The Wounded Healer: Ministry in the Contemporary Society


Nouwen’s books are still being read today. His books include The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, Clowning in Rome, The Life of the Beloved and The Way of the Heart. After nearly two decades of teaching at the Menninger Foundation Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and at the University of Notre Dame, Yale University and Harvard University, he went to work with mentally challenged people at the L’Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. After a long period of declining energy, which he chronicled in his final book, Sabbatical Journey, he died in September 1996 from a sudden heart attack.[1]

His spirituality was influenced notably by his friendship with Jean Vanier. At the invitation of Vanier, Nouwen visited L’Arche in France, the first of over 130 communities around the world where people with developmental disabilities live with those who care for them. In 1986 Nouwen accepted the position of pastor for at L’Arche community called “Daybreak” in Canada, near Toronto. Nouwen wrote about his relationship with Adam, a core member at L’Arche Daybreak with profound developmental disabilities, in a book titled Adam: God’s Beloved. Father Nouwen was a good friend of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.[2]

The results of a Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 indicate that Nouwen’s work was a first choice of authors for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy.

One of his most famous works is Inner Voice of Love, his diary from December 1987 to June 1988 during one of his most serious bouts with clinical depression.[3]


The Wounded Healer is a hope-filled and profoundly simple book that speaks directly to those men and women who want to be of service in their church or community, but have found the traditional ways often threatening and ineffective. In this book, Henri Nouwen combines creative case studies of ministry with stories from diverse cultures and religious traditions in preparing a new model for ministry. Weaving keen cultural analysis with his psychological and religious insights, Nouwen has come up with a balanced and creative theology of service that begins with the realization of fundamental woundedness in human nature. Emphasizing that which is in humanity common to minister and believer, this woundedness can serve as a source of strength and healing when counseling others. Nouwen proceeds to develop his approach to ministry with an analysis of sufferings, a suffering world, a suffering generation, a suffering person, and a suffering minister. It is his contention that ministers are called to recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts and make that recognition the starting point of their service. For Nouwen, ministers must be willing to go beyond their professional role and leave themselves open as fellow human beings with the same wounds and suffering in the image of Christ. In other words, we are healed from our own wounds. Filled with examples from everyday experience, The Wounded Healer is a thoughtful and insightful guide that will be welcomed by anyone engaged in the service of others.

            This piece of writing is designed and goaled at critiquing the “Wounded Healer”, as to give an overview of the insight of the writer in a horizon. To achieve this goal, the book is segmented into the following: The first door, the second door, the third door, and the fourth door. The doors or horizons discuss specific issues which will be highlighted in this book report. These areas will be delineated or explained as this journey progresses from a start to a destined destination. As mentioned, these doors explain specific issues of ministry in the dislocated world, the ministry of the rootless generation, the ministry of a hopeless man, and the ministry of a lonely minister. Each of these topics is applied proportionally to these doors in which the first represents the condition of the suffering world, the second represents the condition of the suffering generation, the third represents the condition of the suffering man, and the fourth represents the condition of a suffering minister.


            The writer sees the condition of the world as the suffering world as the result of men’s action on planet earth. The curiosities of men to fathom into the world of science have led to the unimaginable reasoning of men in the scientific thinking leading to the humanistic ideological philosophy of men in this present world of modernization.

            The writer highlights men activities calling them specifically as the nuclear men. The men dig into the world of science and technology thereby creating products that are detrimental to human society. The nuclear men seek knowledge as to solve human problems scientifically; however, the discovery and the invention of the material products produced in the era of scientific experience cannot superimpose God’s ordinances and standards of morality in his created world. For instance, the introduction of invitro fertilization as to create human being through a petro dish or embryonic test tube has led scientists to carry out stern cell research. The baby is created through the infusion of embryonic semen into the womb of the female for fertilization to take place. These practices go against ethics, values, and morals of God’s created being. They are indecent and they should not be practiced. The ejaculation done by the male releasing semen which has propensity to produce babies goes against the natural order which God has put into place regarding procreation or reproduction. During the procedure, not all the embryonic cells are used. Some are discarded by the doctor. This is a direct murder of a living organism. This is equal to abortion or murder. According to this procedure, the baby born is at risk to suffer from medical problem which is detrimental to the child existence and livelihood.

            The writer implied explanation to this, is that, the suffering of the modern men bore today is the result of their creations; therefore, God cannot be blamed because men are suffering today.

