Don't Look Back

Methodist Hope for What Comes Next

Book - Paperback
Don't Look Back
Paperback ISBN: 9781791027896
$18.99 Show Buy

Published September 2022

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.

Praise for Don't Look Back
“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

“Being the body of Christ is a messy, unsettling endeavor. For those seeking to leave for The Global Methodist Church, Willimon offers important clarifying questions, warnings, and invitations. For those seeking to continue in or join The United Methodist Church, Willimon offers new challenges, growing edges, and an incessant stream of his quintessential demand that the church continue to be the church. A timely read for any Methodists seeking to have the conversations needed to shape our churches for generations to come.”
—Patrick Longest, Duke Divinity Student Council co-president Class of 2022

“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

“Several hurrahs for Will Willimon. For his great use of scripture; for effectively pushing readers on specific points and into seeing the larger issues at hand; for clear framing of hard questions and forcing attention to them; for pointed dismissal of easy answers to what he shows are deeply rooted, institution-wide specters haunting leadership at all levels; but especially and as usual in Willimon’s books, readability. Delving into this book, Methodists will confront the denomination’s systemic and global challenges head on.”
—Russell E. Richey, dean emeritus, Candler School of Theology, and
William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Church History Emeritus

“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

“Willimon does not disappoint. He writes what so many are reluctant to say about schism over one issue promoted with language from secular culture wars but missing the words of Jesus and John Wesley. He also incisively captures the sadness of the loss that may occur for no good reason.”
—Lovett H. Weems, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership Emeritus, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC

“Willimon shows us how to honor and grieve the past while also growing into a new and vital way of being Jesus’ church. He teaches us how to look for what God is up to in our specific setting and to have the courage to be a part of God’s mission. Even if he is writing for his own Methodist friends, he is speaking powerfully to this Episcopal Bishop.”
—Jake Owensby, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Western Louisiana; author of Looking for God in Messy Places

Don’t Look Back is replete with infectious optimism and hope that God will ensure the accomplishment of the missio Dei. Through a wealth of pragmatic wisdom, developed from his many years as a pastor, scholar, and bishop, Willimon offers guidance to local churches seeking to reinvent their missional focus, embracing moral imagination and prophetic vision in reaching the unchurched in postmodern society.”
—Donald E. Williams, pastor, Remington UMC, Fauquier County, VA

The people called Methodists find themselves in complicated and uncertain times, but God is still calling people to God’s mission. In Don’t Look Back, Bishop William Willimon invites churches to hear that call to the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. By following the steps and exercises in this book, any leader can help propel their church into God’s preferred future and join God in the challenging but exciting ventures to come.
—Gryff Carosiello, pastor, Sharon United Methodist Church in Greer, SC


Don’t Look Back reminds us of the power and centrality of the local church and its leaders with pages full of classic stories and frank observations. The future of the church doesn’t belong to the winners of denominational debates, but to the Spirit-filled leaders practicing their faith, seeking daily to live like Jesus. God always begins locally in order to save universally—and Bishop Willimon helps us to remember this.”
—Scott M. Chrostek, Executive Director of Ministries and Programs, The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

Don't Look Back is a must read for study, reflection, conversation, and hope. We have a God who brings life out of dead places and a Spirit who is active even in the storms. This is a book that reminds me of my vows as both a pastor and a follower of Jesus Christ—one of the most inspiring books I have read with truth and hope for tomorrow.”
—Susan M. Sharpe, pastor, Wesleyan Hills UMC, Memphis, TN

“Don’t Look Back will help congregations wrestle with the unrest and anxiety of the unknown. Reading it has indeed given me hope! Will Willimon encourages reflection and focus on our calling as Christians rather than simply following an allegiance to a particular caucus. This book is an important tool for reflection and discernment as churches and United Methodists move forward in their calling to be the church.”
—Wade Powell, senior pastor, First United Methodist Church, Victoria, TX


About the Author

Bishop William H. Willimon

Will Willimon is a preacher and teacher of preachers. He is a United Methodist bishop (retired) and serves as Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry and Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina. For twenty years he was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. A 1996 Baylor University study named him among the Twelve Most Effective Preachers in the English speaking world. The Pew Research Center found that Will was one of the most widely read authors among Protestant clergy in 2005. His quarterly Pulpit Resource is used by thousands of pastors throughout North America, Canada, and Australia. In 2021 he gave the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School. Those lectures became the book, Preachers Dare: Speaking for God which is the inspiration for his ninetieth book, Listeners Dare: Hearing God in the Sermon.