Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review A Will to Lead by William H. Willimon

I came across the writings and sermons of William H. Willimon a few years ago while doing graduate work in pastoral theology. Willimon currently serves as a Methodist bishop in Alabama, but for over twenty years was the Dean at Duke Chapel and instructor of preaching at Duke Divinity School. Willimon is funny, but not just funny for humor's sake, but funny because he speaks the truth. Actually Willimon holds nothing back as the subtitle of the book states, Letters On Leadership From a Peculiar Prophet, and that is the God's honest truth! If anything Willimon doesn't care what people think of him because what he says is audacious.

The collection of short essays are edited blog posts from Willimon's weekly blog that he maintains in order to communicate with his pastors and laity in his district in Alabama. He covers topics such as Advent and Christmas, Women in Ministry, Discipleship, as well as Leadership, and Clergy Issues. A good public speaker may not always be a good writer and a good writer is not always the best public speaker, but after reading a few of Willimon's books and hearing him preach, well, he received a double portion of the Spirit. The book is good, actually it is more than good. I would suggest that a pastor read through this book a few times letting Willimon's words soak into the soul.

Willimon is correct when he says that too many pastors water down the Word of God. We want to make parishioners happy, we want them to like us, to feel good about themselves and about the world around them. Yet the gospel doesn't allow it, we are to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Willimon is right when he says that in many areas the gospel has lost its power not because the Word is weak but pastors are weak, we cave into the whims and cares of the congregation.

Those of us in the Eastern Christian Church could learn a lot from Willimon. Many of us live in our ethnic and religious ghettoes, and sometimes I think we have turned into a sect! One of my very good pastor friends said that he was aghast when he suggested to his parish council that the parish host a free luncheon once a week for the local neighborhood, the response, "Father, we don't want those people in our Church." What? Those people! Those people are the ones that Jesus loved, the poor, the lame, the blind, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sinners. Yet many parishioners are turned in on themselves, seeking to placate their own egos rather than move out of the boundaries of the parish to the world around them, living what the great preacher and pastor St. John Chrysostom said, "living the liturgy after the liturgy."

If you like Stanley Hauerwas, Eugene Peterson, Marva Dawn, Andrew Purves, and Walter Brueggeman, you will like this new book by Bishop Willimon. As God once said to St. Augustine, "take and read" and read deeply.