Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Temptation to be Powerful (Reflections on Christian Leadership - Part 4)

The third temptation of Jesus was the temptation of power. "I will give you all the kingdoms of this world in their splendor," the evil one said to Jesus (Matthew 4:9).

Our savior wisely resisted.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his excellent book, In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership writes:
"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. Jesus asks, "Do you love me?" We ask, "Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in your Kingdom?" (Matthew 20:21). Ever since the snake said, "The day you eat of this tree your eyes will be open and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil" (Genesis 3:5), we have been tempted to replace love with power."

Nouwen has an interesting theory about the lure of power:
"One thing is clear to me: The temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love."

Nouwen goes on to claim that the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which Jesus Christ is made manifest. This requires the leader to be so deeply in love with Jesus that he is ready to follow him wherever he guides him, always trusting the abundant life that Jesus promises.

To resist the urge for power, Nouwen suggests the discipline of theological reflection, thinking with the mind of Christ.
He explains:
"Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God's gentle guidance. This is a hard discipline, since God's presence is often a hidden presence, a presence that needs to be discovered. The loud, boisterous noises of the world make us deaf to the gentle, loving voice of God. A Christian leader is called to help people hear that voice and so be comforted and consoled."

Be still and know that I am God......


Josh Graves said...

Nouwen is one of my spiritual friends I've reserved a spot for in heaven. At the table, I think I'll sit and listen to him all day.

Thanks for the good reminders of this excellent work.

Becky said...

Nice. Josh, I like your idea of spiritual friends at the table. I'll start compiling my own list...