Part 4. Deportment of Ministers
The fourth and final installment in the series involves the deportment of ministers. The earliest Friends called this a minister's conversation, and when a name was proposed to be recognized as a minister, a committee was appointed to inquire into that person's conversation. They thus maintained the use of the word "conversation" as found in the Bible - they were looking at the person's overall lifestyle and being, not limiting themselves to a consideration of the person's use of language. Today we use the word "deportment" for this idea. This essay, however, is limited to non-language issues because those were covered in the last post.
Ministers today need to model the Christian life. Those around us need models. Most people who are called "role models" today are not living lives that we should follow. American culture values superficiality, greed, physical beauty, and ethics of personal convenience. Traditionally, Friends were nonconformists and rejected these values, seeking to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and souls. Thy real beauty is derived from thy willingness to be transformed by the Lord. This post is about urging thee to become the beautiful person He has in mind.
Around 1800, the term concerned Friend came into vogue; it has remained in use in Ohio and perhaps to a lesser degree in other yearly meetings. The term has a specific meaning. A concerned Friend understands that his/her choices in life contribute to the overall health of the Society of Friends or Christendom generally. Ministers need to be concerned Friends. Thy choices in life matter. Thy life needs to exemplify thy discernment of being directed by Christ Jesus outside of worship. It is not enough to choose to be faithful during worship but ignore Him the remaining 99.4% of the time (if thy worship experience is one hour per week).
The following are some things that are useful in leavening thy ministry and growth in thy gift. They are not intended to serve as a checklist or artificial guide.
A. Devotional Time
Develop a deep prayer life. Delight thyself in the Lord, and He will give thee the desires of thy heart. Take time to be with Him, alternating between speaking and waiting for direction. Give Him time to perform His work. Prayer helps thee to persevere when times are difficult. It helps thee learn from thy own weaknesses so thee can have mercy on the weaknesses of others. William Waring wrote an article on prayer in the late 1800s, in which he noted that the Quaker tradition of kneeling for prayer was not an empty form because it exemplifies our yearning to bow before our Creator for the guidance we can only receive from Him.
Read the Bible. Surveys provide contradictory information, but it appears that the average American spends something on the order of two minutes per day reading the Bible and two to four hours per day watching television. In fact, in some recent years, self-identifying Christians have spent more time reading Christian fiction than the Bible. Just to keep things in context, a person reading the Bible 15 minutes per day will finish it in a year's time. In the early 1800s, Ohio Yearly Meeting inquired how many families gathered to read the Bible aloud. About 75% of our families were doing that back then. Try it out.
Read the Approved Writings of Friends. This is controversial, I realize, and even some Friends don't want to hear it. I have read several contemporary Christian books, but there are only two that I would classify in the "must read" category. Compare that with landmark Quaker authors in the same category - Joseph Phips, Christopher Healey, Sarah Grubb, Mildred Ratcliff, John Griffith, Joseph Oxley, Isaac Penington, Thomas Chalkley, William Penn, Thomas Story, Priscilla Gurney, Robert Barclay. There is a reason that their works are part of the Approved Writings. They had something to say about modelling the Christian life. They were not interested in scare tactics or empty words. While I respect those who disagree with me on this, I can also say this: earlier writers of other denominations had more substance than 90% of Christian authors right now. I have read books by George Whitfield, Charles Finney, and Dwight Moody, and their works will continue to be discussed in the future. Most contemporary Christian writings will not.
B. Meeting Life
Demonstrate community. Don't talk about community. Practice it.
Speak with thy meeting about having an Elder appointed for thee. I can't emphasize enough how important this is. Don't underestimate how the Lord can cleanse and prepare thee for greater use through the advice of a well-chosen Elder. Also be prepared to assess from time to time if an alternate Elder appointment is needed (they can get burned out).
Answer the ancient queries for ministers on a regular basis.
Learn to listen to people. This will help when someone comes to thee to ask for guidance or to discuss a difficult life situation.
Learn how to discuss difficult things with others and maintain a meek spirit, then tell me how I can do it, too.
C. Thy Christian Walk
Find a way to anonymously help others. I can't express enough the blessings that come from this. Doing so will help thee understand when thy friends fail to recognize or appreciate a kind deed thee did for them. See if there is a way for thee to do something anonymously for the person in life who irritates thee the most. Christ Jesus came for that person, too.
Practice truthfulness. By this, I mean identify those things that are True for everyone and act accordingly. But don't talk about it unless someone asks. Just do it.
Discover submission. Don't insist on thy way all the time. Others have valuable insights, experiences, and leadings too. Let the Lord work through others to enliven and nurture the entire body.
Experience the things that retain value. Most elements of contemporary culture are transient, or, to use the old Quaker terminology, the "perishing things of this world." Time is precious, and we are urged "redeem the time." Do that by reducing how much time thee spends with transient things.
Learn not to speak evil of others. A good place to start is to stop criticizing politicians. Those on the other side usually are genuine in what they hope to accomplish. Both parties have people who are intelligent, those who have virtue, and those who lack virtue. Free thyself from harboring hard feelings toward anyone. Seek the good of all.
In short, experience this admonition from George Fox: Let thy life preach.