you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch your hands
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.
This book is about professionalism. You wouldn't know it from the title but Creative Ministry sounds, well, creative. It's treatise on the relationship between spirituality and professionalism in ministry. The quote above starts the book. I think he was thinking about Peter and how much he grew over the course of time. At the end, he was professional. It was a long, difficult journey but he was professional.
Nouwen starts us off with a story. A young woman of twenty-six years is suffering from Hodgkins disease. The priest, a very young intelligent pastor, was quite aware of the fact that this young woman would probably never leave the hospital and that she would probably die within the coming year.
They talked. They talked about the nurses. They talked about the food. They talked about the pain and the possibility of getting some sleep. And they they talked about what it would be like when she got home.
All of this goes into his reports. Very little of the reality of the situation until one day when the pastor is asked a question.
"Say-I wonder if you are really aware of the fact that you are going to die, too, perhaps not within a year but in any case pretty soon."
Suddenly all the discussions about skillful pastoral care stopped and there was a long silence. And then the priest said this. "Perhaps not - perhaps I am more afraid to talk about death that my parishioner is, and perhaps I do not her to remind me of my own mortality..."
Hmm. What would you say? Someone who wants to be a real minister to a dying patient cannot say so when he as not been able face his own death and relate it in a Christian way. This question about ministry was intimately related to the question about the spiritual life of the ministry himself.
From here he goes on to describe five ways of that ministers usually relate to people. These include teaching, preaching, pastoral care, organizing, and celebrating.
Chapter I is entitled Teaching: From a Violent to a Redemptive Way of Learning. He describes this violent way and the redemptive way of teaching. Teaching needs to be evocative. It needs to draw a person out of themselves. It is bilateral. The teacher must learn from his students. It is actualizing. It's a way to build a better world.
He goes to explain the difficulties within this. Why aren't we learning? It has to do with our wrong supposition. Let's look at "It is better to give than to receive." We have heard it, but did we really listen?
"A gift only becomes a gift when it is received; and nothing we have to give - wealth, talents, competence, or just beauty will ever be recognized as true gifts until someone opens his hands or heart to accept them" (p. 17).
We are under false pressure and the horror of self-encounter. False pressure refers to the myriad of degrees and certificates that we all seem to need. The horror of self encounter is standing before the teacher and sharing the same reality. "They are both naked, powerless, destined to die, and, in the final analysis, totally alone and unable to save each other or anyone. It is the embarrassing discovery of solidarity in weakness and a desperate need to be liberated..." (p. 19)
We can come from a violent form of teaching to a redemptive form of teaching through a conversion that pervades our total personality and breaks the power of our resistance against learning.
Jesus can be called Teacher in the fullest sense of the word precisely because he did not cling his prerogatives but because he became one of the many who have to learn.
Chapter II is entitled Preaching: Beyond the Retelling of the Story. There is much here on the problems with preaching but the task of the preacher is to assist men in their ongoing struggle of becoming. Can he genuinely start a dialogue? Can there be real risk of engagement?
"When a man listens to a preacher who really available to himself and, therefore, able to offer his own life experience as a source of recognition, he no longer has to be afraid to face his own condition and that of his world because the one who stands in from of him is the living witness that insight makes him free and does not create new anxieties" (p. 39).
Chapter III is entitled Individual Pastoral Care: Competence and Contemplation. He talks about self-affirmation and self-denial. "But when a pastor has really found his own identity and he discovers at the same time that it is exactly his task to relate to many people in many different ways. It that has, in fact, these alternatives of relating that enable him to exercise a ministry has many forms and many different possibilities" (p. 55).
"Pastoral care means more than pastoral worries" (p. 63). Does this sound familiar? "It needs a careful and critical contemplation of the conditions of man. Through this contemplation the pastor can take away the veil and make visible to himself and to others the fact that God and evil are not just words but visible realities in the life of every man. In this sense, every pastoral contract is a challenge to understand in a new way God's work with man to distinguish with a growing sensitivity the light and darkness in the human heart" (p. 63).
Chapter IV is entitled Organizing: Beyond the Manipulation of Structures. This chapter gets into the questions that haunt ministers. He basically says to stop all the questions to come to a place at the table. "A minister can be an agent of social change without having to be trapped in the pitfalls of a manipulative world. But this requires a spirituality, a way of living that allows man to be very much involved in this world precisely because he is free toward it and does not cling to it with destructive possessiveness" (p. 71).
This is difficult and Nouwen knows this. He goes on to describe the pitfalls of the organizer. "Change the world by changing yourself" does not work for the organizer. If he really wants to change the world must change.
There are a number of ways that organizer struggles. One way this works out is to make very concrete and visible results the main motivation for social action. There is also the danger of power. If we tell others what makes good sense to us, it will automatically make good sense to them. Many social reformers think that if you give people the right info and the right instructions they will become so enlightened that they will do whatever the reformer has in mind. Then there is the danger of pride. "Everyone who wants to change society is in danger of putting himself above and being more conscious of the weaknesses of other than of the weakness in their own soul." Instead of seeing himself as a full member of a society, he holds to the fantasy of a redeemer who is always just and right.
A social reformer needs to offer hope, a creative receptivity, and shared responsibility.
Let's look at hope. "...hope is not directed to the gift but to him who is the giver of all good" (p. 81). He offers the example of a child hoping in his mother. He is constantly asking for very concrete things, but his love for his mother does not depend on the fulfillment of these wishes. "The child knows that the mother wants only good for him - although he might cry or even be angry at times.
Creative receptivity is developing in himself and others "the willingness to receive". He can prevent man from falling into the temptation of power. If he want to bring about change he has to be changed by those he wants to help. "But no man will be able to really give if he has not discovered that what he gives is only a small thing compared to what he has received" (p. 83).
His last point is on shared leadership. "It is amazing to find that most priests are still working very much on their own and have not found the creative ways to mobilize the potential leadership in their parishes and share responsibilities with others.
Chapter V is entitled Celebrating: Beyond the Protective Ritual. "...the minister is the man who challenges us to celebrate life; that is, to turn away from the fatalism and despair and to make our discovery that we have but one life to live into an ongoing recognition of God's work to man" (p. 94).
"Celebration can only really come about where fear and love, joy and sorrow, tears and smiles can exist together. Celebration is the acceptance of life in a constantly increasing awareness of its preciousness" (p. 95).
We have three main components of this: affirmation, remembrance, and expectation.
Affirmation is about living in the present. "If anything has become clear, it is that we have to a large extent lost the capability to live in the present. Many so-called celebrations are not much more than a painful moment between bothersome preparations and boring after-talks. We can only celebrate if there is something present that can be celebrated" (p. 96). We celebrate Easter because of Jesus. We celebrate Pentecost because of the Spirit. We celebrate Christmas because it is our Savior's birth.
Remembrance is about remembering the past. "He who celebrates life will not make his past a prison nor a source of pride, but will face the facts of history and fully accept them as the elements that allow him to claim his experience as his own" (p. 98).
Expecting is celebration filled with expectations for the future. "If the past had the last word, a man who would imprison himself more and more the older he became. if the present were the ultimate moment of satisfaction, man would cling to it with a hedonistic eagerness, trying to squeeze the last drop of life out of it. But the present holds promises and reaches out over the horizons of life, and this makes it possible for us to embrace our future as well as our past in the moment of celebration" (p. 99).
There is so much here, but I digress. You need to read the book and challenge yourself to be more professional. I will leave you with this from the conclusion. "It calls for men and women who do not shy away from careful preparation, solid formation, and qualified training but at the same time are free enough to break through the restrictive boundaries of disciplines and specialties in the conviction that the Spirit moves beyond professional expertise. It calls for Christians who are willing to develop their sensitivity to God's presence in their own lives, as well as in the lives of others, and to offer their experiences as a way of recognition and liberation to their fellow men. It calls for ministers in the true sense, who lay down their own lives for their friends, helping them to distinguish between the constructive and the destructive spirits and making them free for the discovery of God's life-giving Spirit in the midst of this maddening world. It call for creative weakness" (p. 118-119).