Don't Look Back: Methodist Hope for What Comes Next

By William H. Willimon

Hope and help for pastors and congregations who are asking, What now? And What’s next?

Some pastors and congregations have managed remarkable innovation, creation of new ministries, courageous pruning of old programs, and rediscovery of core Wesleyan convictions in recent years. Others have experienced a long, slow-motion, downward cycle of loss.

We might be tempted to ‘sit down’ wherever we are, looking back at all that’s happened, shaking our heads in disbelief. But it’s time to stand up, to move forward. Will Willimon shows what that could look like. He spent a year committed to asking questions and careful listening in conversations with clergy, organizational leaders, and parishioners across the U.S. What’s next for Methodist church folk?

As you read, join in the process of asking and listening. The honesty, wisdom, and inspiration you find here may point you in new directions. What do you think God is up to in the present moment? What should we stop doing and begin doing, responding to God’s call now? What are the biblical texts, stories from our past, and core Wesleyan convictions that might guide us from this point?

And are we at Good Friday or at Easter?

As Willimon writes in his Introduction, “Let’s have a decent burial for yesterday’s good intentions and then partner with the Holy Spirit in creating tomorrow’s church.” This is a book to read and reflect on with colleagues, congregants, and Methodist friends.

What others are saying!

“Based on his lifetime as a Methodist, Will Willimon takes us on a personal journey through the formation of the Wesleyan movement, a painful critique of the forces that are now tearing apart The United Methodist Church, and ultimately, biblical hope for the future. This book blends history, theology, personal narrative, and biblical scholarship to offer pastors and congregations concrete ways to move forward to a reformed church of which John Wesley would be proud.” 
—Andy Langford, senior pastor, Central United Methodist Church, Concord, NC; scholar and expert on worship, evangelism, and preaching; editor of The United Methodist Book of Worship

“Don’t Look Back brings good news for weary, sad, and cynical Methodists: You are loved and chosen. There is a place and future for you in the relentless renewing work of God in our world. Drawing deeply from wells of ministry and faith, Will Willimon shares the wisdom we need for this season. His insights are tough and encouraging, practical, clear eyed, honest, relational, humble in service, Christ-centered, and so hopeful! This book invites us to dig deeper into our faith and ultimate mission beyond denominational mechanics and brokenness—bearing witness to what God is doing. This is a word not only for Methodists but for anyone who shares a radical Christian commitment and calling.” 
—Joni Sancken, professor of homiletics, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH

“In Don’t Look Back Will Willimon is an ‘equal opportunity’ truth teller. No one and nothing is off limits, including himself and especially not the institutional church. He encourages healthy grieving for what is no more but eschews syrupy nostalgia. He preaches, teaches, meddles, prods and probes all in the hope that we will fasten our attention on the resurrected Jesus and join him where he is at work.”
—Gregory V. Palmer, resident bishop, Ohio West area, The United Methodist Church

“In equal parts funny, frank, and provocative, Willimon’s impassioned plea for ‘togetherness’ is worth serious reflection for all tempted to separate from The United Methodist Church. Staring soberly at American Methodism’s losses, Don’t Look Back is filled with unyielding hope for a church willing to let go of the past, redefine its purpose and get on mission with the resurrected, living Christ.”
—Roger Ross, former director of congregational excellence, Missouri Conference; coach with Spiritual Leadership, Inc; author of Meet the Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith

“Please take this book’s invitation from Will Willimon to get into the conversation about the future. The world is not going to snap back to any pre-pandemic, pre-populist political form in the near future. So, to talk about a real future Will gives us the good things to remember from the past, a dose of reality about the present, and good questions about the future. This book is a gift to get us talking about a future church that reflects Christ’s purpose, not our preferences.
—Gil Rendle, consultant; former senior vice president, The Texas Methodist Foundation; widely recognized as one of Methodism’s wisest guides

In three brief videos, Will Willimon speaks directly to people in local congregations across the Methodist spectrum. He challenges us to not be distracted but to use this moment in time as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the churches Jesus calls us to be. Focused on our mission, moving forward and outward, together. Watch these videos together as a congregation and begin creating a future of hope for your church.
YouTube: Don't Look Back


William H. Willimon

Feeling most at home behind a pulpit, William H. Willimon s deepest calling is to be a preacher and truth-teller of Jesus Christ. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke University Divinity School and retired Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church, after serving for 20 years as faculty member and Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. He continues to give lectures and teach at universities around the world. Willimon earned a doctoral degree from Emory University and has been honored with 13 additional doctorates. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

A study by the Pulpit and Pew Research Center found that Willimon is one of the most widely read authors among mainline Protestant pastors. An international survey conducted by Baylor University named him one of the "Twelve Most Effective Preachers" in the English-speaking world. With over a million copies of more than 60 books sold, his popularity is undeniable.