DISCOVERING AND NURTURING MINISTERS
by Sandra Cronk

The professional model is built on experts and human action, rather than the community and the power of God.

    One of the most significant issues facing the Society of Friends today is that of leadership. How do we recognize. encourage and nurture leaders or ministers who can help our communities be faithful followers of Christ? In days gone by, Friends gave special recognition to two forms of ministry: vocal ministers and elders (or spiritual nurturers). Both women and men served as ministers and elders. These ministers arose from the membership of the local meetings. They received no professional training. They served without pay.

    Because the two forms of ministry had separate functions, persons in those roles were recognized because of their gifts in their respective work. Yet on a deeper level, these ministers were chosen because they embodied a whole way of life. They lived Quaker faith. Their ministry reflected their embodiment of a way of life as much as a particular skill.

    Ministers began their work in obedience to an inward call from God. For example, a young man or woman might begin speaking out of the silence of the unprogrammed meeting for worship with some frequency. If their words seemed genuinely led by the Spirit, the more mature elders and ministers would begin a process of guidance and nurture that would enable the new minister to grow in the new leadership role. The nurture would include community recognition of the call to ministry, becoming a kind of informal apprentice or junior partner to an experienced traveling minister, and participation in the regular gatherings of ministers and elders.

    Thus, in generations past, calling, skill, embodiment of a way of life, and community nurture and recognition were all important elements in the raising up of leaders among Friends. Each of these elements continues to be an important factor today, although the outward forms of ministry have become much more varied.

    Friends have always put great stress on the ministry of each member. While we did have special "recorded" ministers (i.e., ministers who were formally recognized by the community by having their names "recorded" in the meeting's records), speaking in the worship service was never limited to these recorded ministers. Never did these recognized ministers feel that they were doing all the ministry which needed to be undertaken in the community.

    My branch of Friends has never had pastors (i.e., single ministers who took over the central leadership functions of the congregation). Thus, the varied work of the meeting has had to be divided among all the members. We believe that every Christian is called to ministry, in the broadest sense of that term. Today this emphasis on the ministry of all is so strong in my branch of Friends that meetings tend to discontinue the practice of recognizing special vocal ministers and elders. This has put even more stress on the ministry of each member.

    We all must minister if the meeting is to function properly. There must be people to preach and teach. Others must visit the sick. There must be Friends to repair the meetinghouse roof after a storm and others to prepare food in cases of need. There are members who bring a peace witness to military bases and who plan conferences for diplomats. There are Friends who devote themselves to intercessory prayer. Each of these activities is ministry when guided by the Spirit.

Which Gifts?

    Because our structure depends so heavily on the ministry of each member for the on-going life of the meeting, we have taken the biblical understanding of gifts very seriously.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:4-7)

    Each of us has a distinctive function and gift as part of the body of Christ. All are necessary for the upbuilding of that body.

    Recently Friends have become much more explicit about the process of discerning gifts. We encourage the meeting as a whole to recognize the gifts of its members, so that persons are well matched to the standing committees which carry out the work of the meeting. Furthermore, we encourage individual members to recognize their own gifts and to become part of small groups devoted to mutual discernment of gifts.

    This conscious recognition of gifts has been liberating for many people, allowing them to walk more intentionally in the way God would have them go. The process has allowed people to live more fully with family and friends, to undertake specific tasks in their meetings or in service agencies, and to make decisions about their jobs and educational needs. From a community perspective, the recognition of gifts has brought forth a tremendous outpouring of service, renewed dedication and excitement about living a life of faith.

What About a Calling?

    However, the identification of gifts must be done with care. The process can result in misuse, particularly in our contemporary culture which puts so much emphasis on individual fulfillment through self expression. There is a danger that the recognition of gifts may be understood simply as an identification of human skill and talent, those areas of strength where we perform well and which often give us a sense of ego gratification.

    Undoubtedly many of our talents are meant by God to be used in ministry. But paradoxically, our weakest areas some-times become the avenues of our strongest ministry, precisely because it is there that we have to accept God's power rather than our own. Consequently, these are the places where ego cannot get in the way of God's service. Thus, God seems to use them fully. But we may overlook these weak areas when gift recognition is perceived as the naming of skills and talent.

    Gift identification may also be misleading because it implies that if we have a gift we should use it. But there are times when we are not called to use our talent and skill. I remember a longterm Sunday School teacher in one of our meetings who needed to let go of her teaching so that a younger teacher could receive appropriate experience and so that her own proprietary grip on the Sunday School did not block her perception of God's new leading.

