Welcome to the blog of Bishop Will Willimon, Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Duke Divinity School.  Here you will find articles, sermons, lectures and other offerings from Will Willimon.

Seasons of Ministry: an upcoming event in Raleigh led by Bishop Willimon

September 15, 2016, 9am-3pm
Edenton Street UMC, Raleigh, NC

The Academy for Leadership Excellence presents Seasons of Ministry, a Day of Learning facilitated by Bishop Will Willimon.

This will be a  day of reflection for clergy (and open to laity) about the peculiar demands and joys of lives spent in service to the church.  What are some of the predictable crises of church leadership?  How can we better equip ourselves for ministry over the long haul?

Takeaways from this day of reflection:

*Identification of the predictable challenges and crises of ministry.
*Citation of best practices for sustaining ministry over time.
*The self-understanding required to keep up with Jesus and the energy to take part in his mission.
*Notation of the joys of serving Jesus rather than ourselves, our families, or even our churches.
*Encouragement in church leadership!

Seminar Leader:

Will Willimon is a widely published author on ministry.  His book, Pastor: Theology and Practice of Ministry, was revised and republished this year by Abingdon.  It is used in dozens of seminaries around the country.  He is also the author of Calling and Character: Clergy Ethics, and Clergy and Laity Burnout, also published by Abingdon.  He is a retired bishop (having served 800 churches and 600 clergy in the North Alabama Conference) and is now Professor of  the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School.  In 2013-2014, he was pastor of  Duke Memorial UMC in Durham, NC.

For more info and to register, click link below.



Dear Trump’s preacher:


Dear Mark (or, if you prefer, The Reverend Mr. Burns):

I gather that you are the closest thing that Donald Trump has to a preacher, judging from your performance at the RNC in Cleveland a couple of weeks ago.  You and I have never met, though I am a native of South Carolina.  I’ve never been to your Harvest Praise & Worship Center in Easley but I have been known to be a preacher and a teacher of preachers and I have visited in Easley.  While I am in awe of your taking on the role of being The Donald’s pastor and spiritual advisor, I would welcome the opportunity to talk homiletical shop with you.

Preacher to preacher, you’ve got your hands full.  I was once the pastor of a sleazy Congressman who went to the slammer after an FBI sting, so I can tell you that it’s not easy being court chaplain these days.  I felt abused by him after I saw myself pictured in one of this guy’s campaign ads – without my permission.  I can only imagine the challenge of being used by The Donald.

In one sense, I’m glad to hear that, under your guidance, The Donald has gotten religion and now has a fitting spiritual guide.  As you know, The Donald has never been big on church. In fact, he has apparently rarely entered a Christian church and lacks even the barest understanding of the faith. Earlier in the campaign, he claimed he was a member of Marble Collegiate in NYC.  I checked — another case of Donald’s playing loose with the facts.  He said he was a “Presbyterian” but I checked with lots of Presbyterians and they say that’s not true.  The folks at Marble Collegiate don’t seem to know him (his main relationship with MC is that he allegedly met Marla Maples there. You and I both know that certainly doesn’t qualify him to be a Presbyterian).

Your prayer at the RNC gave me pause. “Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump” I guess you didn’t mean that we’re thankful for Trump’s sexual morality, married life, relationship with minorities, charitable contributions, truth-telling, confession of sin, etc.  Maybe you are thankful for his business dealings — except for his numerous bankruptcies.

Then you prayed, “We’re thankful that you are guiding him….” Come on.  Do you really think that’s a nice thing to say about Our Lord?  Just where have you noted the guidance of Our Lord in The Donald’s life?   I’ve missed that.  He says he doesn’t believe in making mistakes or apologizing for anything.  Doesn’t sound like he’s had much divine guidance.

You said, in response to the outcry over your unpreceded, partisan prayer that brought the RNC to its feet, rather than their knees, “I’m a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And for me, whenever I get – every opportunity I get to declare his name on whatever platform, I’m going to do so.”  That’s good.  I’m curious to know just what in The Donald’s life connected with Jesus?  Indeed, where in your prayer did you lift up Jesus’ name or way of life, death, and resurrection?  I missed that.

Your failure to mention anything specific about Jesus or to quote Jesus was probably a good call.  I can think of a long list of things that Jesus said and did that you really don’t want to mention to your buddy, Donald.

