Article in Evangelical Quarterly
residing in Bath

Will Willimon on starting ministry

HT to Jason

Pt4 One of the most important decisions that a new pastor can make is to obtain a good pastoral mentor. Ministry is a craft. I am unperturbed when new pastors sometimes say, “Seminary never really taught me actually how to do ministry.” I think seminary is best when it instills the classical theological disciplines and exposes to the classical theological resources of the church, not so good at teaching the everyday, practical, administrative and mundane tasks of the parish ministry. One learns a craft, not by reading books, but by looking over the shoulder of a master, watching the moves, learning by example, developing a critical approach that constantly evaluates and gains new skills.

Pt3 Be open to the possibility that the matters that were focused upon in the course of the seminary curriculum, the questions raised and the arguments engaged, might be a distraction from the true, historic mission and purpose of the church and its ministry. On the other hand, be open to the possibility that the church has a tendency to bed down with mediocrity, to accept the mere status quo as the norm, and to let itself off the theological hook too easily. One reason why the church needs theology explored and taught in its seminaries is that theology (at its best) keeps making Christian discipleship as hard as it ought to be. Theology keeps guard over the church’s peculiar speech and the church’s distinctive mission. Something there is within any accommodated, compromised church (and aren’t they all, in one way or another?) that needs to reassure itself, “All that academic, intellectual, theological stuff is bunk and is irrelevant to the way the church really is.” The way the church “really is” is faithless, mistaken, cowardly, and compromised. It’s sad that it is up to seminaries to offer some of the most trenchant and interesting critiques of the church. Criticism of the church ought to be part of the ongoing mission of a faithful church that takes Jesus more seriously and itself a little less so. I pray that your theological education rendered you permanently uneasy with the church. Promise me that you will, throughout your ministry, never be happy with the church.

Pt2 Devise ways to learn to speak their language. Laity sometimes complain that their young pastor, in sermons, uses “religious” words like “spiritual practice,” “liberation,” “empowerment,” “intentional community” (this is an actual list a layperson collected and sent to me) that no one understands and no one recalls having heard in Scripture. Such “preacher talk” makes the pastor seem detached, alien, and aloof from the people and hinders leadership. At the same time, prepare yourself to become a teacher of the church’s peculiar speech to a people who may have forgotten how to use it. This may seem contrary to my first suggestion. My friend, Stanley Hauerwas, says that the best preparation for being a pastor today is previously to have taught high school French. The skills required to drill French verbs into the heads of adolescents are the skills that pastors need to teach our people how to speak the gospel ... Keep telling yourself that the difference in thought between the laity in your first parish and that of your friends back in seminary is not so much the difference between ignorance and intelligence; it’s just different ways of thinking that arise out of life in different worlds ... It is my prejudice that, if you have difficulty making the transition from seminary to parish it is probably a criticism of the seminary. The Christian faith is to be studied and critically examined only for the purpose of its embodiment. Christians are those who are to become that which we profess. The purpose of theological discernment is not to devise something that is interesting to say to the modern world but rather to rock the modern world with the church’s demonstration that Jesus Christ is Lord and all other little lordlets are not.



I thought you might be interested in learning about OUR Jewish traditions, one which has embraced the real Christ of the gospel, the Law and the prophets.

If this doesn't interest you, I apologize in advance.

If you are interested let me tell you that we are the Frankist Association of America. One of our members has a new book out:

I am not that I am trying to sell you something. If you can't afford the book you can see the website of one of our teachers -

I just wanted to let you and the scholarly world that there have always been more than one type of Judaism in the world at any one time. Some forms of the faith had to learn to hide their beliefs in order to survive and perpetuate themselves.

Shalom, God Bless
Everything is perfect with God

Beth El Jacob Frank


Being a 'minister' in organised church terms is very much a craft, which suggests that becoming a minister should be by an apprenticeship. That is, fresh out of theol. college, you are not a minister, but have a body of knowledge and a level of intellectual understanding (but not necessarily wisdom or applied love) that will assist you be a minister, but not make you one.

Step one would be to serve in a church under the guidance of its elders; later you might become an elder too, if the Spirit so provides.

However, a highly trained person might make a great teacher: different from the omnibus role we have today of professional minister (I note the unbiblical game was given away by the term 'laity', incidently).

It would be great, I think if all Christians underwent some form of formal Christian education: some may do short courses, others might do PhDs (and then not advertise the fact out of properly placed humility :-) ); some would then go on to be Sunday School teachers, convene youth or adult study and prayer groups, others would assist with the formal weekly gatherings (aka services) as moderator, reader, speaker, teacher, prayer, etc.

This would tend to create ministering communities, rather than one-man shows, and one would hope, such communities that could organically support their ministry needs, without 'flying in' experts who are not part of the community to get rapidly grafted on, with many attendant problems (but some benefits, too, I agree).

It is the professionalisation of Christian ministry that is a problem. Once people are denied a valid voice in their Christian group, becaue they must defer to an expert (how does one become an expert in Christian life, or living in a loving manner against the challenges of every day?) they are told, implicitly, that they have no voice that's worthwhile for evangelism, or any other spiritual purpose; which is Not Good!

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