each thought captive

Henri Nouwen and the Ministry of Presence


The following quote from Henri Nouwen hangs permanently on my refrigerator. Here is what Nouwen said about the ministry of presence.

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”  

This convicts me. I think my ministry paradigm is signified in Nouwen’s statement when he said, “my own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project.” Yet, I see Jesus’ ministry more like what is described in Nouwen’s statement. How often in the Gospels do we see Jesus sitting a tables eating with sinners. He shared meals with people. Meals are time consuming. Yet, he often sat with sinners and fellowshiped with them. Do I do that? Not so much.

This lesson is something I’m learning more and more as I attempt to do what Jesus has called me to do. I see in my own heart the desire for prestige and title. The letters behind my name really won’t mean a thing in fifty years (give or take). The position I hold, or will hold, will be given to someone else in due time. Actually, the only thing that matters is that people know (or, knew) I loved them, I cared for them, and more importantly, my love and care were mere extensions (albeit small extensions) of Jesus’ greater love and care He has for them. The real test for success is not whether people call me “Dr” or “Rev” before a certain age, but rather are my children in twenty-five years still following and loving Jesus. Does my wife see a serving, loving husband? Do I point people to Jesus by my words and deeds? Power, position, and title don’t automatically bring any of those things.

I recently read a tweet which quoted an individual I have never heard of. This was the quote: “Imagine what people could do for God if they didn’t care who got the credit.” This sounds like a one line summary of Nouwen’s idea. What could I do and say for Christ if I didn’t care that people remembered that I did it. What if I wasn’t bothered by people giving credit to someone else for my idea. I think when that happens, I will praise Jesus that He is getting the glory due his name, and that I am only doing what a servant ought to do.

May God give the grace, strength and humility to be a more effective minister simply by being present.