The Landscape of Ministry, Part 4

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.



The Landscape of Ministry, Part 3

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



The Landscape of Ministry, Part 2

Part 2. Delivery of the Message

The previous posting covered topics surrounding discernment of a particular leading to speak during worship.

So now that the Lord has a word for thee to share, the next topic is thy delivery of the message. Historically, this topic was called elocution, and school teachers used to have courses on the topic. Some principles of practical elocution seem fitting for Quaker worship.

The first topic should be considered by all who speak on any regular basis, which is thy choice of seating. In Quaker meetings where gifts of ministry are recognized, acknowledged ministers are expected to sit in the gallery (facing benches). People in most FGC meetings usually don't care who sits there, as the purpose of the facing benches as a location for members who have come forth in their various gifts has ceased. Friends in Ohio care who sits there, so don't be forward in this at our meetings. Sitting in the gallery serves some purposes that should be borne in mind. First, it gives a perspective on those gathered that helps thee to see if someone is rising to speak themselves. It is a little unnerving to rise to speak just to discover that someone else has also risen to speak. Sitting in the middle of the group makes it difficult to survey everyone else and thus spare thyself this little discouragement. Remember if this happens that it does not mean that thy discernment was faulty. Anyway, consider sitting somewhere that allows thee to look at all others gathered before rising thyself.

Sitting in the gallery also has an advantage that all need to bear in mind - it aids in projection. For some unknown reason, too many Friends believe they have a word from Christ Jesus to share, but when they stand, they speak so softly that others cannot hear them. Ministers don't need to speak at the top of their voice like Ann Branson and Jeremiah Allen. God is not deaf. However, some attenders are a little hard of hearing - and if thee is going to interrupt the silent waiting, these people need to be able to understand what thee has been given to share. So project thy voice. Thy words may be given with some softness, which I have found particularly good when visiting a meeting where I didn't know anyone. The catch here is that often the speaker concentrates so heavily on the message that projection is not rightly considered. I once caught myself halfway through a message, thinking that I was speaking with some softness - but since those gathered were seated fairly close together, it was appropriate.

Of course, men Friends remove their hats when speaking during worship, either while standing in ministry or kneeling in prayer. A woman Friend who wears a bonnet sometimes removes it while speaking or praying if she is wearing a head covering - otherwise she does not.

A common technique used by ministers is to stand silently for a few seconds before beginning to speak. This is good for three reasons. First, it conveys to everyone the seriousness of thy desire to correctly discern the leading, rather than standing and starting to speak immediately. Second, it gives an opportunity for thee to yield if someone else stands and starts to speak. A few years ago, I visited a meeting where two Friends stood to speak at the same time, and one of them asked the other to wait. Don't do that. A willingness to yield is appreciated by everyone, and it contributes to something to be discussed in a later part of this series. Third, the introductory pause continues a useful Friends tradition that dates back to the 1670s that ministers make a public statement that they feel a leading to speak but want to take a last moment, publicly but silently asking for final guidance about the anointing.

Most ministers feel that it is best to speak with one's eyes closed. They argue that looking around might distract from the leading and cause thy message to wander aimlessly. Others believe that looking at those gathered provides some valuable feedback to how others receive thy words. Here is a warning that I have. At a particular meeting one time, I had a leading that I thought was somewhat stronger and clearer than usual. Near the end of what I felt called to share, I chose to look at those gathered. Someone who was seated almost directly in front of me was rolling his eyes. Was I speaking too long? Was my message wandering? Did he just not want to hear what I was saying? I don't know - but in fact I truncated the remainder of what was on my heart into one sentence and sat down. Since that time, I have felt it is best for me not to look at the reactions of others (but more on this in a later post, too). Feel free to experiment, bearing in mind that having open or closed eyes is not as important as thee sharing clearly and audibly a word that the Word has given thee to share.

This latter event also brings up the issue of when to sit down. We sometimes hear that we should speak as long as the leading continues. That means that at the end of what thee has in view to share, take a moment to weigh if that is all, before sitting down. My tendency is to sit down too soon, and in one case I felt that an important part of the message had not been shared yet. Try not to do that.

Pauses are good to use throughout a message. Try not to drag out the pauses too much, though. Short pauses serve several purposes: they can act both as paragraph markers and as brief moments to check thy faithfulness in the leading. Historically, Friends ministers used pauses even in mid-sentence, which contributed to the so-called "sing-song" ministry that characterized Quaker ministry in the years 1780 to 1860 and continued in Ohio into the late 20th century.

The last part of the topic of elocution is the use of preambles or conclusions. The Ohio Discipline contains cautions against the unnecessary use of these two elocutionary conventions. For the most part, we don't need to tell people that the Lord has a message for them, because one's choice to stand to speak already conveys that. Something that has weighed on my mind from time to time, however, is what I call the George Keith syndrome. Keith was raised in northern Scotland, and throughout his ministry, people reported that they couldn't always understand what he was saying. This was true both in England and also after he removed to Philadelphia. Once when I was visiting in Maine, I attended a meeting there, and I felt a keen sense that I needed a preamble to ask for their forbearance if they couldn't understand my accent. Be open to using them but only if needed (or don't travel to Maine in ministry).

