Henri Nouwen: Compassionate Authority

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The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Mark 1:22

“We usually think of people with great authority as higher up, far away, hard to reach. But spiritual authority comes from compassion and emerges from deep inner solidarity with those who are “subject” to authority. The one who is fully like us, who deeply understands our joys and pains or hopes and desires, and who is willing and able to walk with us, that is the one to whom we gladly give authority and whose “subjects” we are willing to be. 

It is compassionate authority that empowers, encourages, calls forth hidden gifts, and enables great things to happen. True spiritual authority is located in the point of an upside-down triangle, supporting and holding into the light everyone they offer their leadership to.”

Henry Nouwen in Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (New York: Harper Collins, 1997) reading for 12 April.

I have arrived safely in India. I will speak in multiple venues in four cities offering a biblical perspective on governance, management, and fundraising. My aim is to empower national workers to build trust and grow local giving. 

And Nouwen has taught me that the most generous thing I can do is not teach from a position of authority above them, but to ask questions and seek to understand their challenges so that my training comes from a place of “compassionate authority.” 

I am convinced that this is what set Jesus part from other teachers.

What about you? In what settings has God positioned you for generous service? Picture that place in your mind. Now ask the Holy Spirit to help you move to a place of “deep inner solidarity” with those you serve, to grasp their joys, pains, hopes, and desires.

Maybe this is why I am having back pain, to attune to the pain of others.

At GTP we have built a “with you” culture. Read about it on our website. Many of the memorable Scripture texts contain these words. I am praying that just like Christ is “God with us” that people in India will feel my “with you” posture.

Make it so Lord Jesus.