    Gift recognition is not a sufficient basis for undertaking ministry. We need to listen to God's calling as heard in our prayerful listening and as expressed through the needs and discernment of the community. Our ultimate task is to obey God's call and not simply to express our gifts.

    Moses did not (indeed, could not) sit down and identify his skills as ones that would make him a good liberation-leader. Just the opposite was the case. When God spoke to him from the burning bush, telling him that he was the one called to bring forth God's people from slavery, Moses replied, "Who am I?" He presented every argument he could think of to show that he was not gifted for the task. He did not know God's name. People would not believe his call. He was not an eloquent speaker. As Moses' questions were answered one by one, he realized that his strength was not in himself but in God alone. This is precisely the power that he had to offer his people: God's power. Paradoxically, it was ultimately by obeying God's call and relying on God's power that Moses was able to use skills and strengths he never knew he had.

    Listening and responding to God's call has been a cornerstone of Friends' ministry through the generations. This process has been especially important for women. Because the larger society has not always recognized the gifts of women, many women have not been able to perceive their own gifts. It is strange but true that it is almost impossible to recognize one's gifts when no one else honors them. Quaker women have also had to deal with this problem, even though their meetings were more receptive to women in ministry than was the larger society. Thus, it was not primarily recognition of gifts, but faithfulness to God's call that allowed generations of Quaker women to take active leadership roles in such diverse ministry as preaching, prison reform and women's suffrage.

    Recognition of gifts is a significant part of encouraging ministry. But gifts must be understood as part of a larger context of being called by God.

Ministry: a Profession?

    We Friends have been struggling with a second cluster of issues, closely related to those of gifts and calling. These have to do with the recent introduction of the professional model of ministry and its relationship to the older model of the minister as the embodiment of a way of life. Our culture today generally considers ministry (in its narrowly defined sense) a profession or a career. Ministry has followed the pattern of medicine, law, teaching, social service work and many other fields which require extensive formal education.

    For many generations, the argument against professionalization in Quaker circles has centered around the question of pay. Gospel ministry should be free, we have said. But the issue of pay has hidden a whole spectrum of other questions.

    The professional model assumes that ministry is primarily a skill or body of knowledge that is offered to recipients. These skills are part of a job. But in earlier years Friends saw ministry much more as a way of being and relating. Ministers were recognized for their skills, to be sure, but they were leaders more because their whole way of being pointed toward God or conveyed God's love and caring. Their words, actions and relationships were their ministry. In this old Quaker conception, ministry is not just a matter of doing but of being.

    The difference between using skills in a professional setting and entering into relationship in the traditional manner is at work in a story a European Quaker told me recently about a young man in her country who suffered from a severe case of cerebral palsy. For most of his childhood, he had lived in a fine institution devoted to residential care for people with his illness. But as an adult he chose to leave the institution in favor of life in a newly founded village whose residents included (those with and without physical handicaps. All were equal in the village. The non-handicapped people chose to be there as a life commitment. They were not paid.

    The parents of the young man were hurt that he decided to leave the institution which they had so carefully chosen for him because of its fine professional staff. They asked if he had not been treated well there. He responded that he had been treated very well. But he saw that when five o'clock came, the staff members went home. No matter how pleasant and concerned they were during working hours, they would not choose to spend their time off duty with him. In this village no one went home at five. There was no on duty or off duty. In the village he was not treated as simply the recipient of skilled care. In the village, he was home.

    It has been my experience that those who carry out their ministry through professional work are extraordinarily dedicated. Their lives are committed to God. And non-professional ministers are not magically exempt from the need for rest and refreshment. They need to have time alone. Jesus took time away from the crowds for prayer. The question is not one of personal dedication. The difficulty is on a structural level.

    There are problems with the kind of structure which compartmentalizes life into private and professional spheres. This kind of division tends to make ministry a task. It prevents a full relationship with another human being in which redemption can happen.

    This critique does not mean that Friends have decided to reject all forms of professional work. indeed, to carry out many forms of service in our contemporary social setting, some people will use the structures of professional life. However, we all need to remain clear that this pattern has disadvantages. It cannot capture all that ministry is.

What Kind of Education?

    A second area which sometimes causes problems in the professional model is its emphasis on formal training and education. Friends have always had a high regard for education. It was once said that wherever there was a meetinghouse one could expect to find a schoolhouse. If anything, our devotion to education has increased today.

