This book, on many levels, is designed to be academically rigorous.  In its 336 pages, it has 474 citations.  These citations range from early Church fathers to Medieval monks to modern theologians like Hauerwas, Brueggemann, and Dawn.  Not only were the notes extensive, they covered a great deal of diversity.  Judging from the citations, this book is heavily influenced by Karl Barth, Richard Baxter, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, John Wesley, and Martin Luther.  Willimon represents his Methodist heritage, but also seems to have some Reformed leanings.

To begin, Willimon notes four things about pastoral ministry: ministry is an act of God; ministry is an act of the church; to be a pastor is to be tied in a unique way to the church, the believing community in Christ; and ministry is difficult.  This then leads to the significance of ordained ministry.  Willimon wants to affirm several things about ordination: it is an act of Christ and his church; it is for service to Christ and the church; it arises ‘from above,’ as a gracious gift of the Holy Spirit; it arises from below, from the church’s need for, and wisdom in designating, leadership; it forms those who are to serve as priests to the priests; it sets apart those who are to serve as exemplars to the congregation, being in all things without fault; it is an act of collegiality; and it is effected through the laying on of hands and prayer.  Ordained ministry is to be called to be “servant to the servants of God.”

There are several contemporary images that have drastically shaped the concept of pastor, for better or worse.  These include: political negotiator, therapist, manager, resident activist, preacher, and servant.  Several of these images have created expectations of the pastorate that are not Biblical.  Therapist and manager are two that fall largely into that category.  The recovery of preacher and servant have been one positive movement toward a more Biblical approach to ministry.  In all things, Willimon reminds us that ministry is to be cruciform.

Priestly patterns of ministry have several elements: gathering the congregation; gathering them around the story of God; interpreting, proclaiming, and expounding Scripture; preparing the congregation for service; calling for and receiving the offering; remembering God’s mighty acts; eating meals together in Jesus’ name; and scattering the church into the world.  “In all acts of ministry the pastor is priest, the one who constantly looks for ways in which all of our meetings with one another might also be meeting with the living Christ, in which every activity of the church might be sacramental, a means of grace, a human act whereby we sign, signal, and point to the outbreak of the kingdom of God among us” (90).

The pastor as interpreter of Scripture and preacher and teacher are especially important.  Words make worlds.  The question is not whether we are shaped by outside influences but which outside influences we will allow to shape us.  Given that we are increasingly in a post-Christian culture, those images for pastoral ministry are vital.  Pastors are called to equip the saints for every good work and help the Church live out the counter-narrative that typically opposes our culture.

Pastoral counseling is vastly different than clinical counseling.  According to Willimon pastoral counseling does not so much depend on the contemporary counseling methods that seek to be “unbiased” (as if that were a possibility).  Rather, pastoral counseling is about guiding people and that quite often means speaking the truth in love at the point of people’s deepest points of brokenness.

Consistently, Willimon places emphasis on the pastor’s character.  Preaching includes more than words; it is living.  Although the pastor is a Christian among Christians, they must also be leaders to the flock as an example of this odd kingdom ethic – the Church.  Constancy in ministry is one way that this is accomplished.  Living among people for an extended period of time allows others to observe our way of life and for us to make the deepest impact on the community.  This also means that we must take care of ourselves (not selfishly).  But, we must maintain our relationship with God and take care of our spiritual, physical, and mental well-being.  This includes discerning what is “essential” and what is merely “important” in ministry.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic.  Willimon has an uncanny ability to communicate clearly and pointedly with a great understanding of the contemporary atmosphere that the Church faces.  I like Willimon’s approach to pastoral ministry.  He communicates well the tensions that the pastor finds and must be able to work through as a minister to the flock.

  1. Special care should be given and certain precautions taken regarding the counsel of women. Due to the emotional and physiological dynamics involved, I do not believe that pastors should counsel women alone, ever. There is simply too much at stake, not only in the lives of those involved, but for the reputation and testimony of the church and the office of the pastorate in general. Paul states, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 10:8). For pastors who don’t believe that sexual immorality is a possibility for them during the intimate and private counsel of women, Paul’s statement a few verses later should help to serve as a corrective: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). When counseling married women, the pastor should have the counselee agree to arrange to have her spouse present for the sessions. If the counselee is unmarried, a deaconess or other respected and mature woman from the congregation can sit in during this time. Such precautionary measures are easy to implement and will ensure pastoral and counselee integrity during these encounters, for the good of all involved and the larger body of Christ in general.

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