In your interview with NPR’s Bob Inskeep you said, “I think I’m a lot like Mr. Trump in some ways….”  I assume you are not talking about your marital life, your language, gambling, or bullying.

Bob directly asked you, “Do Donald Trump’s values match your values as a Christian?”  My ears perked up as you said, “Absolutely. There are three major points that Donald Trump is standing on that I support as a Christian. Number one, he supports, you know, the sanctity of marriage.” (Wow.) “Number two, he supports abortion.” (Forgivable slip.) “He supports, you know, the life of babies. He’s pro-life.  Families, so yeah, absolutely.” (Wow.)

I guess at Harvest Praise and Worship Center you have a creative definition of “sanctity of marriage.”  And while I’m sure the Trumps make some of your troubled families at HPWC look good, still….

“I actually feel appointed for such a time, I feel just like Esther did,” you said, referring to the great Bible story (which I’m fairly certain Donald has never heard about). “When Mordecai came to her and said, you need to have your ear to the King, you need to go out and speak to the King, you have access, so you have to help protect our people.”  OK. You see yourself as Esther, though you have set the bar high for yourself.  Best to you.

I understand that you are not – as you have claimed — a member of that distinguished African American fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi.  Sorry that you didn’t get a bid.  I also understand that your boasts to have attended Furman, North Greenville University, and Southern Wesleyan U are shaky.  I am beginning to see why you and The Donald are tight.

If Donald can claim to have seen things on TV that never happened, then I am sure you can boast of having matriculated at schools that don’t know you and have pledged KAP even though they vehemently deny it.  Still, I wonder.  To be working for the one who was not only the way and the life but also the truth, you and the Donald seem to sit light on veracity to say nothing of reality.

Don’t worry.  The Donald has demonstrated that prevarication isn’t a problem for Americans.  Your position at HPWC or The Donald’s place as the Republican standard-bearer isn’t in jeopardy.  These days, there’s just about no lie you can tell that makes any difference.  Not sure if our Lord looks at the same way, but best to you in your ministry.

Will Willimon

Interview with Richard Topping of Vancouver School of Theology, part 1

Richard Topping is leading one of the most dramatic turnarounds in North American theological education at Vancouver School of Theology.  I have managed to be at VTS each year, giving lectures and conducting workshops, over the past few years.  Recently President Topping interviewed me about the preparation of pastoral leaders.  The interview was recently posted in the magazine for VST.  A portion of the interview is reprinted here:

RT: What characteristics do the most transformative leaders in congregations have in     common? 

WW: Leadership is what pastors do and is among the most important services a pastor can render to a church. Many pastors do not conceive of themselves as leaders. In fact, they are very suspicious of that language and I would say that they perceive of them-selves mostly as caregivers, those who provide support and encouragement at best, as well as those who periodically deliver the Word.

My judgment is we do a fairly good job, when we’re at our best, in theological education. What we’re failing at is to say “You’re here to be a leader.” Every Christian has a responsibility to have a theology, to evangelize, and to serve in the name of Jesus. So just saying that is important, is a beginning. In terms of qualities of a transformative leader  I’d say having selfawareness is required and particularly at this time. You used the words “transformative leadership”. Maybe I’m being unfair, but we’re being forced to talk about matters that our predecessors didn’t talk about 50 years ago. Transformative leadership wasn’t needed – the church did not perceive its need at that time. The need is really new and pressing and urgent because of the churches we serve.


RT: In your work as a bishop or in your work as a theological educator, how do we get to          these people? 

WW: We ought to do a better job of identifying people who have gifts for leadership and calling them forward. When’s the last time you have pulled aside the most talented young person in your church youth group and said “Hey kid, you can get into medical school if that’s all you want to do. You can make a bunch of money in business. But we think, with alot of hard work and study, you could be one of our leaders.” As a teenager, people pulled me aside and said,“Hey I think you would make a great preacher and I tell you what, I’d love to have you as our preacher someday.” That’s a healthy church. And so part of recruiting begins with that and part of that begins in seminary.

You need to discipline yourself not to be dragged down by people who are failing. It is important to spend time with your best people. “Who do you reward with your time, with your best pastoral appointments?” Because those signals are going to be taken and we need to encourage those that need encouraging.


RT: I’m listening to you and thinking that perhaps the most important people I have in my school, in terms of committees, are the people in Recruitment and Admissions, because they are making decisions precisely about the kind of candidates that we’re going to invest theological education in.

