Using Vocal Ministry to Meddle

Something has been weighing on my heart to share today, based on something that took place when I was living in Ohio. A visiting Friend shared something in a line of ministry that felt incredibly suited to me and my meeting. A few weeks later, someone from another meeting told me he had previously spoken with the visitor about the topic.

His ministry had been based on information, not inspiration. Since then, I have seen this Friend a few times, and his attempt to influence our meeting comes to my mind every time.

This blog post details why thee should never use vocal ministry to meddle in the life of a meeting and provides some guidance for Elders who observe this.

For this post, I am using the phrase "meddling through vocal ministry" to describe any of the following:

  1. Using ministry as a tool to get thy meeting (or another meeting) to do something thee wants;
  2. Using ministry as a tool to "fix" someone's spiritual beliefs, especially when thee knows beforehand that someone there has a different understanding from thee; and 
  3. Speaking in ministry on a topic after learning that a meeting is divided on the matter.

Whenever thee feels called to meddle through ministry, please, please, go to thy Elder immediately. Thee needs to get this out of thy mind with haste. Why?

  1. It harms thy ministry. The incident I first mentioned took place in 1992, but it remains fresh in my memory. Thee does not need the reputation of being a meddler.
  2. It tarnishes people's perception of ministry. Remember, ministry is not about thee, not about thy ideas, not about thy insights, not about thy concerns. Ministry needs to be restricted to speaking as the oracle of God, not the oracle of thy ego. Ministry is not to be used as a tool to accomplish thy will. [Note: in a previous post, I outlined the historic Quaker distinction (with which I am in unity) between ministry and giving a testimony.] Ministers are not about the business of sowing divisiveness, so focus on demonstrating what ministers are all about.
  3. It adds unnecessary pain. If thee hears that a nearby meeting is struggling with a given idea, problem or belief, thee needs a major directive from the Lord, sustained by a concerned Elder, before visiting the group. Thy words have the potential to tarnish existing relationships and offend individuals. Also if they find out thee came specifically to instruct them, it will embarrass those who agree with thee and actually encourage those who disagree with thee. It is better to hold a workshop to share thy views rather than speaking on thy own behalf during worship.

Real influence does not need to be forced - and trying to force it creates resentment. Let the Lord carry the burden when the waters are too deep for thee.

Some Advice for Elders

The following items are drafted from the perspective of a minister, and maybe some Elders will feel they are not good advice. Let me know, and I will adjust them as needed. They are arranged in the sequence that Elders might proceed to address a minister or other Friend who has stepped off the path as mentioned above.

Stop the bleeding. If someone is disrupting the worship, please consider going up to the person and asking him to yield. I know this is incredibly rare to do during worship, but I have seen it done rightly by wise Elders. We ministers need Elders to tell us when we are going too far. A minister who is truly concerned will yield, and one who is not concerned will demonstrate that by not yielding. I guarantee that when a speaker does not yield to a rightly exercised Elder, those gathered will side almost unanimously with the Elder.

Investigate. When someone meddles through ministry, an exercised Elder should approach the person afterward to find out what is going on. Elders need to know if the person was speaking from information and (if so) make it clear this is not acceptable. One of thy roles as an Elder is to nurture and guide ministers - so if someone misbehaves in ministry, that person needs thee.

Consult. Ministers historically travelled in pairs. Do Elders ever go in pairs to visit someone? Not being an Elder, I can't say. In dealing with difficult situations, I would think a pair of Elders would be of service - particularly if the matter involves a mature minister. Afterward, the two Elders could discuss if any follow-up is warranted.

Remember, Friends, that we all make mistakes. We need to be more forward in apologizing and forgiving, and we need to be more ready to offer nurture and guidance before problems arise. Our meetings become more healthy when all Friends are exercising their gifts on the Lord's behalf and with the best interests of others in mind.


On Divine Healing

Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done. - Genesis 20:9

The above verse is sometimes quoted for its value in demonstrating nonconformity in the larger culture in which we live. I am obviously in full unity with that conclusion, but the verse has another meaning for us that we can benefit from.

Abraham, as the two of you know, was the first man to identify himself as a Hebrew. There is a wordplay in the ancient language that is instructive itself but not relevant here. The point is that Abimelech knew who Abraham was - someone from another culture who followed what Abimelech would have called a "strange god." How do the followers of this "strange god" behave? Abimelech did not know, but he did realize that Abraham made a poor choice when introducing Sarah to others. Abimelech's last statement above carries the underlying question: How can a man of God not know that doing such a thing is wrong?

