The Temptation To Be Relevant

These are Henri Nouwen’s words from his book, In The Name of Jesus. It is a book for Christian leaders.

“Jesus’ first tempation was to be relevant, to turn stones into bread . . . . Aren’t we priests and ministers called to help people, feed the hungry, and to save those who are starving? Are we not called to do something that makes people realize that we do make a difference in their lives? Aren’t we called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and alleviate the suffering of the poor? Jesus was faced with these same questions, but when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behavior of turning stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4) . . . .

Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in a success-oriented world . . . . And the cry that arises from behind all of this . . . is clearly: “Is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who cares? Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me? Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying? Is there anyone who can give me a sense of belonging?
It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there.

2 thoughts on “The Temptation To Be Relevant

  1. I really like this post, I think it gets right to the heart of what a lot of people feel today, in the church and outside it. But I’m a little confused as to what your position is on this “need to be relevant” At first I thought you were going in the direction of “Jesus was tempted to be relevant by means of getting attention, and Christian leaders can desire that same sort of fame, but we shouldn’t.” But then you ended the article saying that everyone desires this sort of affirmation. Would you mind explaining this a bit more, please? Thanks!

  2. Good question Mark. I was quoting Nouwen. I thought he had some good things to think about. I have written posts about seeking glory. I’ll have to find one and put it up. But suffice to say, you said it just right. God is does not share his glory with others, not even his children. Let me see if I can bring that one up. You are right on!

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