Monday, March 24, 2008

The Practical, Organizational Relevance of Resurrection

In a workshop with Paul Borden last year, someone asked him, “You are a natural leader in starting new churches. What is the main thing you look for in selecting new pastors?” Borden responded, “An Orthodox faith, a vivid belief in the Trinity, and of course, a sure faith in the resurrection.”

Don’t you find that an amazing response? I thought Borden would say something managerial, “an entrepreneurial spirit,” something like that. Or, I thought he might cite some psychological configuration or organizational expertise in the pastor. No. Borden demands theology, faith in resurrection.

It really makes a huge difference as we go about reaching a new generation of Christians, starting new churches, energizing established congregations, making disciples (our Conference priorities), if Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. If Easter is not true, then why bother?
Since Jesus Christ is raised, let loose, invading a world, returning to the very people who betrayed him, then we work not alone. The risen Christ goes before us. We serve a God who lives to raise the dead--even us. Therefore, we work with hope--not hope in ourselves and our efforts, but with hope in Christ.

A couple of years ago, a District Superintendent paid me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. He had told a pastor of our interest to move him to a different church. “I can’t do this,” responded the pastor. “That church is dead. It’s been dying for years and now I hear it’s really dead.” The DS replied, “I’ll tell the Bishop but let me warn you, this guy really believes that Easter is true. To tell him a pastor or a church is dead means nothing to him. He just sees death as an opportunity to see what Jesus can do.”

Will Willimon


Anonymous said...


I must thank you for this commentary. It is very nice in a church that is constantly fearful that she is dying to hear one of her Bishop say that death is not the end of the story. I hope you are using your position to push and drag the Council of Bishop. I have to tell you in the past fifteen years I have grown tired of hearing the latest technique published in a Cokesbury book being totted as our savior. Thanks for saying simply that our hope is in Jesus not some technique. Please, please, please fight hard for us.

Craig L. Adams said...

This is actually an encouraging word. I think that, generally speaking, as a denomination the UMC is looking to administrative solutions. And, there is a strong tendency to elevate administrators and managers, not preachers or theologians, to positions of leadership.

I'm not absolutely sure why. It may be that people feel that we are all so divided theologically that only an administrative approach can work for everyone, and only administrators can provide leadership acceptable to all.

Bob Bentley said...

I find it sad that we find Borden's response amazing. Any structure or method, ranging from anarchy to tyranny, which is touted as the latest greatest in church building, ministry or renewal, will fail without the immersion in and submission to resurrection power. This is not a high minded heavenly notion, but merely a lesson learned through participating in good ideas that failed because of reliance on human efforts alone, and ridiculous ill planned dreams that were fulfilled by the power of the
Spirit only because there was no other way for them to work.
I appreciate the reminder for those of us who sometimes forget what is the main thing.

Pastor Chris Roberts said...

I only wish the BOOMs in our different Conferences cared as much about theology as they do Church Growth. How can we have as many pastors as we do that do NOT have what Paul Borden suggests? Do we need them to be the chaplain to bury the dead?

Jenny said...

It does seem so many have stopped taking the resurrection seriously. Thank you for being a voice for change and remembrance.

I just heard you'll be at West Ohio Annual Conference. I look forward to meeting you! Thanks for providing a space for young clergy. So desperately needed.

preacherman said...

Wonderful post.
I am so glad that God's love reached out to me through Jesus to have the relationship that I enjoy today. I believe Christianity is about having a personal relationship with God. He wants and has the desire to have the relationship with us.
Through the resurrection Jesus conquored death in order to give us life. Real life! I am enjoying kingdom living on earth. I pray that the church will not miss out in enjoying the kingdom now!
Praise God for the resurrection power and practical message!

Michel-Alain Chévrier said...

One could add that the faithful administration of the sacraments, and proclamation of the Resurrection faith, keep the congregation open to God's surprising newness in any and all moments. Paix.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Over at my blog I have been doing some research on analyzing the contemporary Christian music movement, and have found most of the songs devoid of much theological content. I wonder if a true revolution would be affirming things like the Trinity.

Eric Helms said...

Not only is it refreshing for theology to take precedence over method, but it is refreshing to be reminded that if we really believe this resurrection stuff it should affect how we live our lives and lead our churches. It seems to me that thew first few weeks after Easter are so awkward because we leave the celebration at the empty tomb wondering now what. Somehow we can't just say "that was nice, I'll remember some resurrection images at the next funeral"--not if we actually believe it.

William H. Willimon said...

Thank you all for your thoughts on resurrection and the Church. If we do not approach our Church with an expectance for Resurrection, we will certainly be surprised at some point!

Michel-Alain Chévrier said...

In France, l’Eglise Reformée/the Reformed Church is a smaller, more activist body than perhaps you have in the States. It is more, I think, concerned with Resurrection and life on a very secular continent. Perhaps this is where the Protestant church in the U.S. is headed. Paix.

Walker said...

..."He just sees death as an opportunity to see what Jesus can do.” That is so right on! Thanks.

d†p said...

Bp. Willimon,

It is very refreshing to your words on this and Dr. Borden's as well.

So often there is a divide between being missional and being faithful to scripture. Yet, I can't see how those things can even be divided.

If we preach Christ-crucified (1 Cor 1:23) and risen ( 1 Cor 15) then we are actually giving our people something worth sharing with family, co-workers, neighbors and friends. A treasure that brings peace, and forgiveness, and eternal life in communion with the Triune God.

Do we have faith in the richness of that message, and in the depth of the love that drove Jesus to the cross, despising the shame, but in joy?

Do we communicate it to our people?

That is the rock that the gates of Hell cannot withstand, as people are freed from it daily.

Keep encouraging pastors to do this!