Reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart” was the beginning of moving me and my wife toward simple church. His chapter, entitled “The Compulsive Minister” provoked the start of a longing for an inner transformation. Years later, when God blasted us out of our traditional church roles, we were searching not so much for a new way to “do” church but a spiritual life that was free of the compulsiveness that Nouwen describes.
I reflect on this today because it reminds me that the heart of the matter is always inner transformation… not just a switch to a different form of church. I am also reminded that I need to continue to hold up Nouwen’s words as a mirror to my soul to keep me free of the false motivations that can still sneak up on me.
Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state.
Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general, we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks are filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not ever take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed on to us. People must be motivated to come to Church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised and, above all, everyone must be happy. Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the Church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life. Thus we are busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people.
All this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self, is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependent on the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated by social compulsions. “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation. Who am I? Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by my world...
Nouwen goes on to suggest that solitude provides the primary furnace of transformation that can free us from the compulsions of the world by allowing us to find our true identity in an encounter with a loving God. Out of this transformation comes a ministry life based solely on compassion.
Now that would be going straight to the heart of the matter.