Nurturing the call to vocal ministry
January 22, 2016 § 7 Comments
So, given that most of our meetings are never going to record the gifts of their vocal ministers, if we are going to abandon the centuries-old infrastructure that our forebears used, how do we nurture and elder those who are called to vocal ministry?
The infrastructure we use nowadays for the care of ministry is the committee for worship and ministry. Some meetings have committees for ministry and counsel or pastoral care, combining the pastoral care of members with the spiritual care of members. In theory, this combination makes a lot of sense, because there is always a spiritual dimension to a Friend’s pastoral concern or condition and a pastoral dimension to a spiritual concern or condition.
In practice, however, in my experience the pastoral concerns almost always shove the concern for the worship to the side. They are usually just too pressing to ignore, and the worship usually is just going along as it always has, at least until some problem arises. In my experience, proactive attention to the quality of the worship and the vocal ministry almost never happens. So I think meetings should have separate committees for pastoral care and for worship and ministry if they are going to give the worship and its vocal ministry any real attention.
But even when a meeting has a separate committee for worship and ministry, proactive eldership of vocal ministry almost never takes place. I think the main reason is that the wider meeting usually has never clarified for itself how it wants the infrastructure for spiritual nurture of vocal ministry to operate, so the committee feels uncertain about its charge. The meeting and the committee share a concern for judgmentalism regarding the vocal ministry, even when many in the meeting are quite dissatisfied with its quality.
But this gets into the eldering of vocal ministry and I want to focus on the care of those who feel called to a ministry of speaking in meeting. I want to focus on the ministers.
It seems to me that Friends feel the call to vocal ministry with varying degrees of self-awareness. Some know they have been called. Some find themselves speaking fairly often, perhaps even along some theme, but don’t really know what to make of it or what to do with it, and end up dealing with it in the moment as they feel led to speak. And finally, some Friends just speak a lot.
These three groups of Friends need different kinds of support. And the meeting or the committee needs to be clear about which kind of support to give.
Those who know or strongly suspect that they are called to vocal ministry need corporate discernment to test the leading, to give the minister confidence and the meeting clarity. And then they need support and oversight, probably in the form of a committee for care or nurture of the ministry—a group to go to when doubts arise or some other problem, and just to proactively maintain faithfulness to the call; and a group that can step in when the minister steps through the traces or runs past his or her guide. For this is a covenantal relationship, in which the minister and the meeting mutually agree that eldership includes both support and nurture and discipline, a corporate agency for discipleship, or faithfulness to the call.
Those who are emerging ministers, who find themselves speaking often enough to notice a pattern but may not be clear about their call, need the same things, but with a different emphasis. Here, a clearness committee for discernment might be in order, for the first charge of the committee for worship and ministry is to help the minister gain clarity about the call and to reassure the Friend that more support is waiting if the discernment clarifies a leading—or even if it doesn’t, for that matter.
Those who just speak quite often need the same things, also, but with a different emphasis again. This is delicate. In fact, all of this is delicate. But if a meeting is going to actively nurture vocal ministry, if you are going to do more than just react when some vocal ministry seems so inappropriate as to require a reaction, then it needs to engage with its vocal ministers at all stages of their development.
How do you start this conversation?
If the meeting has never openly discussed the focused nurture and eldership of vocal ministry and the committee therefore has no clear charge in this area, then approaching such a Friend will seem odd and possibly criticizing. The wider conversation needs to take place first. So ministry and worship committee needs to bring the matter of support and oversight for vocal ministry to the wider meeting for discussion. They need to feel confident that they can act with the meeting’s blessing and be at least a little bit clear about who can do that, when, and how.
In any of these cases—even in the case of inappropriate ministry that you feels needs your attention—if you feel you can approach a Friend about their vocal ministry at all, then I would offer this way to open the conversation: “We have noticed that thee speaks fairly often in meeting and we wonder whether thee feels a call to vocal ministry? If thee is not sure—but especially if thee is sure—then we offer ourselves as a possible source of discernment and support. Would you welcome a deeper conversation?”