It is easy to say that these things about elocution are not important, and to a degree that is true. However, reading these things may help thee gain a sense of matters that will become a natural part of thy ministry. They require a separate discernment from that given to weighing a particular leading to speak. This should allow thee to convey the message of the saving Light of Christ in the most effective way possible while focusing thy discernment on the leading.

The upcoming topic considers our verbal interactions with Friends after sitting down and after the rise of meeting.



The Landscape of Ministry, Part 1

This is the first installment in what I anticipate will be a four part posting on the landscape of Quaker ministry today. This posting consists of an introduction to the series as well as the first of the four areas of the lives of ministers.

The framework that I am about to share came to me late last month at a time when I was thinking of other things, and I trust that what I feel an urgency to share is not the creation of my own mind. It is with some trepidation that I enter into this brief series, because I understand that others have more experience and deeper insights than I have. I ask for forbearance from all if I outrun the Guide. Also if anyone posts replies with insights from our Source, please indicate if it would be a burden on thy mind if I incorporated appropriate portions of thy comments.

This series on the landscape of Friends ministry provides a context for an evaluation of one's own ministry / discernment (with the Lord's assistance) as well as some aids for Elders to perform their function of nurturing Friends in the ministry. Of course, these discussions should be pursued with the greatest care, seeking always to find the direction of the Light of Christ Jesus and avoid the unfulfilling shortcuts that our minds and natures sometimes offer.

My postings are not intended to be a critique of any person. They are not to be used to undermine the ministry of another person. They are strictly some insights that have been granted to me that perhaps don't apply to anyone else. The discussion relates to nurturing gifts, not undermining gifts.

Part 1. Discerning the Leading to Speak.

One of the most challenging aspects of speaking in ministry is the discernment granted to a particular message. Discernment is important. It is critical to the growth in the gift of anyone who speaks as the oracle of God. The reason for its spiritual weight is that the speaker is standing during worship, speaking to others on God's behalf. This is a big thing. We all know the danger that a misspoken word may easily push a person further from the Lord rather than drawing us all closer. We all want to avoid this pitfall.

Thee may know that Friends have traditionally distinguished between ministry and testimonies. Ministry is usually considered to mean "speaking a message on God's behalf." A testimony is usually considered to mean "here is something unusual that God did in my life." Both are important and have value, but they are different. I prefer myself to keep them separate, though of course the Lord may direct otherwise.

The normal discernment queries that ministers have always mentioned continue to apply. Is a given message received from the Almighty, or is it something that I have conjured up myself? Am I truly speaking on His behalf, or am I actually speaking on my own behalf? Does God want me to share this particular thing with others, or is it a message meant for me?

In short, why am I interrupting the expectant waiting to share these words?

In the earliest years of Quakerism, this whole discussion was considered to be part of the "qualification" for spiritual labor. The journals of the 1650-1750 era contain a lot of threshing out the issue of qualification. The word was being handed out so often that the famous book written by Samuel Bownas is often abbreviated to simply "Bownas's Qualifications."

The Discipline of Ohio Yearly Meeting contains an advice for ministers that partially addresses the issue of discernment of a particular leading to speak:

Let all, in their spoken testimonies, be cautious of ... asserting too positively a Divine impulse - the baptizing power of Truth accompanying their words being the true evidence.

This sentence was recently ridiculed by some non-Friends who considered them to be nonsense, but consider what the sentence says. The evidence that a person was speaking on God's behalf is not whether the speaker says "God told me to tell you this" but rather that the words are accompanied by the baptizing power of Truth.

Think on this for a moment. The Divine Scheduler often uses the words granted to thee to help shape the life of another person. Often thee does not even know that He is active at that point in time. Thy words, spoken in season, enter into the conscience of a hearer in the context of the recent experiences of the hearer. A word in season might mean different things to two or three different people, but if the Lord gave thee the words, He can use them to nurture lives of these hearers in differing ways. But in all this, He is doing the real work.

Thy discernment process should not include an analysis of the needs of those gathered. There is One who knows their needs as well as thy needs. Let Him direct thee to the words that are needed in the situation. It is not good for thee to speak on thy own behalf while pretending to speak on His behalf.

During worship, others gathered are not particularly interested in thy opinions, thy desire to be heard, or thy wishes. They are rarely interested in hearing about what thee has been reading lately. They are not there to be entertained; they are there to be nurtured and given guidance on what it means to live the Christian life today.

About ten years ago, during a lively discussion in Ohio, someone asked one of our older ministers (who had been silent up to this point) what he thought about the topic at hand. He said that he was waiting for a word from the Lord. With this statement, the conversation ended. In worship, this is what Friends wait for - a word from the Lord.

People flocked to hear the ministry of Jesus. It changed them. It opened their understanding to the reality of the spiritual realm. Jesus opens the real doors that provide the guidance for right living, right thinking, and right relationships. His words are spirit, and they are life. He directs thee and me to experience the holy life that He makes possible.

The words that Jesus gives are alive. Ministers are not trying to regulate the lives of others. They are trying to share what God wants to be heard. When they are the most faithful they can possibly be, ministers convey hope, encouragement, and direction to people in ways that the minister cannot possibly comprehend. That is because the presence in the midst has become real again.

These are the words that ministers seek.

Next installment: "delivery of the message."