WW: Some of those people are getting some of your most important, though often  painful,  feedback. When they are told by prospective students “I was thinking about going there but then I just decided not to”, or, “I have heard this or I have heard that”. The Admissions and Enrollment people help prospective students discern their vocation. One of my students said he was at Duke because one of our Admissions person asked what the student’s reservations were, and he responded,  “I’m really impatient so I don’t sit well in one place very long and I get angry at stuff. I witnessed an injustice and stayed up night and day working on that problem.” The Admissions person said “I beg you to come to Duke Divinity. We need you so badly. Do you know what God can do with impatience in a moribund system?” I just hope we don’t mess up this kind of energy. I’m going to call up that Admissions person and say “Good work!”



The Church & Drug Addiction

George Mitrovich is a passionate, informed, and renowned Methodist layperson.  Last spring, George was my guest for a presentation at Duke Divinity School and did fine presentations on Wesleyan social righteousness.  Now George has sent me his blog on one of his current concerns and I share it with you.

Will Willimon

The Church & Drug Addiction


George Mitrovich

Church people are fond of saying, we’re in the world but not of it; but, of course, we’re in the world – and the world needs our engagement.

One of America’s greatest issues is drug addiction, as the addictive power of drugs has spread from coast-to-coast and border-to-border; it’s an issue desperately needing the church’s awareness and witness – and the means by which the church’s grace is extended to those in need.

But first, some context:

When the governor of Vermont devoted his entire State of the State address to the heroin epidemic that had cursed his lovely state, that occasion became the first time any governor had focused on a single issue in such a speech.

Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont gave that historic address 7 January 2014. He did so because in one year his state had seen a 770 percent rise in heroin addiction!

I do not live in Vermont, but I have faced, up close and personal, the evils of heroin addiction; for when family members or friends becomes addicts, you experience a hell no decent human being would ever wish upon another.

Once the addictive powers of heroin comes into your life, it never leaves, as we know from the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Academy Award winner, who was found dead at age 46 on the floor of his New York apartment from a heroin overdose – when he had been sober 16-years.

When heroin entered our family’s life, I committed to learn about its powers and to warn others of how it can take control of one’s life.

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned, was this:

Those who live under the spell of heroin addiction and other opiates are able to live productive lives, as is now true with our family member, but that requires Methadone or Soboxone medication.

But, here’s the problem:

Only doctors who have had specific training are permitted to prescribe either Methadone or Soboxone. If your primary care doctor hasn’t gone through the training, you must find a doctor who has, and is willing to write your prescription, or turn to a psychiatrist, if you can get an appointment, and are prepared to spend $250-500 an hour, and that’s before the prescription is filled – which will cost you another $600 for a month’s supply.

And, if you are an addict struggling to stay sober, but don’t have insurance to cover the monthly cost of your doctor, psychiatrist or prescription, you will find a heroin dealer and shoot up because it’s cheap and available.

If your reaction to finding a dealer and shooting up is one shouldn’t, then you are ignorant, as I was ignorant, of the overwhelming power of heroin, and the hold it has on those who have come under its horrifying and paralyzing influence.

The prohibition against primary care physicians writing opiate prescriptions is due to the Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA), which limits that right, in the language of the Act, to those “who meet certain qualifying requirements, and who have notified the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) of their intent to prescribe this product for the treatment of opioid dependence and have been assigned a unique identification number that must be included on every prescription.”

This overreach by Health and Human Services (HHS) came about when too many doctors became OxyContin addicts (documented by Dr. John Abramson in his book, “Overdoses America”), and, in reaction, HHS imposed these rules; which means, in many cases, it’s impossible for those needing treatment to find it– while finding heroin suppliers is no problem.

Which is why Senators Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, introduced The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act, which expands “the ability of opioid addiction medical specialists and other trained medical professionals to provide life-saving medication-assisted therapies such as Soboxone for patients battling heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.”

This critical legislation, which would permit primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to treat up to 500 people annually (present legislation limits the number from 30-100), has already passed the Senate’s Health Committee, is a direct results of tortured lives being tortured more because they have a disease and need help but the government restricted the means of help being found.

Why should you care?

Because, unless we as a society, we as the church in our world, face this epidemic together, it will be the undoing of America, a greater threat than any terrorist group.

.Your church needs to be involved, and you can start by letting your senators and representative know you support Senators Markey and Paul and The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act.

It’s not the whole answer, but it will get us there.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader and an active Methodist layman