Nouwen, Creative Ministry


Henri J. M. Nouwen, Creative Ministry. Image Books, 1971.

Referenced in: Pastoral Theology Summary

Though written over forty years ago, this remains one of the richest “pastoral” theologies. It reflects on how to engage five of the most common tasks of ministry as spiritual acts of laying down one’s life, and not strictly as an expression of professionalism:

  • Teaching – Beyond the Transference of Knowledge
  • Preaching – Beyond the Retelling of the Story
  • Individual Pastoral Care – Beyond the Skillful Response
  • Organizing - Beyond the Manipulation of Structures
  • Celebrating – Beyond the Protective Ritual

With so many books out there on ministry spirituality and burnout, it is hard to say this one should be read first, or second, or whatever. Suffice it to say this is a fine book to restore an understanding of one of the essential features of biblical ministry. He describes this feature well:

If teaching, preaching, individual pastoral care, organizing, and celebrating are acts of service that go beyond the level of professional expertise, it is precisely because in these acts ministers are asked to lay down their own lives for their friends. There are many people who, through long training, have reached a high level of competence in terms of the understanding of human behavior, but there are few who are willing to lay down their lives for others and make their weakness a source of creativity. For many individuals, professional training means power. But ministers, who take off their clothes to wash the feet of their friends, are powerless, and their training and formation are meant to enable them to face their own weakness without fear and make it available to others. It is exactly this creative weakness that gives the ministry its momentum.

Teaching becomes teaching when teachers move beyond the transference of knowledge and are willing to offer their own life experience to their students so that paralyzing anxiety can be removed, new liberating insight can come about, and real learning can take place. Preaching becomes ministry when preachers move beyond the ‘telling of the story’ and make their own deepest selves available to their listeners so that they will be able to receive the Word of God. Individual care becomes ministry when those who want to be of help move beyond the careful balance of give and take with a willingness to risk their own lives and remain faithful to their suffering brothers and sisters, even when this endangers their own name and fame. Organizing becomes ministry when organizers move beyond their desire for concrete results and look at the world with the unwavering hope for a total renewal. Celebrating becomes ministry when celebrants move beyond the limits of protective rituals to an obedient acceptance of life as a gift. (115-116)

From the Publisher

According to Henri Nouwen, the bestselling spiritual writer, every Christian is a minister—trying to live his life in the light of the Gospel. Creative Ministry is a thoughtful examination of the various complex tasks that are part of that way of life. Separate chapters treat each of the five areas that Nouwen considers the primary responsibilities of the minister: teaching, preaching, counseling, organizing, and celebrating. He shows how these main functions are inextricably tied to the minister’s spiritual life and why they must be directed toward a creative dialogue with other Christians if they are to be rewarding. It is also essential, he maintains, that the minister leave himself open, take risks, and “lay down his life for his friends” in order to give new life. “There is today a great hunger for a new spirituality,” observes Nouwen, a hunger that requires new and creative forms of ministry. Citing numerous examples from his rich experience, the author offers practical advice for infusing daily pastoral work with meaning. The result is an insightful presentation and a resonant spiritual guide for every man and woman who wants to be of service.

About the Author

Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932–1996) was a Catholic priest who taught at several theological institutions and universities in his home country of the Netherlands and in the United States. He spent the final years of his life teaching and ministering to the mentally and physically disabled at the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada. His writings have touched millions of readers around the world, and since his death, recognition of their enduring value has continued to grow.

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