7.10 Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry
Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry William H. Willimon
Without demeaning those who are not ordained Willimon was able to encourage those of us who are ordained with the high and holy calling that we have in our position. He provided a helpful section on different images our culture has of the Pastor, ones that we may end up following without thinking, and then provides some basic guidelines as to what our priorities should be (7-74).
Some of Willemon’s most helpful words were about pastoral fatigue. He highlights that one of our roles is not to meet everyone’s perceived need (which can lead us to exhaustion) but to help “form people into the sort of people who have had their needs rearranged in the light of Christ” (96, 101-102). He warns that we are not to be like doctors, trying to fix everyone and help them to avoid pain (98-99, 106-109). Very helpfully he lists some problems unique to the pastor which must be addressed to avoid leaving the ministry (316-325). I was warned recently that should I take a church position that I should make clear the job description which Willemon notes is generally ill defined (316-317). My own experience in ministry was that a lack of supervision allowed my perfectionistic tendencies to get me into trouble. Like Seamands, Willemon encourages me to seek to remove my false self that I show to people in order to be healthy. Two other areas that he highlighted that I need to continue to work on are taking care of my body and learning better time management skills.
Since I am coming out of a time of burnout, it seems that Willemon correctly identifies what I felt, “gradual dissipation of meaning in ministry, a blurring of vision, the inability to keep the theological rationale for ministry” (326). What I want to take away from this book are his words that ordained ministry is not a job but “a call, a summons from God. …To know that we are here, in ministry, because God wills us to be here—this is great grace” 326 One of the things that got me into trouble was the failure to keep the Sabbath and take times aside for silence and solitude and rest. My favorite quote from the book follows, “The ordained life would be too great a burden for anyone, were it not that God calls us to do that which God is already doing. Our ministry is subsequent and derivative of God’s. We need not labor and struggle earnestly to overcome all of the factors in ministry that lead to burnout or brownout” (355). I hope that I have learned this lesson.
I have not had as much experience in preaching as most others at this point in my life but I do believe it is one of area in which God has used me. I am challenged to follow his advice to “read everything, and talk to everybody, and listen too, noting how people speak and how they hear. And go to movies.” (156) I had never considered memorizing other sermons in order to develop my preaching ability but I am willing to try this. I have felt that I needed to become a better story teller to become a better preacher and Willemon encourages me in this when he says, Preachers must be more creative, they must learn to tell stories, to create drama, to be poets.” (161) I have done some preaching from Acts and I will take up his challenge to spend more time preaching in Acts.
Willemon does not see any exclusion of women from ordination (47) but neither does he deal with Pauline passages that deal exclusively with male elders (Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3). He also avoids the issue of sexual orientation as regards to ordination (47) without wrestling with prohibitions against homosexuality (Romans 1; Galatians 5). I am not sure what I think about his implied suggestion that pastors are irresponsible if we are not aware of the amounts our members are giving. It seems to me that it is up to God to move people to give cheerfully (2 Cor 8-9) and we are to teach on the Biblical basis for giving. I understand what he is saying about thinking only “we” have the right interpretation (136-137). Certainly I have seen how God has used lectio divina to speak to people in ways my tradition would never have allowed. However, I don’t agree that any interpretation can be derived from the text of the Scriptures.