Wounded Ministry


I like books. I need to read more, but I like books. I was at the thrift store the other day and saw a book by Henri J M Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, scholar, writer and theologian. I recognized the name from a book I read for one of my ministry classes at college. I recalled that I liked his writing style and found his insight to have a certain depth. One of the things that has stuck with me about him was that after 20 years of teaching at the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School he ended up spending that last ten years of his life working and living with the severely handicapped in a residential setting in Canada. While I didn’t recognize the title— I picked it up anyway.

While spending the evening in a hotel room in Olympia, I opened this book. It is titled, The Wounded Healer—in our woundedness, we can become a source of life for others. First published in 1972, the book has some very dated examples and illustrations. The overall premise is that the traditional “methods” of ministry are not reaching the younger generations that are growing up. He discusses an approach that is more open about our own brokenness in order to build a stronger relationship. Ideally, in revealing our ‘woundedness’ we make a connection and build relationship with people who are searching for substance. He writes, “If there is any posture that disturbs a suffering man or woman, it is aloofness. The tragedy of Christian ministry is that many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgiving embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or even a stuttering confession of an inability to do more, often find their ministers distant men…” The same can be said of, not only of those who minister as an occupation—but also of those members and volunteers in local congregations. It is interesting to me that when we read the scriptural accounts of Jesus and his interactions with those who were suffering, seeking or in need—He was always present with compassion, grace and touch. Even Nicodemus, a Pharisee, received grace from Jesus (see John 3). Perhaps that is why when Joseph of Arimathea came to request Jesus’ body from Pilate, John 19:39 records that Nicodemus came with him and brought along “about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes.”

Grace is not just something you and I receive, but grace is something you and I should be demonstrating.  Paul will tell the church in Corinth that Jesus’ life should be revealed in our lives, so that the grace we extend, will be extended through more and more people, causing thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:10-15). The world, our nation, our community and even our own neighbors and family need to see us as dispensers of grace.

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