For Young Preachers And Ministers

My regular reader will know that I have all sorts of questions about what ordained ministry means, and whether we have constricted our understanding of church leadership through our doctrines of ordination. However, as well as reading the contemporary missional texts that for me provide most of the challenge in this direction, I have wanted for a while to read some more classic material. Eugene Peterson is a master of profundity about the pastoral task, with titles such as ‘Working The Angles‘, ‘The Contemplative Pastor‘, ‘Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Work‘, ‘Under The Unpredictable Plant‘, ‘The Unnecessary Pastor‘ and many others.

But who to read in my own tradition? The initial answer for me has been to cross the Pond again in my thinking, and read William Willimon‘s book ‘Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry‘. I bought it a couple of months ago, and began it last night. While I don’t think I’m going to agree with everything he says (Does Hippolytus win over Scripture in chapter 1? Do the chapter headings indicate that the pastor must also be apostle, prophet and evangelist?), I’m already finding it wonderfully stimulating. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up sharing several quotes on the blog. Here is something to encourage younger preachers, frmo page 21:

The clergy’s representative burden can also be a great blessing, a source of pastoral wisdom and power. A parishioner emerged from a little church on a Sunday, muttering to her pastor, “You are not even thirty, how could you know?”

Her pastor drew himself up to his full height, clutched the stole around his neck, and said, “Madame, when I wear this and I climb into that pulpit, I am over two thousand years old, and speak from two millennia of experience.”

Willimon observes, ‘The man may have been somewhat of an ass, but still his point was well taken, ecclesiastically speaking.’

I hope you are encouraged.


  1. I read that book after my first year in seminary and really enjoyed it. Funny that you should mention this because I got it off my shelf this week to reread it. He has a ‘reader volume ‘ meant to accompany the volume you mention.


    1. Thanks, Will, I’m finding it very readable so far – good to get my teeth into when my wife wants the computer!


        1. Ha! We actually have three, but there is one we both prefer! 🙂 I’d get out my laptop more, if only our broadband speed were faster and a shared speed more manageable!


  2. Willimon and Peterson are two that I keep going back to again and again.

    I’d say the books you mention here should be handed out to all new – not just young – pastors.


    1. I wish I’d read more of them at the start of ministry. The only one I knew of the titles I listed was ‘Working the Angles’. It’s interesting to compare Peterson’s definition of ministry as prayer, ministry of the Word and spiritual direction with the expectations of congregations. Often they are very different, and make for considerable tension.

      My point about young ministers was the particular quotation, but yes, make them standard issue required reading!


  3. not really

    for me the answser is ‘the spirit lives and moves through me … and there is nothing I am doing here that the spirit cannot equip you to do too’

    I think the stole adds nothing


    1. I think the stole is a detail. I think the point is that the preacher stands not on his or her own personal experience but within the communion of saints, the heritage of faith and all the rich resources of that faith, which are so much more than any individual’s experience. What I didn’t include, in order to keep the quote punchy, was that Willimon goes on to quote Mark Twain’s observation that the worst advice you can give anyone is, ‘Just be yourself’. For what we have available to us is far more than just ourselves – and yes, that includes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as you rightly say.


  4. Vestments are like any other kind of symbolism: they do say something. Whether what we mean them to say is what other people hear is a different question.


    1. I agree vestments say something, and it’s one reason I’m personally uncomfortable with them, I just don’t think the stole was the central point of the story.


  5. I agree Dave, to focus on the stole is missing the point, which is as you state a point well made, we do have a rich inheritance, and stand in many cases on the shoulders of giants from whom we need to learn, not least to learn how they relied upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom, guidance and strength!


  6. In US Methodism the stole represents ordination. Will can correct me if I’m wrong, but just as UK Methodists can’t wear preaching bands if they have not been ordained, US Methodists can’t wear a stole unless they have been ordained. I took the ‘stole’ as a metaphor for ‘I am ordained therefore I stand within this 2000 year tradition’.

    There is something about the story that makes me uncomfortable; perhaps it wasn’t the best illustration that could have been used. As a preacher – and I would include lay preachers in this comment too – I see my role as that of a wise person. The UMC term ‘Elder’ fits quite well here. Eldership requires requires a faithful commitment to scripture and to our Methodist tradition insofar as the latter interprets but does not contradict scripture. The fact that the man in the story was ‘being an ass’ bothers me. Wisdom also calls for humility.

    Also, I have an incredibly low-church theology (even though I appreciate historic liturgy and vestments). I’m personally not in favour of ordained ministers ‘pulling rank’ on people, particularly those with a lot of life experience. The priesthood of all believers means I’m called to a particular role in the life of the church, but it also means that lay people are an equal constituent of the priesthood.


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