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.


joanie said...


I am grateful to Isabel to have been directed to thy site. My husband, Bruce, will be pleasantly stunned when he reads here. I just found this tonight and have some more reading to do, but thee has 2 more readers and Friends. There is a lot I would want to say, but I want to just give what I am reading time to settle.

My God bless Thee,
Joanie W.

Martin Kelley said...

Thank thee for this, it's a timely reminder. I was very much moved when I first read of a Quaker minister (in "Eye of Faith" perhaps?) who refused to listen to any information about a family or meeting they were visiting because they felt that might color their ministry. It's very easy to think one might be called to set some other group straight, when really all we're ever led to do is to vessels of the Spirit's voice and allow some mystery as to how that might be part of a larger plan. I've purposefully declined invitations to gossip about a particular Friends group because of the memory of this elder's practice (though I'm sure I could and should decline this even more often!).

I'm often asked to give analytical or descriptive talks to Friends that is based on information, but I try to keep it clear that I'm giving a talk, not engaging in ministry. I'm never quite sure if my descriptive talks ever have a salutary effect; I very much appreciate the more purist position that we don't need to plan, but just follow.

I hope I see thee again soon. I see the KFF calendar is slightly outdated. Anything coming up in the eastern edge of it's territory? Micah B was visiting this weekend trying to plant some seeds and they might actually be finding fertile ground...

Paul Manski said...

Dear Friend in Christ,
My name is Paul. I live in Arizona. I am currently blessed by God to attend a liberal meeting here and I am grateful for fellowship with believers. Ifound your writings through Quakerquaker, a Friends website. Thank thee for your words which are well taken. If the Lord wills it I hope I may be joined with thee one day in fellowship. Thy friend in Christ, paul

RichardM said...

I would say that if a neighboring meeting is not in unity about some issue that the minister should visit determined to listen and determined not to speak. Visit listen, discern, arrange a second or third visit. And only when the soil is thus tilled will you be genuinely lead to speak. Of course this is just a generalization. We can't really say that the Spirit won't tell you to speak on the first visit. But you should go not expecting to speak at first. And, yes, travel with an elder if that is possible.

MelissaTheRagamuffin said...

I almost never speak in meeting. As a matter of fact, I think I felt led to vocal ministry exactly once. But, if I were to resolve to never speak on a a subject that I've ever had a conversation about in the past, I most certainly would never open my mouth again.
I am nearly 40 years old and in my 40 years I've had many faith related conversations. If during meeting the Lord calls to mind the content of something I've had a conversation about in the past, does that make it any less inspired?

But, assuming this person was trying to meddle in the life of the meeting - it happened in the early '90's. Shouldn't you have forgiven the individual and moved on? We have all done foolish and even wrong things that were well intended when we were either young in years or young in faith.

Nancy Hawkins said...

What thee has written, Chronicler is truth. Ministry is to come from the heavenly witness rather than our own personal agenda. Thy Friend in Jesus,

Geoff Gilmore said...

In general, I agree with your post, but there is one thought that concerns me; if one should not speak in meeting on a topic after learning that the meeting is divided on it, then mentioning Christ would be impossible in many meetings today, since so many are divided on Him, if not openly hostile.

kevin roberts said...

sometimes god uses someone from outside the meeting to deliver a message that the meeting needs to hear, but is too self-absorbed to recognize for itself.

if the message comes from one's own will, or from one's own opinions, then it is not appropriate to deliver it in a meeting for worship.

but if the message comes from god, then i suggest that it is disobedient to ignore it in the interests of diplomacy or a fear of intruding.

i would tread very cautiously in delivering any ministry of this type, but if the spirit says go, then i would be disobedient to choose to stop out of my own will.

the guidance of a competent minister would be useful in making the decision.