nouwen quote (via willimon)

“If we do not know what is essential in ministry, we will do what is merely important.”

Bishop Will Willimon quotes Henri Nouwen saying this in an early chapter (introduction?) of his book Pastor. Could substitute many words for “ministry” there and have some good wisdom on our hands: life, discipleship, etc.

Published by Guy M Williams

Christian | Husband, Father | Pastor | 8th-Gen Texan | Texas A&M ‘96 | Asbury Seminary ‘01 | Enjoy family, reading, running, golf, college football

10 thoughts on “nouwen quote (via willimon)

  1. Sorry to bug you so early Guy but here is a question for you–How is ministry different from life, discipleship, etc? Why set it a part as something different? A pet peeve from a former pastor….

    Hope all is well is the great state of Texas!

  2. Todd, thanks for pressing the question.

    The context of the quote (in Willimon’s Pastor) is “professional” ordained ministry. That is certainly an outgrowth of my life of discipleship personally, but my point is that one need not be an ordained (or professional lay) minister in order to feel the thrust of Nouwen’s words. Perhaps the best term generally would be “life” since that unmistakeably covers everything, but for the audience, it was originally “ministry.”


    I’m now curious to hear your thoughts about the book. I actually read it sometime in my first year after seminary. The quote was related to a men’s study session I was leading this morning. As I recall, I and was really glad I read Pastor. I like reading Willimon in general, but I get a sense that he manages to be ambigous or esoteric at least as often as he is rooted in the daily grind of ministry “on the ground.”

  3. Yes! Excellent Guy. Very cool stuff. Between you and Nolan, I want to find this book….

    Quick question–how close is Houston to Dallas?

    Thanks Guy!


  4. If you’ll be in the Big D, then not close enough probably. Dallas is about 4 hours north of Houston on I-45. Good news is I’m on the north side.

    Email me if you’ll be close enough to think about hooking up. Abby, Ben, and I would love to see you.

  5. Actually, my company received an invitation to a concert and I thought if you were close I might pass it on to you. I’d have to check around but I don’t think anyone is going that way–it’s a private concert with Lyle Lovett at the Dallas musuem during the Van Gogh exhibit. I’ve tried talking Julie into flying down with me but to no avail. Lyle’s just not pretty enough….

  6. My biggest beef with Willimon’s book is the whole “professional” ministry thing. He builds his whole case off of an ordination prayer from a 3rd century bishop, and he pretty openly admits that there is not much scriptural backing for ordination.

    From his introduction, he then paints the pastor as some super-human than can do everything in the world. There isn’t much left for the working of the body of Christ.

    His book is good from the standpoint that unfortuneately it reflects where many churches are today and might help a pastor in that setting. However, I would have expected more of a challenge to how the local church is functioning these days and more encouragement for the pastor to work toward people living as authentic followers of Jesus, using their gifts, etc. It appears to me that he keeps a strong delineation between clergy and lay, and I personally think that is dangerous.

    OK, that’s enough. Flip through it again; I’d like to know what you think. If you’re looking for a few other books on this similar idea (I’ve read several lately), I’d be happy to pass some titles on.

  7. As I recall (having briefly flipped back through the table of contents today to remind myself what all he discusses), he presents the pastoral office as jack of a lot of trades sent to serve the people in the church.

    While we are sent to serve the people in the church, the content of what that service is should be clarified. And, we’re not there as caretakers of a flock so much as leaders of a missional community.

    The pastor Willimon’s book envisions is likely pastoring a small to medium church in a county seat town somewhere and is expected to do about a dozen things well. Fine. That’s the situation for a whole lot of pastors–and an honorable situation at that. But that doesn’t mean that’s how it should work. I agree that he (ironically to hear him in other places) diminishes the role of the laity somewhat.

    As for ordination, I’m okay with it theologically because there is evidence of “representative ministry” (ordained) taking place in the NT as well as “general ministry” (lay). There was also a priestly class in Israel as well as prophets called by God to a special, representative kind of ministry too. And I’m okay with ordination because I think there is solid logical, theological thinking around have a representative ministry amongst the whole (in particular for integrity in sacramental practice and in the teaching ministry of the church in Christian formation). I think it is a gross mistake that we UM’s are ordained to “service” in addition to “word, sacrament, and order,” however. Every Christian is set apart for a ministry of service by virtue of baptism.

    Unfortunately, the wall is too high and thick separating lay and clergy ministry. For ordination to have biblical and theological integrity in our practice, in my mind, we desperately need robust teaching on the practice of having a representative ministry within the general ministry of the church. That’s one reason I deplore referring to ordained ministry as “the ministry.” As in, “how long have you been in ‘the ministry‘?” The only “the ministry” according to Scripture is the ministry of Christ in and through his Body, the Church. But within that body, their are various gifts and ministries that are entailed in and contribute to the whole.

    Ok, I’d better stop for now.

    Oh yeah, I’ll bet you’ve got plenty o’ books on church leadership on your shelf. I’ll want to hear what you think about them at some point. Maybe you could post just the names of the ones you recommend at the end of each semester on your blog?

  8. Oh, Todd,

    Thanks for the thought! Lyle Lovett and Van Gogh is hard to beat–what a sweet gig. I’ll have to use my pull with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to hook us up!

  9. No, no, no. I have this invite that I won’t be using. I’m thinking–and I would have to check w/ the folks putting the thing on–that you and Abby might go in my place. eh? eh? Is 4 1/2 hours too long of a drive for some one-eared-ugly-singer-free-drinks-and-appetizers sweetness?

    Send me an email if you are interested….

    Todd R.

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