It is easy in the fast paced society that we live in to get caught up in the need to be relevant, popular, and powerful. This applies in the corporate world, with friends, and in ministry. Participating in a service-learning environment at the Father McKenna Center has helped me to identify when I am struggling with the feeling that I need to be relevant, popular, and powerful to a more prayerful, community ministry that will help me in my journey of discerning where I am being called by God. These three temptations (relevancy, popularity, and power are described in Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book In The Name of Jesus)
Being around friends, co-workers, and even strangers it is challenge to fight the urge to seem relevant in all aspects of our lives (even in those situations where you are completely out of your element). I know for me this happens to me when I am talking with co-workers, working with the youth at church, and even when I was serving the guests at the Father McKenna Center. I caught myself this past week in the act of doing this and once I realized what I was doing I had a hard time moving past the ashamed feeling that I had. I was not being honest with the guests at the Father McKenna Center or with myself. The conversation was not about anything of importance but I found myself trying to fit into the conversation when I clearly was out of my element. Feeling the need to be relevant is something that in hindsight I have always struggled with, and it wasn’t until I was in a room with a group of strangers that I realized I was doing it. Moving forward I have been trying to engage in those situations where I am not in the in the loop by simply taking a step back and listening. This will help me to become a better listener and in turn help me in my prayer life. A prayer life where you are not an active listener as much as you are an active speaker does not allow for a two-way conversation with God. I do not always need to be the center of attention or conversation, and when I do listen more attentively in my prayer life I will be able to more clearly understand what God’s call for my life is.
The feeling of the need to be relevant draws parallels with the need to be popular. We all want everyone to like us and we all want to have more friends than we know what to do with. To me this seems like simple human nature. The problem with being popular is that when we are focusing so much attention to ourselves we are no longer concerned with the community around us. Our personal needs are more important than those of the community. At the Father McKenna Center last week the weather outside was cold, downright freezing outside. I witnessed the guests at the Center being more focused on whether or not guests that they had no connection to had enough cold weather gear before they left. To me this was a great example of not being concerned about your popularity status and being more focused on ministering and taking care of those around you. If I were to apply this attitude of selfless giving to ministry without the desire to been seen as the hip, cool, young up and coming seminarian, my ministry would have more of an impact on those I serve.
The media, popular culture, and our inner instincts are all telling us that the more power we have, the more untouchable we are. In our day jobs, volunteer organizations, and even in the church, leadership based on power can be present. Leadership based upon power, and not a mutual respect and love for one another, can cause both the leader and those being lead to be blinded, preventing both parties from seeing the true goal of the organization. In the context of the church, this style of leadership has negative consequences far beyond the doors of the church. At the Father McKenna Center the leadership of the Center is allowed to provide the ministry they do based upon a mutual respect between the leadership and those being served (although I believe that in the end bother parties are serving one another).
My experience at the Father McKenna Center gave me the opportunity to identify my own struggles with the need to feel relevant and popular. The volunteers at the Father McKenna Center, along with the guests, also showed me how leadership based upon a mutual respect for one another in the end allows all parties involved to serve one another. It is in these experiences that I will be able to move from the need to be relevant to being more prayerful, my concerns about popularity to focusing my concern for my community, and developing a leadership style that will allow me to discern more clearly where I am being led by God.
Peace and blessings.