Tuesday, April 24, 2007


One of our talented young candidates in ministry, Christopher Barnett, is at Oxford University writing a dissertation on Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, the “Solitary Dane,” had some tough things to say about pastors of his day. He firmly believed that pastors are not called to run errands for members of the congregation or to be the freelance therapist for everyone in need. Pastors are, in Kierkegaard’s words, primarily “servants of the truth.” We must cultivate an attachment to the truth, which is Jesus Christ, and to speak that truth no matter what.

Here are some of S.K.’s demands for pastors. I’ve been meditating upon them this week and have found them helpful, and sometimes painful!

  • Pastors who can split up the “crowd” and turn it into individuals.
  • Pastors who are not too much occupied with study and have no desire whatever to dominate.
  • Pastors who, though able to speak, will be no less able to keep silent and be patient.
  • Pastors who, though they know people’s hearts, have no less learned temperance in judgment and condemnation.
  • Pastors who understand how to exercise authority, through the act of
  • Pastors who have been prepared, trained, and educated in obedience and suffering so that they will be able to correct, admonish, edify, move, and also constrain not by force, anything but that, but rather through their own obedience; and above all will be able to put up with all the rudeness of the sick person without letting it upset her any more than a physician allows herself to be disturbed by the curses and kicks of a patient during an operation.

-- Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, trans. Alexander Dru (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1959).


Andrew Conard said...

Bishop Willimon - Thank you for your comments and reminders to all pastors. Each of these are excellent points. I find myself resonating with the call to exercise authority, through the act of sacrifice. This can sometimes be a difficult calling, but an important one for those called to be servant leaders.

Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer said...

Kierkegaard's commendation of "Pastors who are not too much occupied with study and have no desire whatever to dominate" is only half-true today. To lead by servanthood (not dominating) is perennial, but today we need pastors who spend more time in study and reading. Perhaps in the 19th there were too many pastors who were ivory tower academics; today we hav the opposite problem. Pastors are tempted to spend all their working time with other pastoral duties, and so fail at their central task, which is to proclaim the gospel, and open God's Word to his people. The preaching of Rev. Willimon is itself an inspiring testimony for us preachers, reminding us of the ultimate and most essential thing we as pastors are called to do: to proclaim God's promises in Jesus Christ to broken and hurting people.
Dr. Raymond A. (Randy) Blacketer
Neerlandia Christian Reformed Church

Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer said...

I meant "19th century"--lousy typist

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dr. Blacketer. We need more scholarship, not less. I know many pastors who have only the vaguest sense of historical Jesus research, for example, or have little sense of the social, political, and economic context of first century palestine--subjects which are critical, in my view, to a proper understanding of the message and mission of Jesus.

Rick Shott said...

Allow my in interject against the dissent. I think that the point Kierkegaard made is not two pronged but the second half elaborates on the first. Let us look at it.

Pastors who are not too much occupied with study and have no desire whatever to dominate.

Some pastors do become so preoccupied with study, especially where they specialize that they do not tolerate dissent. A theology discussion become one person assaulting the other with knowledge to such a degree that response is meaningless. I see this as saying not that we should study less but that our study carries with it the humility it needs. If our study is for the purpose of being unassailable by the sheer number of words or by the length of our words then we are not being the kind of minister we ought to be. Our logic should be solid but not intimidating. Our teachings should leave people able to interact with us, not so bludgeoned that they only sit back and nod their heads. This is very different from being a pastor who slacks off in their Bible research.

Anonymous said...

A theology discussion becomes one person assaulting the other with knowledge to such a degree that response is meaningless.

Yeah, that sucks. Some pastors do become rather know-it-all. Thank God I've never done that!

What it shows is the need for more and better scholarship. The more you learn, the more you realize how ignorant you really are. Alas, that's my experience.

martin said...

Hi Bishop Willimon
I am preparing a sermon for the installation of a minister on the theme of pastoral ministry being about dying to self - these Kierkegaard comments are very helpful.
Thanks for your words that have informed my preaching for many years... here in New Zealand.


James said...

TODAY....this helped me immensely. Thanks for sharing this - it honestly helped...