Willimon, Pastor, Theology & Practice of Ordained Ministry

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William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Abingdon, 2002.

Also summarized here: Willimon, Pastor, A Reader for Ordained Ministry

Referenced in: Pastoral Theology

LifeandLeadership.com Summary

If wide use is any indication, these are modern classics of pastoral theology. Pastor: The Theology and Practice is an attempt to draw from scripture and tradition to offer a coherent understanding of the core of pastoral identity and practice. Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry is an anthology of substantive articles arranged in the same subject sequence as the other. It is designed as a supplement to the first.

In Pastor: The Theology, Willimon launches from four things that Richard Niebuhr says were characteristic of historical periods when the church had greater clarity about the pastoral role than they do today: “what its chief work was and what was the chief purpose of all of its functions; what constituted a call to the ministry; what was the source of the minister’s authority; and whom the minister served.” (12) Willimon seeks to answer each of these questions, but with an eye toward the current crisis in ministerial identity, and through the lens of the book of Acts, which he sees as “an early Christian narrative of the challenges of church leadership.” (12)

One of the reasons for Willimon’s popularity is that he answers Niebuhr’s questions above in light of the common tasks ministers engage. These include individual chapters on ordination, worship leadership, pastoral care, biblical interpretation, preaching, counseling, teaching, evangelizing, truth-telling, leadership, ethics, character, and disciplined endurance. Even when one may not agree with Willimon’s conclusions, there will always be reflective material in each chapter that grounds one’s practice more deeply in Scripture and enduring Christian tradition.

In one of the beginning chapters, Willimon looks at twenty-first century images of the pastor including media mogul, political negotiator, therapist, manager, resident activist, preacher, and servant. Some of these have more legitimacy than others, but he offers them as evidence that we are “groping for an appropriate metaphor for our work.” (70) He suggests that ministry is always countercultural to some extent, dwelling alongside the temptation to adopt styles of Christian leadership that are essentially accommodationist. This requires that we engage in continuing critical assessment by looking back to the classical tasks of Christian ministry: “to teach, to preach, and to evangelize through the ministries of Word, sacrament, and order.” (71) Willimon repeatedly turns to this emphasis throughout his book.

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From the Publisher on Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

Ordained ministry, says Willimon, is a gift of God to the church—but that doesn’t mean that it is easy. Always a difficult vocation, changes in society and the church in recent years have made the ordained life all the more complex and challenging. Is the pastor primarily a preacher, a professional caregiver, an administrator? Given the call of all Christians to be ministers to the world, what is the distinctive ministry of the ordained? When does one’s ministry take on the character of prophet, and when does it become that of priest? What are the special ethical obligations and disciplines of the ordained?

In this book, Willimon explores these and other central questions about the vocation of ordained ministry. He begins with a discussion of who pastors are, asking about the theological underpinnings of ordained ministry, and then moves on to what pastors do, looking at the distinctive roles the pastor must fulfill. The book also draws on great teachers of the! Christian tradition to demonstrate that, while much about Christian ministry has changed, its core concerns—preaching the word, the care of souls, the sacramental life of congregations—remains the same. Ordained ministry is a vocation to which we are called, not a profession that we choose. To answer that call is to open oneself to heartache and sometimes hardship; yet, given the one who calls, it is to make oneself available to deep and profound joy as well.

From the Publisher on Pastor: A Reader for Ordained Ministry

One of the great sources of discouragement for those in ordained ministry is the perception that they are alone. The challenges and difficulties they face seem all the larger for their frequent lack of mentors and friends with whom to discuss these issues.

Yet, according to Willimon, a “cloud of witnesses” surrounds those in ordained ministry, forebears from whom they could learn if they had the opportunity to listen. The challenges and joys of ministry are not new; they have been present since the first Christian congregations began. From the age of the church fathers and mothers, into the Middle Ages, through the Reformation, and down to the present, faithful leaders of the Christian Church have contemplated, debated, laughed, and prayed about the life of ordained leadership.

In this new volume Willimon brings together the best voices from 20 centuries of Christian pastors and leaders, introducing what they have to say on the tasks and roles of ministry. Brief, accessible excerpts from the most important writings on ordained ministry encourage today’s pastors. Each introduction places the excerpt in the context of its own time and place, then discusses its particular relevance for the practice of ministry today. This volume will serve as a guide to all who seek the wisdom of those who have followed the call to ordained ministry before them.

About the Author

William H. Willimon is Presiding Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, Birmingham, AL area, and Visiting Research Professor, Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC. Prior to his current position he served for twenty years as Professor of Christian Ministry and Dean of Duke University Chapel. He is the author of fifty books, and over a million copies of his books have been sold. His articles have appeared in many publications including The Christian Ministry, Quarterly Review, Liturgy, Worship, and Christianity Today. His Pulpit Resource is used each week by over eight thousand pastors in the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia. He was selected in a Baylor University survey as one of the “Twelve Most Effective Preachers in the English-Speaking World.”

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