Part 3. Thy Use of Words Outside of Ministry
This part considers some issues surrounding discernment of speech outside of ministry.
Most of us have heard that we should not give rebuttals to what someone has said in ministry. I have mixed feelings about this, because I have seen times (admittedly few) when a Friend was anointed to offer a rebuttal, which immediately got the meeting back on track. The greatest care should be used in these matters, so don't rush in without divine direction. Of course, the best option is for an Elder to approach someone who is off track in ministry and try to get them to yield. This usually is effective but should be reserved for the more serious cases. Let trivial cases pass because it is likely that no one will remember them anyway. I have seen several cases when ministry was offered to help draw Friends back to the Light of Christ Jesus, ignoring the offending message. Modeling the pattern of right discernment and delivery is preferable to an open dissection of the previous message.
If someone vocally opposes thy words during worship, it is not thy role to defend what thee said, so don't even try. Vocal opposition during worship may come from a variety of spiritual states, but always weigh it carefully. The person may be right (or not). About five years ago in Ohio, an Elder stated briefly during worship that the words just given by a minister had missed the mark. The minister considered that remark and then stood to express her mind that the Elder was entirely correct, asking forgiveness of the meeting. Usually it is best to allow the worship to continue without a response. If thy words came from the Lord, He will use them according to His purposes - so consider whether thy leading was rightly discerned and, if it still seems to have been right, let it go.
On occasion, someone will approach thee after worship to discuss thy message. This is awkward. The most important thing to convey is a sense of thy discernment. Anointed messages don't need to be defended, and there is no defense for other messages anyway, so avoid that discussion. Whatever else thee does, make sure thee understands what the person feels a desire to tell thee, particularly if that person has a leading in the way of eldership. If that person had to listen to thee in ministry, thee needs to listen to them when they are directed to approach thee afterwards. The person may have something of spiritual value or not, but at least try to find out if this might be a teaching moment.
One thing that is always difficult is discerning a response to quick statements like "thank thee for thy message." These statements are usually genuine. Generally, the best response is a simple recognition of the comment. William Bacon Evans would sometimes say "thank thee for thanking me." Some times I have responded with a statement that suggests that my discernment was faulty. This kind of modesty undermines the message in the long run and should be avoided. One could say something like "I seriously endeavored to be faithful," which is truthful (right?) and concise.
Friends who are naturally inclined to speak freely outside of worship and also speak with some frequency during worship often face the challenge of conveying a sense of discernment. Does this person just want to talk all the time? Joseph John Gurney liked to dominate conversations outside of worship, which pained Friends who were already bothered by the quality of his discernment during worship and in his writings. Chattiness is not necessarily bad, so if this is thy natural inclination, consider the following. Sometimes asking for a moment to seek for direction (and then actually using the time for that purpose) helps to keep thee on track as well as conveying to the hearer thy desire to find the Lord's words for the discussion. Depend on Him to provide savory and weighty words, not on opinions or rhetorical strategies. If thee learns to do this well, it will leaven thy chattiness and nurture those who are sent thy way.
Whether in private conversations or in ministry, thy use of words is very important. Rightly discerned words do not tear down another person, undermine that person's reputation, or promote divisions. The world has all the spouters of venom it needs - don't increase the statistic. Words are powerful. Learn to use them the right way, for God's purposes.
If thy life experiences incline thee to be negative about life, seek divine direction to be healed of this tendency. Even if thee attempts to be as faithful as possible, it may be thy lot to endure incredibly difficult circumstances. This is not necessarily a divine judgment on thee. Don't be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good (does thee have faith that God will help thee do that?). Don't let thy words be overcome with evil, either, and don't let thy ministry be tarnished with venom. Verily, others are more versed at that than thee, so don't even enter into the competition.
One last thing that ministers have to bear in mind in discussions is the importance of expressing appreciation for other people. Do that. Let others know that their faithfulness may be even more important than thy faithfulness in ministry. It is sometimes. Christ Jesus has things for thee to do and things for others to do. Those who are called to speak on His behalf need the modesty to commend others when they are coming forth in their various gifts. Laboring in the divine vineyard is a team effort as we all attempt to stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to life. Don't wait until an important person dies to mention how that person gave thee hope, direction, or assistance. Thy words of encouragement might be used by the Lord for an unknown but precious purpose. Bless everyone, including thyself, by blessing another.
Thy words say a lot about thee. Choose them wisely.
Final Part: The Deportment of Ministers