Henri Nouwen, the renown and reflective catholic priest, wrote a classic in 1979 called The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. His thesis is simple: “In our own woundedness [weakness!!] we can become a source of life for others.” If you have never read Nouwen – it will stretch you. Theologically – OK, he is not protestant nor committed to covenantal reformed theology – BUT he had a passion to enable catholic priests and ministers to think differently about their ministry and the people/culture to whom they minister. Thus, there is much we can learn from him.
In Wounded Healer Nouwen writes in 1979(!) about the cultural shift we are living in TODAY. He writes about how the minister of tomorrow must have a different angle of ministry from ministers in the past if he would engage the “nuclear man” (his term for “postmodern man”) in today’s disjointed, pluralistic, internal, tribal society. Just thought I would share one part of the book. So here you have it: a catholic priest wrote something the year after I was born about the kind of weakness-ministry that I am trembling before God about today as I contemplate gospel ministry in our needy and weak world. The backdrop of Nouwen’s words is a discussion about how, for the “nuclear man,” culture has shifted. The culture of traditional and authoritarian spirituality has become a culture of internal spirituality. Does that not sound post-modern and accurate?!
Since the God “out there” or “up there” is more or less dissolved in the many secular structures, the God within asks attention as never before… The first and most basic task required of the minister of tomorrow therefore is to clarify the immense confusion which can arise when people enter this new internal world. It is a painful fact indeed to realize how poorly prepared most Christian leaders prove to be when they are invited to be spiritual leaders in the true sense. Most of them are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization, getting people together in churches, schools and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director. They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the spirit.
In this context pastoral conversation is not merely a skillful use of conversational techniques to manipulate people into the Kingdom of God, but a deep human encounter in which a man is willing to put his own faith and doubt, his own hope and despair, his own light and darkness at the disposal of others who want to find a way through their confusion and touch the solid core of life. In this context preaching means more than handing over a tradition; it is rather the careful and sensitive articulation of what is happening in the community so that those who listen can say: “You say what I suspected, you express what I vaguely felt, you bring to the fore what I fearfully kept in the back of my mind. Yes, yes – you say who we are, you recognize our condition…”
When listening man is able to say this, then the ground is broken for others to receive the Word of God. And no minister need doubt that the Word will be received! The young especially do not have to run away from their fears and hopes but can see themselves in the face of the man who leads them; he will make them understand the words of salvation which in the past often sounded to them like words from a strange and unfamiliar world.
Thank you Nouwen. When I was 1, you were calling for pastoral ministry from the angle of ‘weakness transparency.’ What a calling. What a risk. What a thrill. Sign me up.