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Preaching Is The Most Important Task Of An Ordained Leader (via Will Willimon)

Leading With The Sermon is a new book on preaching by Will Willimon.
This taste demonstrates why I’m looking forward to it.

Preaching is at the center of pastoral work not only because in preaching a pastor is with more members of the congregation, in a more intentional and focused way, than in any other pastoral activity, making the pastor’s unique role visibly, definitively evident. Proclamation is at the center because of who God is and what God is up to. We know the truth about God only because of the proclamation of the one true preacher, Jesus.
The pastor who pleads, “Though I’m not much of a preacher, I am a loving, caring pastor,” is lying. There’s no way to care for God’s people as pastor without loving them enough to tell them the truth about God, what God is up to in the world, and how they can hitch on.
Christianity is a “revealed religion”; it happens when humanity is confronted by a loquacious God. We are unable to think about a Trinitarian God on our own. The truth about God must be revealed, spoken to us as the gift of a God who refuses to be vague or coy. It is of the nature of the Trinity to be communicative, revelatory—the Father speaking to the Son, the Son mutually interacting with the Father, all in the power of the Holy Spirit, God speaking to God’s world.

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Ministry As More Than A ‘Helping Profession’ (via Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon)

Pastoral ministry is not a therapeutic activity, it is a means that “can help to create a people worthy to tell the [Gospel] story and to live it.”
Hauerwas and Willimon write so well that every line is pleasure to read, and is so well constructed its hard to lift little grabs of text because they are knit so organically with the whole.
So, the introduction to their article posted at Religion Online:

Parish clergy and seminarians today seem content to have ministry numbered among the “helping professions. ” After all, most professing Christians, from the liberals to the fundamentalists, remain practical atheists. They think the church is sustained by the services it provides or the amount of fellowship and good feeling in the congregation. This form of sentimentality has become the most detrimental corruption of the church and the ministry.
Sentimentality is that attitude of being always ready to understand but not to judge. Without God, without the one whose death on the cross challenges all our good feelings, who stands beyond and over against our human anxieties, all we have left is sentiment, a saccharine residue of theism in demise. Sentimentality is the way our unbelief is lived out.
If the ministry is reduced to being primarily a helping profession, then parish clergy will also be destroyed by the presumption that all sincerely felt needs are legitimate needs. Ministry will be trivialized into the service of needs.
This problem is compounded by the fact that ministers are often people who need to help people. They like to be liked and need to be needed. Their personal needs become the basis for their ministry. Underestimating how terribly deep other people’s needs can be, they enter ministry with an insufficient sense of personal boundaries, and are devoured by the voracious appetites of people in need. One day they may awake to find that they have sacrificed family, self-esteem, health and happiness for a bunch of selfish people who have eaten them alive. Pastors then come to despise what they are and to hate the community that made them that way. The pastor realizes that people’s needs are virtually limitless, particularly in an affluent society in which there is an ever-rising threshold of desire (which we define as “need”). With no clear job description, no clear sense of purpose other than the meeting of people’s needs, there is no possible way for the pastor to limit what people ask of the pastor.
Some say the clergy should develop more self-esteem, be more assertive, learn to say No, demand a day off–in brief, become as self-centered as many of the people in their congregations…

Read the rest here.


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Love As The Fruit Of Marriage, Not The Cause (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon observes, in Accidental Preacher, that the promises of marriage are future intent, not present activity. They presuppose challenges to faithfulness will come, and that promise will be needed to undergird service when circumstances would otherwise deter us.

There’s no such thing as instant friends, which is why the Service of Marriage is in future tense. It’s not “John, do you (or have you previously found the opportunity to) love Susan?” It’s “Will you love …?” Promises propel into the future, putting one at the mercy of the vicissitudes of another’s life with little backup but a promise. Love as the fruit of marriage rather than (as most couples suppose) the cause is church wonderfully weird.
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The church makes couples promise to stay married “until death do us part.” Strange to bring up death when most couples I marry look like they’re in pretty good shape. Death intrudes into the service of marriage because the promises of marriage are one way of dealing with our temporality, clinch-fistedly saying to the future, “Take form me what you will, by God I’ll still be faithful to this person.” When we promise to love the unfathomable mystery that is another “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” we creatively deal with our radical contingency, promising constancy even amid the ravages of time.

Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 196, 197.


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Ready For The Inauguration Of The Reign Of God (via Will Willimon)

We clean out our church store-room constantly.
The main reason is so that folk can’t give in to the temptation to put materials that have passed their use-by date back into service.

In Accidental Preacher Will Willimon writes of an early pastoral appointment in a church that had a Congregation of four hundred accommodated in a building that could have held two thousand.

Most disheartening were the seven – count ’em, seven – empty Sunday school rooms, three of which were now used for storage, as if upon Jesus’s return his first command would be “Quick. Bring me downs of worn-out hymnals and all the rusting, folding metal chairs you can carry. Come on, people, let’s inaugurate the Reign Of God.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 177.

Encourage your pastor to be a preacher, not a curator.


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In The Temptations Of Jesus, It Was The Devil Who Proffered Common Sense (via Will Willimon)

The temptation to adjust preaching from offering Christ to offering helpful advice about how to live you best life now has an old pedigree.
The temptation should be resisted at all costs. We live by the word of God alone.

From Accidental Preacher by Will Willimon.

I’m old enough to remember when preachers were expected to be good with Scripture. These days we’re cast into the role of experts doling out advice on marriage, business, the purpose—driven life, legislated justice, and sexual satisfaction. A lot of the preaching I hear today (and not only in a former stadium in Houston) is good advice; sentimental, worldly wisdom substituted for gospel foolishness; helpful hints for homemakers; tips for the anxious upwardly mobile; common sense widely available without having to get dressed and come to church to hear it. At least Rotary serves lunch.
In the temptations of Jesus, it was the devil who proffered common sense. Sanctimonious advice, even well meaning, is a bore. Most commonsense sermons — platitudes and principles foisted upon the congregation as if the preacher were an expert on life — are offered in the attempt to help us retain control over our lives by using common sense to keep a living God at bay. Preachers ought to remember the audience’s elation when Hamlet’s uncle — tedious, bloated-with—advice Polonius — finally gets a knife to the gut.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 101.


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Preaching That Offers Aspirin When You Need Chemotherapy (via Will Willimon)

I hope if you hear a sermon tomorrow it does not offer counsel about therapeutic change, but an invitation to spiritual reanimation.
From Accidental Preacher by Will Willimon.

We mainline, non evangelical, noninvasive preachers pat a congregation on the head as we murmur, “There, there, God loves you as you are. Promise me you won’t change a thing.” Billy [Graham, who Willimon invited to preach at the Duke Chapel] consistently preached the gospel of the second chance. Those in desperate need of a second or third chance require more than “progressive” sermons – Jesus just hanging out with people as they re, bourgeois conformity with a spiritual tint, offering a bit of a spiritual nudge. Buttoned-down mainline Christianity offers aspirin for those in need of massive chemotherapy.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 101.


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The Word That Rocks Your World (via Will Willimon)

Will Willimon relates a lesson about Scripture that he attributes to learning from Karl Barth in his memoir, Accidental Preacher.
Sometimes preachers are tempted to figure out how to make texts relevant to the lives of hearers.
Scripture calls us to realise that our lives need transformation, not fine-tuning.
(You might think I’m cherry-picking all the best bits of this book, but I think all the rest is just as good as the excerpts I’ve been posting. I’m enjoying every page.)

Barth taught me that when interpreting an odd biblical text, mind the gap between you and God. The question to put to a passage of Scripture is not the modern, self-important, “How is this relevant to my life?” or, “How can I make this text make sense?” The proper question, said Barth, is, “How is God calling me to change? What would I have to relinquish , for this text to make sense?”
Scripture’s sly intent is not agreement but conversion. Something is gained, yes, but much can be lost as well. After a service, an. attendee says, “You preachers never talk about anything that’s related to my world.”
I try to find a nice way to say, “Idiot! Scripture doesn’t want to ‘relate to your world.’ Scripture wants to rock your world.”
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pg 95-96.