by Marja Bergen


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:5-7


Years ago when I was training Living Room facilitators, my favourite resource was Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections  on Christian Leadership. Although it was published in 1989, years before Living Room got its start, the book contains wonderful lessons for those leading support groups. It would be good for all Christian leaders to read.

Nouwen was a Catholic priest with an interest in using psychology as a means of exploring the human side of faith – something he felt was being overlooked from a pastoral standpoint. The reason I believe many of us may identify with him is because he suffered from depression as so many of us do. He is an ideal person to teach us about faith-based support leadership for people with mental health issues.

One of the greatest dangers in leadership is pride. The desire to look self-assured can cause us to present ourselves as wiser and closer to God than those we lead. Unintentionally we might set ourselves above others in the group. But this is not the kind of leader a peer support group should have. Every member, even the leader, should be a peer – an equal. Humility is of utmost importance.

According to Nouwen, leaders need to show their own woundedness instead of feigning more wholeness than is theirs to show. Says Nouwen: “We are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.” (p. 61-62) This is especially true when leading a peer support group.

“The servant leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader.” (p. 63)

Through modelling vulnerability and candidly revealing pain and insecurities, facilitators can encourage the entire group to do the same. Honestly sharing faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness with others helps bring members of the group in touch with God. They need to get the message that there’s no need for shame.

Most members of Living Room groups have suffered or are suffering. It’s this commonality that pulls them together as a group, jointly drawing them closer to Jesus. We learn to fellowship with each other and the suffering Christ.

Jesus is our best example of humility. He was God in human form but he “emptied himself,” giving up all claims of the worship that should be due him. He came to earth in the form of a man, tempted to sin as all of us are, eventually to suffer for our sins. In other words, he gave up everything to be a servant. Using Jesus as our example, we too are called to empty ourselves and be servant leaders.