On ministry preparation and compassion

The first book I read in 2014 in Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer. This small book packs a punch. In it, Nouwen comments on the role of ministry preparation (i.e., seminary) for actual ministry. Here is what he says.

“…the desire for more professionalism in the ministry is understanding. But the danger is that instead of becoming free to let the spirit grow, the future ministry may entangle himself in the complications of his own assumed competence and use his specialism as an excuse to avoid the much more difficult task of being compassionate.” (1979:42)

This line hit me like a ton of bricks. So much so that I read it to my wife. She knew why I read it to her. Because, it sounded like me. I left the pristine halls of graduate theological education a few years ago. The exit from that world and entrance into the dirty halls of daily life was shocking. I didn’t quite realize how different the ideals of theological education were from the realities of Thursday afternoons. Nouwen was right in at least one case, mine. I entered into my ministry world with a larger than average “assumed competence.” My boss would agree. Yet, the Lord has been incredibly gracious and patient as he has demonstrated the “assumed competence” to be almost laughable. See, “assumed competence” for me probably included somehwere the idea that since I was competent, I was also sufficient for the task. Jesus has repeatedly shown me this to be untrue. As a matter of fact, the only thing I’m sufficient for, or better, the only area where I really do have competence is messing things up. Without His Holy Spirit, I cannot love my wife as Scripture tells me to. Without His Holy Spirit, I will not point my daughter to Jesus, but away. Without His Holy Spirit, my work will be inefficient because it would be based on my pseudo-sufficiency. Am I thankful for my education? Emphatically yes! Am I aware what my sin nature turned my education into? Emphatically yes!

Nouwen also said this type of preparation can enable the excuse to not engage in the difficult realm of compassion. Check. True. My first year out of academia looked rather compassionless. It looked more like a goal towards indoctrination. Why? Well, for good reasons. I wanted them to be enlightened. I wanted them to be biblically literate. Sadly, here it is, I wanted them to be like me. Yep. I said it.

Nouwen is right. I’m not dogging on theological education. Not at all. I loved it. I still love it. Rather, I’m simply acknowledging how preparation can adversely effect the human heart. Nouwen was right!

Compassion and grace is a work of the Holy Spirit. They cannot be gained by reading books on grace. They can only be learned by loving and walking with the Grace Giver himself, Jesus Christ.


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