Aging Book Release

Here is the press release from Duke Divinity School about Professor Willimon’s latest book which is now out with Baker Academic:

Aging: Growing Old in the Church

William H. Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School and retired United Methodist Church bishop, has written a new book offering a biblically based, theological, and pastoral assessment of the challenges of aging.

Aging book cover

The new book, Aging: Growing Old in the Church, is being published by Baker Academic in April and is part of the Pastoring for Life: Theological Wisdom for Ministering Well series. Willimon is a seasoned pastor of more than 40 years, church leader, and theologian who has written numerous books for working pastors and seminarians.

Drawing on Scripture, literature, current research, and his experiences as an aging adult, Willimon reflects on aging as a spiritual journey. He explores the challenging realties as well as the rewarding joys of growing old, and shows pastors how to help their congregants grow old gracefully and in good Christian hope.

In Aging: Growing Old in the Church, Willimon also offers practical advice on helping church members as they encounter retirement, aging, caring for the aging, loss, bereavement, and finding faith in the last quarter of life. This Christian perspective on aging will be of interest not only to pastors but also chaplains and other ministers in hospitals, hospices, and extended care facilities.

“Although there are few explicit resources in Scripture for aging, the Christian faith has the capacity to find fresh meaning in the last decades of our life cycle,” Willimon says. “After interviews and visits in dozens of congregations for whom ministry with the aging is a major part of their mission, I believe that Christians can prepare for the predictable crises of aging and that congregational leaders can be key to that preparation.”

A septuagenarian, Willimon argues that not only as a pastor, bishop, author, and theological educator but also as someone with personal experience of elderhood that he and other Baby Boomer Christians are pioneering fresh ways of aging.

“Will Willimon has written many wise books, but this may be his wisest,” says Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. “He gently teaches us how growing old in faith is so dramatically different from simply growing old. He shows how aging calls us to relinquish our grip on some tasks and roles, to strengthen our grasp on abiding treasures, and to open our arms to new blessings we are being given. For those of us at the end of our days, this is more than a book; it’s a companion along the way.”

Other recent books by Willimon are Stories by Willimon (Abingdon Press) and Leading with the Sermon: Preaching as Leadership(Fortress Press), both published this year. His memoir, Accidental Preacher, was published in 2019. He also writes Pulpit Resource, a weekly preaching subscription service used by thousands in several countries. Prior to his current position, Willimon also served for 20 years as a faculty member at Duke Divinity School and as dean of Duke Chapel at Duke University.

Doctor of Ministry Program getting some love

As director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Duke Divinity School, Dr. Willimon has loved teaching D. Min courses which combine week-long residency and online-synchronous sessions for pastors looking to step up their game through academic study and peer reflection. Here’s a sample of a story DDS has published about what goes on in the program.

Our students flourish with small cohort sizes, a hybrid learning environment, and spiritual formation mentors. Engagement with distinguished faculty, an emphasis on generating innovative research-based theses, and a commitment to leadership in service to the church make the Duke Divinity School D.Min. an excellent choice.

Stories by Willimon: Another Excerpt

As mentioned previously, Abingdon Press released earlier in February a collection of some of the stories Will has told in sermons, articles, and books over the years. Here’s another example of what you’ll find in its pages to whet your whistle while you wait for your copy to arrive:

Stories by Willimon cover

Sermon Slips

A deep, irrational fear grips every preacher—the fear of inadvertently saying something inappropriate, tasteless, suggestive, or just plain stupid while preaching. Preachers have been known to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, haunted by nightmares of saying something that doesn’t come out the way they intend, in front of five hundred people. A slip of the tongue in the middle of a sermon is called “Freudian” by some, evidence of the humility-producing power of the Holy Spirit by others.

Once you’ve said it, there is no way to get out of a sermonic slip, no matter how hard you try. You can’t go back and explain. It is best to have the congregation immediately stand for the benediction.

I was preaching in a large auditorium in the West. Jet lag had taken its toll—at least that’s the best excuse I can find. The person who introduced me had told the crowd of students that I was a great preacher, much in demand, interesting, controversial, and expensive.

The pressure was on.

I launched into my sermon, a simple piece unworthy of such an extravagant introduction. “When the sermon is weak, say it louder,” somebody once told me. So, I was loud, emotional, passionate.

“And what is the most significant event our faith has to offer?” I asked. “The erection!” I bellowed.

Someone in the front row screamed.

“I mean the resurrection!” I said the correct word at least twelve more times. It didn’t seem to do any good. Church was out.

“I’m sure I shall remember your sermon for the rest of my life,” a young woman told me after the service. I could hear her laughing as she walked out of the building and down the street.

On another occasion, I was speaking in the Midwest. I spoke mightily, and at length, perhaps being too attentive to how I was speaking rather than to what I was saying. Afterward, as we left the auditorium, I hesitantly asked my host—who could be intimidating—“Well, how do you think it went?”

“Rather well,” he said. I sighed in relief. “Except for a couple of small matters,” he continued. “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Matthew was a tax collector, not a Pharisee. And the capital of Iowa is Des Moines, not Cedar Rapids.”

Picky, picky, picky.

A distinguished yet insufferably pompous evangelist was preaching before a gathering of Presbyterian ministers. He was attacking moral decadence, particularly sexual sin in contemporary society, which is risky business for a preacher prone to sermonic slips.

“I remember,” he shouted, “when we looked up to women, expected them to set the moral tone for society. We placed them on a pedestal of honor. But not anymore. Have you seen the scandalous way women dress today?”

To illustrate his dubious point, he offered his former organist as an example. “Our organist, a precious young woman, came to practice for the service, dressed in a pair of short, tight, hiked-up running shorts. It was disgraceful! Walking into the Lord’s house in those skimpy tight shorts. I determined to intervene. It was my duty as a pastor. I confronted her and asked her to come down to my study and talk about it. I shared Scripture with her and told her how those shorts looked. And I’ll tell you, in fifteen minutes I had those shorts off of her!”

He tried to retrieve the hysterically laughing congregation, but his efforts were in vain. Each time he attempted to resume his sermon, some comer of the congregation would erupt into renewed laughter.

So, he asked them to stand for the execution, er, uh, I mean benediction.

The Christian Ministry, November–December 1988