            According to Nouwen, the Wounded Healer and on quote, “The nuclear man is confronted with issues of diversity that need serious attention as they relate to human development, cultures, and adversity like wars, natural disasters, and hazards created by man on planet earth. Man is paralyzed by dislocation and fragmentation, caught in the prison of his own mortality.”[4]


            This is centered on the ministry of the rootless generation. The writer starts with a fairy tale explaining the fugitive nature of the gentleman who escaped his captors and entered into a village. Upon his arrival into the village, the inhabitants rescued and concealed him from his captors; unfortunately, his captors asked for his release to them for possible execution; or else, the captors were going to execute everyone in the village. The pastor was asked to look into the problem. As the pastor prayed and read the Bible, he came to realize that it is better for one person to die than for a whole people to die; consequently, he released the man to the captors. He was not happy to do this; however, he had to do so to save everyone in the village. At the end of the tale, the writer said, it was Jesus that the Pastor gave to the people for execution because he did not see the face of the man. In the same way, many people today in ministry and in this generation are betraying the Lord in the church and in the ministry. In his exposition, he talked about the inward generation, who gives absolute priority to the personal which tends in a remarkable wall to withdraw into self. This generation is an activist. He talked about a generation with parents, but no father. A generation in which everyone claims authority because he or she is older more mature, more intelligent, or more powerful. He also talked about the convulsive generation which combines the former two. It is the inwardness and fatherlessness of the coming generation that might lead us to expect a very quiet and contended future in which people keep to themselves and try to conform to their little in-groups. Many young people are convinced that something is terribly wrong with the world in which they live.

            As the writer puts it, the inward generation is conserved and reserved. This generation prioritizes self. It is a sign-carrying generation. This generation is hard to accept the Gospel. This generation has set standard for itself and cannot accept Christ the Savior The generation without fathers, but has parents, is the generation which seems to be wise in its own eye. It is the generation which says, I am older, more mature, and more intelligent; as the result, it cannot accept God while the convulsive generation knows that something is wrong with the world; as a result, there is a need for a Savior. To reach these groups of people mentioned, there has to be a tomorrow’s leader who has compassion and he or she is contemplating to reach all.

            The writer just hammered the nail on its head. These groups of people mentioned are suffering in today’s world. It takes minister and ministry in this dislocated world to reach them. The Bible says that Jesus was moved with compassion and he healed the multitude. It takes men of compassion to reach these groups. These challenges surfaced to test the character of true minister and ministry for the fact that ministry in the dislocated world requires sacrifice to run it.


            This section talks about the condition of a hopeless man in the midst of crisis. It challenges leadership in general and narrows it to a Christian leadership wherein the minister becomes the consoler and healer of the victim’s wound. In my opinion, these wounds could be emotional, spiritual, social, psychological, and physical. In this section, Mr. Harrison happened to be sick and in the stage of his suffering, he found himself to be these moods: the impersonal milieu and the fear of death. Every sick person undergoes these phenomena of life. He talked about the personal response, waiting in life, and waiting in death. People who are diagnosed with terminal illness respond to these phenomena differently based on human characteristics and resilience.

            Ministry and minister core values are tested as ministry and minister are confronted with these issues of concern as they relate to illness in general. In either case, we as minister, should counsel and pray believing God for his intervention miraculously.


            This section talks about the ministry of a lonely minister. It states that in the middle of our convulsive world, men and women raise their voices in time and again to announce with incredible boldness that we are waiting for a liberator. Loneliness is a painful human experience according to the writer. This loneliness can be personal or professional. According to Nouwen, and on quote, “

“We live in a society in which loneliness has become one of the most painful human wound and also the wound of loneliness in the life of a minister hurts all the more, since he is not only shares in the human condition of isolation, but also finds that his professional impact on others is diminishing.’[5]

            Pastors are called into ministry to teach, preach, and pray for the flocks; however, if pastors are faced with suffering or sickness, it can frustrate them and therefore isolate them from their personal and pastoral ministries.


            The four conditions and doors outlined in this book report are vital to the understanding of Christian leadership, ministry, minister, and the daily confrontations faced by Christian leaders and ministries on the daily basics. According to Nouwen, and on quote:

“For the minister is called to recognize the starting point of his service. Whether he tries to enter into a dislocated world relates to a convulsive generation or speaks to a dying man, his service will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks.”[6]

[1]Carroll, Jackson W. (2003-08-23). “Pastors’ Picks: What Preachers are Reading”. Christian Century 120 (17): 31



[4]Henri J.M Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in a Contemporary Society (Kansa: First Image Edition), 1-128, 1979.