Hope and Christian Leadership

While personal concern is sustained by a continuously growing faith in the value and meaning of life, the deepest motivation for leading our fellow human beings to the future is hope.  For hope makes it possible to look beyond the fulfillment of urgent wishes and pressing desires and offers a vision beyond human suffering and even death.  A Christian leader is a person of hope whose strength in the final analysis is based neither on self-confidence derived from his personality, nor on specific expectations for the future, but on a promise given to him or her.

This promise not only made Abraham travel to unknown territory; it not only inspired Moses to lead his people out of slavery; it is also the guiding motive for any Christian who keeps pointing to new life even in the face of corruption and death.

Without this hope, we will never be able to see value and meaning in the encounter with a decaying human being and become personally concerned.  This hope stretches far beyond the limitations of one’s own psychological strength, for it is anchored not just in the soul of the individual but in God’s self-disclosure in history.  Leadership therefore is not called Christian because it is permeated with optimism against all the odds of life, but because it is grounded in the historic Christ-event which is understood as a definitive breach in the deterministic chain of human trial and error, and as a dramatic affirmation that there is light on the other side of darkness.

Every attempt to attach this hope of visible symptoms in our surroundings becomes a temptation when it prevents us from the realization that promises, not concrete successes, are the basis for Christian leadership.  Many ministers, priests and Christian laypersons have become disillusioned, bitter and even hostile when years of hard work bear no fruit, when little change is accomplished.  Building a vocation on the expectation of concrete results, however, is like building a house on sand instead of on solid rock, and even takes away the ability to accept successes as free gifts.

Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.  This might sound romantic, but when a person enters with his fellow human being into his or her fear of death and is able to wait for that person right there, “leaving the safe place” might turn out to be a very difficult act of leadership.  It is an act of discipleship in which we follow the hard road of Christ, who entered death with nothing but bare hope.

From The Wounded Healer, Henri J. M. Nouwen

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