In early 21st century culture in the United States, we have similar issues. Many people observe the behavior of others. How do Christians behave? What does it mean to live a spirit-filled life? On occasion, a stranger will approach thee and ask "Are you saved?" Thy friends and family are well aware of the degree to which thy life points others to Christ Jesus, and they rarely need to ask that question. Believe me, they know.

The scriptures emphasize over and over the importance of right behavior. This information is conveyed through the laws, through Proverbs, through the Sermon on the Mount, and through the aspects of the fruit of the spirit. When God touches thee in a deep way, thy behavior changes to reflect it. Real communion with Him introduces leaven into thy life that causes thee to enter doors thee could not see before.

One thing needs to be made clear here. A person who chooses to follow a divine prompting is not trying to "earn" salvation. That person is trying to express an existing salvation. It usually takes little discernment to tell when someone does something in their own power. The remainder of this meditation deals with some principles of how thy life reflects the touch of the Divine upon thee.

Jesus was known in his day as a great healer. Look at all the stories about healing. What we sometimes miss is that divine healing is not limited to the healing of physical suffering. That is only a part of the great expanse of God's healing that is going on all around us right now. The Lord is also interested in healing thee mentally, socially, and intellectually. He wants to heal thy habits, thy thought processes, and thy use of time. He seeks to leaven the whole lump of thy body if thee will work with Him. Our Friend Isabel Penreath recently wrote an outstanding essay on this topic - that God wants to heal thee. I hope her essay will be published soon so that it may be distributed widely.

A person who has experienced even a little divine healing has something of value to relate about God. The husbandman must first be partaker of the fruit - otherwise, how can the husbandman convey to others how special the fruit is? Witnessing to others about Christ Jesus is powerful and encouraging to believers everywhere, but take care not to limit thyself to expressing thy healing only through words. The world is filled with words and all kinds of empty notions about spiritual things. I used to have all kinds of notions about what it meant to be a Christian and talked about this at length even though I had little or no experience of it. I regret that my life is not a better reflection of what He has done for me and in me.

Many Christians are well aware of how to express their faith verbally. Little needs to be added to the guidance we already have. Here are some things that I have noticed of late as far as expressing Christ Jesus to others nonverbally.

If thee has truly experienced divine healing, thee wants others to experience it, too. Having healthy relationships with others opens doors for thee to express the state of thy heart. Furthermore, one whose heart is filled with the inward waters brings encouragement to others during conversations and visits - rather than leaving thee drained and discouraged after the visit or conversation ends. Someone who is always complaining or insulting others is not demonstrating what it means to be healed. Jesus died (and rose again) to help thee as well as the people who bother thee. Obviously, each of us needs to complain from time to time - but let it be a small portion of thy life. Focus on using complaints to bring healing, not complaining for its own sake.

A person who has experienced divine healing knows that the Lord has established the right parameters of life for each person. Of course, there are times when He prepares thee for new parameters in life and causes thee to seek and welcome these new parameters. Keep in mind, though, that He has thy best interests in His mind. We may sometimes wish for different parameters, but instead of complaining to everyone about thy current parameters, take some time to consider if the Lord has some additional service for thee where thee is now. Are there things to learn here that may not be learned once thy parameters change? This is important, because often the Lord builds thy insights upon earlier experiences so they will take hold in thy mind. As humans, we often find that we are always ready for things to happen in our timing, losing sight of the principle that the Lord brings things about at the appropriate season. A nine year old girl may want to have a child, but she really should wait until later before doing that. As the apostle said, Let patience have her perfect work.

The previous paragraph is not intended to excuse bad behavior by anyone. I am not at all in agreement that God directs people to do bad or wrong things. I do believe that often experiencing bad things is an important sign that He is about to change thy parameters in life and that each of us has our share of bad experiences of one kind or another.

Those who have experienced healing want the best for other people. There is no need to condemn or insult others. In fact, when thee does these things, thee pushes others away from God, which I can assure thee is not in thy best interest. If others find thee so obnoxious that they don't want to be around thee, what does that say about thy heart? Don't limit thyself this way. Don't engage in self-pity so deeply that thee misses the opportunities to exhibit perseverance under pressure, which the apostles mention over and over as a Christian virtue. The Lord does some wonderful things through suffering sometimes.

Walk worthy of the gospel. Learn what it means to be the kind of person whose life is an inspiration to others to find their spiritual calling. Demonstrate how a Christian should live. When thee does these things, others will be far more interested in listening to thy words about what Christ Jesus has done for thee.