Whose minister?

I always appreciate the things that William Willimon has to say, be they in his books, sermons, or now on his blog. In fact, of all the people that Doug has the opportunity to correspond with and meet in his position at Fuller, it was Willimon who I got most excited about (he is coming to teach a preaching course for the DMin program this next year). I think I might visit Doug every day that week at the office for the chance to possibly meet the guy!

This week Willimon posted on the role of the pastor in the local church. He speaks from his tradition in the United Methodist Church (the denomination where Doug’s mom serves as an ordained minister) where he serves as Bishop, and his reflection gave me a lot to think about. There are many voices arguing today for quite the opposite of what Willimon suggests in terms of how and where the pastor’s time should be spent (that pastors should spend a large portion of their time out in their community, serving those not yet in the church, etc.). As a minister, I find myself torn in how I think about these issues. I would love to hear others’ thoughts…


  1. I think your thoughts are right on. We have allowed our congregants to dictate how we, as pastors, spend our time, and the reality is they like to be spent in service to them. While I believe part of our jobs should involve this aspect, it should not dominate our time. The Church exists for those who don’t belong first, and second for those already “in.”

  2. I adore Willimon too … I’d be acting like a groupie the week he comes to see Doug.

    I’ve wrestled with this question about pastoral role for a number of years too, but from a very different perspective — as a policy person who wants the church to be “salt and light” because that’s the only true and lasting answer to the social problems I see, but who loves the church and takes very seriously the responsibility not to impose utilitarian projects on the body of Christ. The policy world tends to deal with blunt instruments, and so the nuances are hard to carry and the risks loom large indeed (much too large during the Bush faith-based years, if you ask me).

    Most of my searching (questing?) has been driven by an effort to create the right enabling conditions to help pastors best play their God-given role. The possibilities expand, I think, when we think about the pastoral role in the context of a larger community organizing effort where there is some division of labor and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In that context, the pastor’s prophetic role is enormously significant and some of the service-to-the-world can be carried on the backs of others, to relieve the local pastor of what are atlas burdens … Also to protect the pastor from undue entanglement with partisan politics, which to me is a no-no but also a dilemma for those trying to minister in inner cities in particular, where the lives of so many are dominated by tax-based institutions.

    I believe that we are sitting on the cusp of a potentially historic moment in which it is more important than ever to answer these questions with boldness and discernment. I see the policy world evolving to a point where it is right now possible to ask the questions and find fresh answers. But I must immediately add an important corollary. I know by direct observation that the policy world would not have evolved in this way, if not for a few extremely brave pastors who heard and answered a unique call placed on their lives, reminiscent of Dr. Goldingay’s piece “Old Testament Prophecy Today.” I prize the examples of these few more than my heart can say and, having witnessed their bravery from a ringside seat, will be determined for the rest of my life to make sure I do my part for the other 6,999.

    I’m very afraid I’m consuming more than my fair share of talk-space, so I will continue this with you off-line … One last public note of thanks for raising topics that permit no short answers. You have the most important job in the world, and witnessing your integrity encourages my heart daily.

  3. Dustin,

    Great to have your comments here!

    Actually, Willimon is arguing for the opposite of what you suggest (and what resonates with me). He writes:

    “Years ago, my friend John Westerhoff said, ‘If you are a layperson and you are spending more than fifteen hours a week at church, you are wasting your time. That is not your ministry. You are not to run errands for the pastor at church, you are to join in Christ’s ministry in the world.’

    Westerhoff continued, ‘And if you are a pastor who spends more than fifteen hours a week working in the world, you are wasting your time. The work of the laity is too tough for them to do that work without being equipped and enabled to do that work. Your job, as pastor, is to equip them for their baptismal work in the world.'”

    I find his suggestions intriguing (and reminiscent perhaps of Eugene Peterson in some ways). Yet my path as a minister has been quite different–so much of my time and energy has always been devoted to those “outside”. Which is why I found his post so provocative!

  4. Jennifer,

    Your work and vision is so very crucial and inspiring–I am clearly privy to more of it than others reading here, but I so appreciate you sharing pieces of it!

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