William Willimon. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002. 386 pp. $17.00.
Willimon’s announced task is to describe the theology and practice of ordained Christian ministry. His provocative book begins with an analysis of ordination and a description of images of the pastor that are common in contemporary culture. Chapter by chapter, he then describes and reflects on the biblical images of the pastor as priest, preacher, counselor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, and leader.
Throughout his discussion, Willimon presents engaging reflections that will guide and critique both new pastors and seasoned practitioners in ministry. As he quotes sources ranging from Jerome and Augustine to Luther and Spurgeon to various contemporary voices, the reader gets the sense of being in a room filled with those committed to pastoring well.
In his discussion on the role of pastor as interpreter of Scripture, Willimon calls us to “obedient playfulness” with the Word (p. 130). On the task of worship, he points out that “we worship God, not for utilitarian or pragmatic purposes, but because we have been loved” (p. 75). On the task of pastoral counseling, he points out that even Martin Luther complained that marital problems within his church consumed his pastoral attention (p. 177), and then offers the rule of thumb that six sessions of pastoral counseling should be a pastor’s maximum limit, with the goal being spiritual direction, not an attempt to do psychotherapy (p. 179).
Reading Willimon’s book is akin to having a warm and lively discussion with a seasoned mentor regarding the basic tasks of ordained ministry. Indeed, the book will work well either as a tool for peer discussion groups or as a private guide.