From Solitude to Community to Ministry 

As a pastor, does your ministry flow out of regular time alone with God and authentic community with others? Or do you reach out for help in ministry only when it isn’t working and then maybe you pray?

Henri Nouwen presents a compelling vision of how transformative ministry flows out of our identity in God and our participation in authentic community. According to Nouwen, solitude, community and ministry are disciplines that help us live a faithful, fruitful life. The following five points are taken from Nouwen’s article, “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry.”

  1. Begin with Solitude. “Solitude is being with God and God alone.” It is the place where we, as pastors, can hear God’s voice calling us “my beloved son” or “my beloved daughter” and where that voice can speak into the center of our being. Listening to God in solitude is where ministry begins. Pastors have many other voices calling out, “make something happen,”  “do something significant,” “prove you are worth something.” When we don’t embrace the voice which says “you are my beloved,” we cannot be fully free to live out God’s calling for our lives. Ministry starts with claiming our belovedness. Is there space for solitude in your life? Are you listening for God’s voice in that time of solitude? Do you know deep in your heart that you are God’s beloved? 
  2. Flourish in Community with Forgiveness. “Community is not an organization; community is a way of living: you gather around you people with whom you want to proclaim the truth that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God.” Community is not easy, especially for pastors. It must flow out of solitude, out of a sense that we are God’s beloved. Forgiveness is a key discipline for forming a healthy community. But sometimes we expect too much from people, wanting them to give us what only God can give us. As Nouwen says, “Forgiveness is to allow the other person not to be God.” We are incapable of loving unconditionally on our own; only God can give us that kind of love. Forgiveness helps us release others from unrealistic demands. Is there someone in your community that you need to forgive? Is there someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness?                                                                   
  3. Nourish Community through Celebration. Celebration is another key discipline that allows community to flourish. As we learn to forgive another person, we can also begin to celebrate who that person is as an imperfect reflection of God’s love for us. We can celebrate that they are God’s beloved, made in his image. We celebrate others by accepting their humanity and seeing our brokenness reflected in their brokenness. For pastoral leaders especially, this takes great humility born out of our own sense of belovedness which we discover in solitude.There is great healing for pastors and their congregants in being known in our mutual vulnerability and weakness. Is there someone in your community who celebrates you for who you are and not what you accomplish? Is there someone in your community who you need to see through the lens of their belovedness?                                                               
  4. Overflow to Ministry and Gratitude. “Ministry is not, first of all, something that you do … ministry is something that you have to trust.” As pastors, if we faithfully seek out the Father’s voice in solitude and community, and if we are living as the beloved, the power of God to heal and transform lives will flow out of us to others.This healing often comes by leading people to gratitude. Life is full of pain, disappointment and loss which can gradually lead to resentment and a hardened heart. We can gently lead people to gratitude by assuring them that God is good and that they are his beloved. We can help them discover that in the midst of their pain there is a blessing. God is hidden in the pain. He weeps with us, carries us and works in unseen ways to transform our mourning into rejoicing. Can you be grateful for everything that has happened in your life — not just the good things but for all that was brought to you today? What is one painful experience in your life that you can be thankful for? Talk to God about it.                                                                                                       
  5. Overflow to Ministry with Compassion. Transformative ministry involves not only gratitude, but also compassion. “Compassion means to suffer with, to live with those who suffer.” Just as our heavenly Father is compassionate, so are we as pastors called to be compassionate healers. This can be a scary thing. It takes courage to be with people in their pain and to trust that in the midst we will find the joy of Jesus. As we live deeper into the truth that we are beloved and as we live in authentic community with others, our capacity to walk with those who suffer will grow. We will be free to not have all the answers, free to surrender and trust in God’s healing work. We will bear fruit for God’s kingdom. How can I tangibly be with someone I know in their pain? What would it look like for me to trust that God will be there with us? 

To learn more about helping people in need, see the following resources:

Nouwen, Henri J.M. (Spring, 1995). “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry”. Leadership Magazine.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. (2017). You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. New York, NY: Convergent Books.

Calhoun, Adele A. (2015). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Fading, Alan. (2017). An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

Spiritual contributor and curator: Linda Gist is a spiritual formation director in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of the Renovare© Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation and regularly leads retreats for pastors.
To contact Linda, email
Linda’s website:  Rhythms of Grace
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle