Monday, May 05, 2008

Pastoral Wisdom

Recently I wrote to our retired pastors asking them to share with me their best insights on the work of pastoral ministry. In their years of ministry, what had they found to be the essential qualities for faithful pastors?

I have received over fifty wonderful responses. They represent over two millennia of wisdom! Here are some recurring themes in their responses.
  • Successful pastoral ministry requires not only theological ability, biblical fidelity, and a good personality; it requires hard work! Pastors must be "self-starters" who proactively engage their parishioners and their communities by knocking on doors, engaging in conversation, making contacts and other efforts to reach people. Disciplined, determined work is required.
  • Faithful pastors must have a vivid sense of vocation, a sense of being summoned by God to do this work. The work that pastors do is too demanding to do it for any other reason than the conviction that one is called to do this work, that God wants you to do it.
  • The only enduring reasons for being in ministry are theological. Pastors must constantly refurbish their sense that this is a "God thing," that ministry is more than a mere "helping profession." Pastoral ministry arises out of theological commitments and is dependent upon what God is doing in the church and the world.
  • Though some seem to believe that pastoral visitation is outmoded, there is no substitute for meeting people where they live, from offering yourself to them through visiting in their homes and businesses.
  • Pastoral ministry is relational. Your people must believe that you care about them, that you know them individually, and that you are trying to love them.

I find these to be enduring insights about ministry, gleaned from many years of collective wisdom. I share these with you in the hope that you will be inspired as I have been by our retired pastors.

Will Willimon


Anonymous said...

Will - Thanks for sharing this wisdom. As a pastor just beginning the journey of ministry, I appreciate all of the wisdom that I can glean from those who have trod this road before.

I particularly found the point on theological understanding to be helpful. At times, I do find that this slips and I have to remind myself what God's call is really all about.

Andrew Conard

Bill C said...

Bishop Willimon,

I find myself at the beginning of seminary studies, a second career student. Your collected and consolidated wisdom will serve as a guide and self-check for my journey.

Thanks and blessings,
Bill C.

William H. Willimon said...

Blessings to you both as you faithfully dive into this life of ministry! We need more people to respond to the call.