CALLING AND CHARACTER by William Willimon ($17)*

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ABG: 0-687-09033-4

One of the casualties in our cultural wars over shifting definitions of ethical behavior has been the ability to think clearly about the relation of one's character to the performance of one's job. This has been especially the case in recent debates over clergy misconduct, where much has been said on what external authorities should exercise discipline over clergy, and at what point they should do so.

Yet, as William H. Willimon points out, a far more fundamental set of questions goes unasked. When, at ordination, clergy commit themselves to live an exemplary Christian life, what particular perspectives and habits must they develop if this commitment is to survive the strain of a lifetime of ministry? What are the expectations they must have regarding the consequences of failure to live up to their commitments?

In Calling & Character, Willimon lays out a clear and compelling picture of the pastoral life, one that will inform both those embarking on ordained ministry and those who have been in it for many years. He lays out specific habits such as study, collegiality, and humor as the day-by-day means of following the difficult and dangerous, yet deeply rewarding, calling of a pastor.

Key Features:

  1. Well-known and highly respected author
  2. Addresses a subject at the center of many conversations today
  3. Written for both the experienced pastor and the new pastor

Key Benefits:

  1. Outlines the habits and perspectives pastors must develop to be faithful to the commitment made at ordination to an exemplary Christian life
  2. Asks the difficult questions related to the consequences of failure to live up to the commitments made at ordination
  3. Outlines specific habits that can help persons fulfill this calling


WILLIAM H. WILLIMON is Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of more than forty books on ministry, the Christian faith, and church renewal, including Good-bye High School, Hello College and (with Stanley Hauerwas) Lord, Teach Us; Resident Aliens; Where Resident Aliens Live; and The Truth About God.


“Pastors are a confused breed these days, and no wonder. We live in a cross fire of counsel from experts and authorities telling us how to be successful, how to adapt and be relevant to our culture, and to 'make it.' But not Willimon. Willimon pressures us to be true--true to our calling in the church, true to our ordination, true to the Word of God. He argues for character and against accommodation, he shoots adrenaline into the clerical bloodstream.” --Eugene H. Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College

“This is a book that draws on the insights of the saints. It is desperately needed. Many a pastor will be rescued from disaster because of it, and all who read it will be better servants of God’s Kingdom." -- Tony Campolo, Eastern College

“By combining a high view of ordination with down-to-earth concreteness, Willimon summons fellow ministers to make personal virtue and character central to their vocation. Those who have come to expect astute observation expressed with disarming candor, as well as provocative one-liners, will not be disappointed with far-ranging, rewarding book.” -- Leander E. Keck, Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology, emeritus, Yale University Divinity School

“Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life is a much needed resource for those concerned about the quality, content, and effectiveness of ministry. In his usual insightful and provocative style, Dr. Willimon challenges much conventional wisdom regarding clergy effectiveness by appropriately grounding ministry in the personhood and character of the called. The church would do well to take this book with utmost seriousness and shift the focus from superficial leadership skills to the character formation of those called by God to ordained ministry.” -- Kenneth L. Carder, Resident Bishop Mississippi Area, The United Methodist Church

“Hardly a month passes without some book on leadership being published. Though many of these are dubbed ‘Christian,’ they are little more than secular leadership principles and practices baptized in churchy language. Here is something different. Thank God! Will Willimon has challenged us to focus on the core: calling and character. Not only do I commend it to seminaries and young clergy leaders but to my peers, those who have been following the call for decades. Willimon’s constant reminder that what pastors do is a function of who pastors are reminded me of a word from the Scot Divine, Robert Murray McCheney, to another generation: ‘the greatest need of my congregation is my own personal holiness.’ Willimon underscores that truth in a powerful way.” -- Maxie Dunnam, President, Asbury Theological Seminary

“With wisdom that is the Word of God luminously refracted through his own experience, William Willimon offers a lifeline to the despairing, a corrective to the complacent, and support to the faithful who are called to the divine absurdity that is Christian ministry.” -- Richard John Neuhaus, President, Religion and Public Life

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