An Undervalued Gift

Historically, Friends meetings had Elders who were appointed to do a number of important things. One of these things was nurturing the ministry.

When I was attending Stillwater Meeting, one of the Elders there would usually come to me after worship if I spoke and give me some feedback on what I said or on my delivery. I do not know if he was asked to do this or not - I was not a recorded minister so I don't know that there was any specific reason why he did this.

What I do know is that I found his words invaluable. He would sometimes speak on issues surrounding weighing a leading or testing the inward motion. When he thought that I had spoken without a divine anointing, I usually knew that very quickly. He would begin these types of conversations with an incident of some kind in which he was involved. Regardless of what he said to me, it was almost always helpful to me in the growth of my ministry, and I will always value his words.

Now I live in a part of the country where a different conception of the ministry exists. Around here, there is little sense that Friends speak from a divine unction or inward motion of Christ Jesus. In fact, around here the idea that Jesus directs people to speak in worship is mostly considered to be a minority opinion rather than a critical element of testing a leading. There are many exceptions, to be sure.

Recently I attended a meeting in which I was very uneasy with what one person stated during the worship. I have grown accustomed to people in liberal meetings outlining their own opinions or using worship time for autobiography or trying to figure out whether there really is a divine Creator. Any of these types of messages is acceptable around here but not in Ohio. One might question: if it takes a divine leading to speak in meeting, how can one speak on the topic of why (s)he has not decided yet if God exists?

Not everyone believes that God distributes gifts to those who are open to His leading. Some have the gift of ministry, some the gift of teaching, etc. These gifts are handed out for the encouragement and growth of the meeting as a whole. They need to be encouraged in each person in which they appear.

This gets back to the importance of Elders. Those who are, for whatever reason, more spiritually experienced have so much to offer the rest of us. Most of these people are quite modest, and getting anything out of them is not easy. That, of course, is what they should be - not dominating others, but nurturing us in a life of Christian faithfulness. We need to be warned when we have made a mistake in ministry or encouraged when we have been particularly faithful. And, regardless of what words the Elder has for us, we should recognize that the person is speaking with the specific purpose in mind of seeking to deepen our ministry and our ability to test our leadings.