    In a culture where the Bible is no longer taught in public schools, adults who are well educated in most subjects may be ignorant of the basic understandings of Christian faith. Friends have recently recognized that we must take on a massive educational effort to help adult members acquire a basic understanding of the Bible, church history and Quaker thought. Without these foundational levels of understanding, it is impossible to form communities of commitment. Educational programs of all kinds are proliferating now. There are yearlong classes, weekend conferences, lecture series and fine publishing endeavors. All of these have helped produce a significant deepening of the spiritual life and reinvigoration of the meeting-community.

    Of course, professionalization requires education beyond that which is offered to all. It implies specialized training for people who are going to undertake very particular kinds of work. Friends recognize the validity of this kind of training for diverse ministries as well. A prospective doctor needs training at a medical school. A person who plans to do peace work with diplomats should be well grounded in politics, economics and history. A person doing counseling should have extensive background in psychology. All forms of ministry and service need to grow out of an understanding of Christian thought.

    The problem, then, is not with education itself, but with the attitudes and unintended by-products of the professional use of education. Our culture has an assertive orientation. Professionals assume they are the experts and have access to the appropriate skills and learning to clear up the problems in their area of expertise. Lawyers solve legal problems. Doctors cure illness. Ministers come to be seen as experts in their area of work. And experts are those with power. The recipients of their skills are in a dependent position.

    This model tends to make the minister the leader by virtue of power and to disempower others in the community of faith. But ministry among Friends is meant to do exactly the opposite. It is meant to build a community of faith. It assumes that in such a community all minister to one another. A minister is thus not one with power over others, but a servant. While the professional model sometimes talks of service, it usually does not operate in a servanthood pattern.

    The professional model arises out of our very human centered culture. Our larger society rates human skill and knowledge highly. It believes that the "good life" comes through that human expertise. In our Quaker heritage (and, I am sure, in the Mennonite heritage as well) our communities are rooted in God's power. On the deepest level, we believe that God ushers in the kingdom. We do not build the kingdom through our own efforts. (Of course, as citizens of that kingdom we are called to follow Cod faithfully. The kingdom takes shape through our lives and actions. But God remains the one who empowers and guides.)

    The difference in attitude is evident in a phrase which George Fox (one of the founders of the Quaker movement) used frequently in talking about ministry. He said that by staying faithful to God's leading (call) one could "answer that of God in everyone." Answering that of God in everyone became one of the primary ways Friends understood the nature of ministry.

    The phrase may need a bit of explanation. "That of God" is the redemptive, transforming, guiding and empowering work of God in our lives. Friends believe that the Living Christ is present among us. The Light of Christ works in each person's life to show us our disobedience and unfaithfulness; it turns us again toward God in repentance. The Light reveals both our brokenness and Christ's healing power. Christ is our guide and empowerer, showing us the path of righteousness.

    Of course, people do not always obey God's call. We may, and often do, turn away. God does not force our obedience. But we are called to answer faithfully that of God in our own lives. ~ As ministers we are called to answer that of God in others. To ~ "answer" that work of God means to respond to it, to nurture it, to call it forth, to dig up any entangling weeds which might be strangling the New Life beginning to grow. Our life, our words and our actions should direct others to see the work of God in their lives and to respond to it more fully.

The Fundamental Work of Ministers

    So the fundamental work of the minister is not to fix all the problems in the world. It is to discern what God is already doing in every person and every situation to bring to birth the kingdom. The minister is a midwife, recognizing that God is the author of our salvation, yet understanding the place of faithful human response to God's call.

    Consequently, for Friends in years gone by, the most important preparation for ministry was "training" in the work of discernment, i.e., learning to see the movement of the Spirit or Christ's redemptive work in our daily lives. This training did not occur in a separate school. It took place within the community. In fact, this setting was absolutely essential. For discernment arose out of the process of listening to God. Listening happened in many ways. Paramount among these were the community times of listening in the meeting for worship and meeting for business. There were also special gatherings of ministers and elders which were devoted largely to the work of worship and discernment. All of these occasions were opportunities for learning the art of listening and for testing one's discernment through the listening skills of the rest of the community.

The professional model is built on experts and human action,
Rather than the community and the power of God.

Learning to Perceive

    The pattern of listening and obeying helps us understand the significance of the traditional Quaker expectations that ministers would embody a way of life. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding of this point. For some contemporary Quakers the old expectation makes no sense. They think it means that a minister must abide by a pious but outmoded way of life which has little to say to their problems today. But embodying a way of life did not mean following a legalistic pattern of behavior or a utopian vision of church discipline. It meant, very simply, living a life of listening and responding.

    The traditional ministers learned to perceive God's call and healing work in their own lives. They became very sensitive to the movement of the Spirit in the lives of others. They paid careful attention to the way God gathered a community of faith. (They understood that communities are called and shaped just as individuals are.)

