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:
- Using ministry as a tool to get thy meeting (or another meeting) to do something thee wants;
- 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
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.