Willimon: Sustaining Ministry – That’s God’s Problem

Post a Comment » Written on February 6th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Don Meyer

DENVER, CO (February 6, 2007) – With a generous mixture of humor and an almost folksy interpretation of scripture, Dr. William Willimon admonished the hundreds of pastors attending the 2007 Evangelical Covenant Church Midwinter Pastors Conference to remember that “sustaining ministry is not your problem – that’s God’s problem. It’s too tough to do by yourself.”

Willimon was the speaker for the opening worship service of this year’s conference: “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence: Pastoral Competence and Congregational Vitality.” A noted speaker and author of more than 60 books, Willimon is the bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Willimon“The Bible doesn’t say much about excellence,” Willimon noted. “It’s more of a question of “how do you keep on keeping on?”

“Ministry is peculiarly demanding,” the speaker continued, suggesting that many in the room may have come to the conference searching for a new ministry technique, or perhaps a new program they can introduce in their own congregations. “The Kingdom of God is too demanding to be encapsulated by a technique or a program,” he declared. “You need a living God to do what you’re called to do.”

Willimon used the Nicodemus story in the book of John as a focal point in his message, incorporating the call of Jesus to “be born from above” as a recurring theme throughout his remarks.

“He is a member of the high council,” Willimon said in reference to Nicodemus. “He’s a believer – but also a teacher of believers. He is a ruler in the synagogue.” Willimon went to some length in describing him as a learned man, one in the highest levels of religious leadership. And it is to this man that Jesus says, “You must be born from above.”

“In all the New Testament, this is the only time Jesus tells anybody you must be born from above,” Willimon noted. “And the person is a theologically trained religious professional. How can it be?”

The speaker made a point of noting that Nicodemus was a trained religious professional, suggesting to his audience that perhaps today’s clergy also may need to be “reborn – redone, top to bottom,” spiritually speaking.

Willimon also wove into his message the image of wind – the spirit of God, like the wind, blowing where it chooses to blow. A problem for many of today’s religious professionals, he suggests, is that they (like Nicodemus) think they have scripture – and God – all figured out.

“The longer you’re in this work (ministry), you do figure out a lot of the texts – you ‘stabilize’ the living God,” Willimon contends. “And then the wind of the spirit blows in and knocks you down,” much as it did when Jesus declared to Nicodemus, “you’ve got to become as a little child to enter this kingdom.

“One of the most sustaining things we have in ministry is this living God, who equips those who he calls,” Willimon continued. “He is a constant breeze, blowing you into areas you didn’t know you would be called to go.”

The speaker decried many ministries he describes as dead and boring. “We have a God who we have cut down to our own size,” he said. “We need a Katrina to come through and shake things up. Part of the fun of ministry is working with this uncontainable God.

“The wind will blow where it will,” he said in conclusion. “Thank God ministry is not something we have to do.”

Editor’s note: the accompanying photo of Willimon was taken during a book signing that immediately followed the service.

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