The perusing ministry may as well thank William Willimon for this magnificent reflection on pastorate morals, on the "character" a pastor must develop, on the sort of individual the pastor might as well (and can) be. It is an irregularity these days to catch wind of what is old, tried, and tried. Ministry are shelled with impressive projects (the fresher the better) of "how to": how to be auspicious, how to develop, how to stay current, who is on the forefront, what is the most recent regulatory or love furor, how to make this month's prevailing fashion a virtual actuality in church. After reading Willimon I must say that indirectly speaks a lot about ethics.
A letter to the newspaper caught my eye. In it the writer was quite adamant that there was a difference between what he called "the world" and Christian". As far as I could understand, he was saying there was such a wide gulf between what was commonly known as
'Christian' morals, and the sort of morals which everyone else lived by. He did not want his society, the mass of unbelievers of which he was a part, to be engulfed by the horror of Christian ethics. He saw this as a nightmarish spectre, a sort of 'death by religion.
It is true that there are some stereotypes of Christianity, either foul or fair, which history has preserved, and which seem, to the uncritical observer, caricatures of the "faith once delivered". The worst of course is the cult leader, who raves on about his 'cause' and mingles theology with insanity. Thankfully there are not many people about like this, otherwise the world would be a lot more dangerous.
But for Willimon, the heart of ministry is not any technique. Ministry is about being a Christian with a peculiar vocation. And a high vocation! Ministry happens, and in marvelous ways; Willimon sets a holy example for us, as we imagine his jaw dropping in amazement over a church meeting veering toward the kingdom, over a bored pew-warmer catching fire. For ministry is “something God does through the church before it is anything we do”—and in spite of what we do.
Coming down the scale we arrive at the over enthusiastic Christians who ignore common sense and make themselves into anti-social nuisances. They distribute tracts to the detriment of the city's appearance, they hound people with dynamic arguments,and they intrude their beliefs into every conversation. For them there is nothing more important than 'The cause' and the harder they strive to win souls, the less inclined people are to listen. They combine ignorance with tactlessness, and are sometimes terribly arrogant as well.
Further down the scale we come to people who, in the past, have given Christianity a certain 'image', such as the Quakers, or Pilgrim Fathers, or the well-spoke Victorian Christians who lived a life of perfect modesty and prudence - so we are led to believe. Or perhaps the drum-pounding Salvation Army recruit, or the suffragette, or the Temperance Alliance leader shouting about alcohol as if it was the very elixir of Hell. They all have rather well-defined images, but they seem quite unrelated to today's 'modern' world. Despite this they are often admired by even the hardened atheist. These people have an image which also often evokes a longing for the 'good old days' when black was black and white was white. The days of Dickens, and steam engines, and rural harmony.
Willimon begins with the old, the book of Acts, and draws…