We asked 35 Christian leaders, “Who is the influencer with the biggest impact on your life and ministry?” Most of these leaders listed several influential thinkers, writers, innovators, and leaders more of us should get to know. This response is from Glen Elliott, lead pastor with Pantano Christian Church, Tucson, Arizona.
God has used a long list of people to influence me in different seasons of my life, but Henri J.M. Nouwen—a man I never met—may have had the greatest impact. Nouwen was a Catholic priest, but a reader might rarely sense that; perhaps it’s why he was read by non-Catholics as much or more than Catholics.
I first read a book by him in the early ’80s. It was The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery (1976). It was way outside my comfort zone. Better stated, it was outside my experience. It contains so many powerful gems about a deeper life with God that it rocked my world and my views of discipleship. In this book about his experiences at a monastery, I had my first encounter with concepts, such as the difference between ego climbing and selfless climbing. I learned from Nouwen how in our frantic living we miss God and his work happening all around us. Nouwen, through this and many other books, helped teach me to appreciate and practice the spiritual disciplines, and this helped me to better know God, not just know about him.
But my favorite book by Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (1989), is also my favorite leadership book. It is unlike anything Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni, Andy Stanley, or Bill Hybels would write, though I deeply appreciate all of those gentlemen.
In this 100-page book, he addresses three temptations every leader faces: the temptations to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. A single quote from it might prompt you to want to explore Nouwen more: “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.”