    In short, it was just this ability to perceive the ways in which God's transforming power touches our lives that allowed these ministers to speak so powerfully to the condition of those they met. Our literature is full of accounts of the extraordinary gift of such sisters and brothers to say the right word or undertake the right actions to help individuals and whole communities take the next step in faithfulness. They were able to "answer that of God in others." This way of life is available to us today. But it requires the same commitment to listening and responding.

    The fact that listening to God was such a central commitment for traditional Friends had profound implications for the minister's personal life and for Quaker views on preparation for ministry. To live in this on-going relationship with God meant letting one's life be molded by God. One problem with the skills oriented preparation for ministry is that it assumes that a person, at the point of decision-making, will choose to follow a Christ-like action. Therefore the training concentrates on the technical ability to undertake a certain task. But in the traditional preparation for ministry there is a recognition that a person will not automatically make a Christ-like decision unless he or she has become a ChristLike person.

Learning from Community

    The traditional preparation for ministry concentrated on the deeper molding or forming carried out by God. This formation is not something that happens primarily in school (although God's work may continue in any location). It happens in a special sense as we participate in the community of faith. it happens as we discern God's will together and hold each other accountable to God's leading. It happens as we practice being channels of God's love and caring for one another. It happens as life in community brings to light our limitations, brokenness, unfaithfulness and dark places. In the Light of Truth, Christ's redemptive love begins to shape us anew. Only as we live in that redemptive love are we able to minister to the brokenness of the world.

    Many of the outward forms of ministry have changed among Friends in our contemporary setting. But as we have explored the meaning of ministry and wrestled with the way to nurture ministers today, we have reaffirmed many of the basic understandings of ministry which have been important in our tradition from the beginning.

First Faithfulness

    We recognize the importance of identifying the gifts of all members. However, that identification must be done in the larger context of discerning God's call to each of us. For sometimes our gifts are not manifested until we go forth in faithfulness. Moreover, our fulfillment comes in that faithfulness, not in purely individual expression of talents.

    We have adopted aspects of the professional model of ministry. To relate to the needs of the larger society, some forms of ministry will be carried out through professional channels. We appreciate the emphasis on competence and quality which professional standards ensure. But there are aspects of the professional model which we do not accept as a definition of ministry. We do not accept that ministry is the job of the few who are the "experts." We are all called to ministry. We work hard to provide the basic educational tools to allow all to follow their calls to ministry.

    While preparing for ministry may include the growth of skills and knowledge, a deeper development must also be taking place. Preparation for ministry is learning to discern how the Spirit is moving in our midst so that we may respond accordingly. Preparation for ministry is learning to let God mold our lives so that we become channels for God's love and caring in the world. Preparation for ministry is learning to hear the Word, Christ, so that we may have a word of life to speak to others. To be a minister is not first and foremost to take on a particular task; it is to live in faithful relationship with God so that we can "answer that of God in everyone."

    This work of preparing may include formal education in a school or university setting. But primarily it involves being part of the community of faith where this work of discernment and the process of formation and transformation takes place. Friends are becoming more intentional in the recognition of this deeper preparation of ministers. We encourage meetings and small nurture groups within the meetings to take seriously the work of mutual discernment and accountability. As individuals and communities we wish to perceive and respond to the work of Christ molding us and calling us to righteousness.

    Even the small steps we have taken in the direction of more faithful nurture of ministers has brought an amazing outpouring of new leadership and new life in our meetings. Many can testify to the extraordinary movement of the Spirit in our midst in recent years. Or perhaps we have only begun to listen once again.

    Sandra Cronk is a scholar and writer specializing in Quaker lift and thought She is on the faculty of Pendle Hill, a Quaker Study Center in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.

From Festival Quarterly , Winter/Spring 1989


Main Navigation

Home
Articles
Resources
Podcasts

Sacred Space
Postmodernity
Bibliograhy
Contact

Circles

ALLELON

Emerging Women / Renovare / Christians for Biblical Equality / Soul Horizon / OpenSource Theology / Jesus Radicals / Regeneration / New Phuture / The Off Ramp / Society for Kingdom Living / Cutting Edge / Relevant Magazine / Shoot the Messenger / Vine and Branches / Sacred Future / Tribal Generation / Reality / Waves Church / Matthew's House / Praxis / Post Boomer / FutureChurch / MethodX / TheOOZE / ginkworld / ::seven:: / emergent village / Highway Video / emerging church / Sojourners / Ship of Fools / Beyond / Next-Wave /



• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2006