Henry Nouwen on Individualism and the Superstar Pastor

Henry Nouwen

Every year that I have been in ministry I have made it a point to read through Henry Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.”  It’s a classic text that every pastor or future pastor should read.  As I enter into the busiest part of my year I was reminded of this convicting text.

When you look at today’s Church, it is easy to see the prevalence of individualism among ministers and priests.  Not too many of us have a vast repertoire of skills to be proud of, but most of us still feel that, if we have anything at all to show, it is something we have to do solo.  You could say that many of us feel like failed tightrope walkers who discovered that we did not have the power to draw thousands of people, that we could not make many conversions, that we did not have the talents to create beautiful liturgies, that we were not as popular with the youth, young adults, or the elderly as we had hoped, and that we were not as able to respond to the needs of our people as we had expected.  But most of us still feel that, ideally, we should have been able to do it all and do it successfully.  Stardom and individual heroism, which are such obvious aspects of our competitive society, are not at all alien to the Church.  There too the dominant image is that of the self-made man or woman who can do it all alone.

– “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” page 38 – 39

It is important then to have those people who keep you humble, and in tune with the communal nature of the pastoral vocation.  Pastors are not intended to be individual superstars or alone.  Nor should the pastor put the pressure on her/himself to be such a solo anomaly of effectiveness and popularity.

We see two extremes.  Some pastors long to be popular superstars yet others are forced to be solo and expected to be superstars.  Each of them, whether they know it or not, are swimming in the exhaustion that is the consequence of an individualistic society.

Do you see more than the ‘two extremes’ within the nature of individualism?  Where do you see the impact of an individualism in your church community? 


  1. Robert Martin · August 30, 2012

    What I have seen most prevalent is the latter where the pastor wants to have people equipped and exercising their own gifts for ministry within the body of the church and the community the church is part of. We recently went through a period of time where we had no full time pastor and people needed to step up and do the work. And we did it. It was amazing what could be done. But an undercurrent in the church community was “When we get a pastor…” and “This problem will get fixed once we have a pastor…”. And, in evitably, when we did get a pastor, suddenly volunteers and “lay” ministers faded out and the “official” leadership was tasked with doing all the work. It’s the pastor’s job, after all, to visit the sick, plan the worship, decide on the teaching series, etc. Sad, really…

    • Chris Lenshyn · August 30, 2012

      It’s disappointing… in truth, a pastor is far more valuable to a community that is doing all those things you mention your church doing before you got a new pastor.

      I just came across this quote over at Len Hjalmarson’s blog.

      “Professionalization of the ministry is the market replacement for a community that has outsourced its capacity to care.” -Lance Ford


  2. garethbrandt · August 30, 2012

    I agree. this is required reading.

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