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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He is recently retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC


Major Moves in Ministry

May 19, 2010

All of the gospels depict Jesus and his disciples as people on the move. They never stay anywhere long. Jesus teaches or performs some wonder, then immediately moves on. A dead god is a god who locates, settles in, never surprises. A living God is a God on the move.

We are privileged to minister in a time when ordained leadership is changing and adapting to be more congruent with the mission of Jesus Christ. After decades of floundering, thrashing about trying this and that latest scheme to renew the church, we are at last focusing and moving in a definite direction.

Recently I was asked to identify some of the most significant moves that we clergy are making in our leadership. I believe in these moves we are not only becoming more effective leaders, but also we are being more faithful to our Leader, Jesus Christ and his peculiar style of leading his church.

Today, the most effective, faithful pastors are making these moves:

Move from caregivers to passionate, transformative leaders

Moving from mere maintenance of the congregations that we have been handed from the hard work of previous generations of pastors, we are daring to let God use us to rebirth, new birth, and to transform our people to more actively participate in Christ’s mission. Any church that cares more about itself and its inner life than it cares for the world is a church in decline. Pastors are ordained for more significant ministry than merely care of the congregation.

Move from contented church of monopoly, to church in competitive, missional environment 

We mainline Protestants have lost our monopoly on American religious life. We find ourselves in a mission environment in which our churches must compete with the lures of the world for our people’s faith. It’s a time when the church has the opportunity to recover the oddness and the joy of the peculiarity of ministry in the name of Jesus Christ rather than ministry as service to the infatuations of the world.

Move from nonchalance about results to attentiveness to results

One of the most dramatic developments among the churches of North Alabama is the creation of and the almost 100% participation of our churches in the North Alabama Conference Dashboard. We are determined to notice the numbers and to interpret the numbers as valid indicators of what God is doing among us. God intends for us to bear fruit and promises to give us what we need to bear fruit.

Move from preservation and sustaining to adaptation and supple, flexibility

Church observer Bill Easum told our Conference (the year before I got here) that the “seniority system is killing you.” United Methodism has no seniority system in our Discipline. We have put far too much stress on experience, wisdom, and continuity when we need more stress upon talent, adaptation, flexibility, and innovation. Our Conference mission statement states that our goal is to have, “Every church challenged and equipped….by taking risks and changing lives.” I am so inspired by the outbreak of innovative ministries among our congregations.

Move from the pastor as head of an organization to the pastor as spiritual leader and congregational catalyst

Pastors are becoming more than efficient managers. Pastors are preachers, those who tell the story which is the gospel, laying that upon the congregation on a regular basis and then pastors get out of the way, leaving Jesus to deal with his people. Pastors are there not to do ministry, no really even to lead ministry, but rather to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.”

 

Will Willimon

 


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