Nouwen writes in his book In the Name of Jesus there are three temptations Jesus faces in the desert with Satan. He frames them as:

  • Relevancy - turning stones into bread
  • Spectacular - leaping off the temple
  • Powerful - bowing to satan

Why is relevancy a temptation? "I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in the world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self."

He goes on to say, "The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God's Word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life."

Finally he says, "The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the life of Jesus there." 

Photo by  Jordan Whitfield  on  Unsplash

As I read it, Nouwen is saying that more and more people are feeling irrelevant. People feel irrelevant as they watch automation take their manufacturing job. People feel undervalued at a their job that gives little to no benefits. People feel more replaceable than ever as the world changes faster and faster. The rise of the irrelevant is well underway and there is no place in the world that cares about irrelevance because we assess people's worth on how relevant they are. 

The Church and Church leaders are to stand with the growing number of people for whom irrelevancy is the norm. Relevant pastors will continue to peddle the wares of the culture that values relevancy. Success in the Church is not being more relevant. Success looks like being in solidarity with the irrelevant of the world. 

You know, like Jesus did. 

May we be like Jesus who resisted the temptation of to be relevant. May we be like Jesus who defined success by our willingness to follow.

Best Preachers Practice, Not Rehearse, Sermons

Not only do the best preachers deliver sermons and develop a point of view they also practice their sermons. This is something that every homiletic class (the fancy title for preaching class) in seminary teaches. Practicing sermons are vital to the delivery and to the development of the point of view. However, practicing sermons is not the same as rehearsing sermons.

One does not have to rehearse sermons, but they must be practiced. 

Practicing sermons, or "practice what you preach", is the idea that we need to do what we preach not just speak it. So if you are a preacher that preaches about the need for reconciliation, then your sermons will be made great if you practice reconciliation. If you are a God accepts all people sort of preacher, then you should practice that sermon. 

The beautiful part is that when you practice your sermons, then you will not have as much of a need to rehearse them. The sermon will come from your being and doing. The people can see your sermon each time you stand in the pulpit.

You can rehearse all you want, but the best preachers practice their sermons.

There is a great little story by Henri Nouwen (Time Enough to Minister, 1982) that speaks to the need to practice your sermons, even when you don't have time to rehearse them. It goes like this:

"Often we're not as pressed for time as much as we feel we're pressed for time. I remember several years ago becoming so pressed by demands of teaching at Yale that I took a prayer sabbatical to the Trappist monastery at Geneseo, New York. No teaching, lecturing, or counseling--just solitude and prayer.  
"The second day there, a group of students from Geneseo College walked in and asked, 'Henri, can you give us a retreat?'
""Of course at the monastery that was not my decision, but I said to the abbott, 'I came here from the university to get away from this type of thing. These students have asked for five meditations, an enormous amount of work and preparation. I don't want to do it.'
"The abbot said, 'You're going to do it.'
"'What do you mean? Why would I spend my sabbatical time preparing all those things?'
"'Prepare?' he replied. 'You've been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students wan to have a retreat. Why do you have to prepare? What those boys and girls want is to be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and do your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats.'
"The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world comes into your world, you are ready to reach out and help. It may be at four o'clock, six o'clock, or nine o'clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be a part of your life in God--that's ministering."