Overview: This work is likely one of the best books that I have read by a pastor or theologian from the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition in quite some time. Willimon holds a very solid and historical understanding of the person and office of the ordained pastor. Throughout, Willimon attempts to yoke modern pastors to our ancestors and forbearers in the faith by connecting pastoral work to our ancient moorings. He does this especially through his use of the book of Acts and the early ministry of the apostles. Willimon seemingly is little impressed with modern evaluations of ministry by “success” and “growth,” in deference to a higher view of ministry as the role of leading, guiding, and shepherding the baptized. Willimon’s appreciation for the church as the called-out resistance and counter-cultural movement in a world of darkness was deeply moving at points. In particular, I appreciated the Bishop’s use of quotations and historical anecdotes from the Early Fathers, and the Reformers.
Critique: Although Willimon surprised me by quoting from several of the Reformers (Calvin and Luther) as well as even the Westminster Confession of faith, some of his more liberal United Methodism showed forth in his constant references and applications to female pastors. The Bishop went well out of his way to include female ministers and priests in most discussions, but did little to justify his view of gender and ordination. For this reason, Willimon might deserve some “push back” for not defending the controversial position of open ordination. This might be surprising, since he so clearly labors to connect modern pastoral work with that of the ancients and Reformers.
Application: Willimon opened my eyes to a broader understanding of baptism as a delineating mark upon the minister’s role of leading the covenant people of God. Although he does not give a full-fledged theology of baptism as a sign and seal of faith (I’m not sure he would even use those terms), he did find occasion to draw baptism into almost every pastoral discussion on the love, labor, and responsibility of the ordained person to tend especially to those who have openly identified with Christ by the covenantal sign of water. I found his incessant references to baptism refreshing, and it reminded me to speak more often of baptism’s ongoing significance for the Christian life.
Best Quote: “The church itself forms a culture that is counter to the world’s ways of doing things. The church does not simply reach out to and speak to the dominant culture, it seeks to disrupt that culture by rescuing some from it, then to inculcate people into the new culture called the church” (p. 209).
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida