Vocal Ministry — Goals for Nurture Programs

December 18, 2017 § 3 Comments

A small ad hoc group of Friends in my meeting recently met to consider what kinds of programs and efforts we might sponsor that would nurture the meeting’s vocal ministry. We had representatives from three committees: Worship and Ministry, Religious Education, and Attenders. In preparation for the meeting, I tried to identify what the goals might be for these programs. The notes below represent an expanded version of my notes.

Primary goal

To nurture deeper, more Spirit-led ministry.

I deliberately capitalize Spirit. I think we all know intuitively what deeper means, but I wonder whether we know what Spirit means in this context. Are we able to articulate where Spirit-led vocal ministry comes from, to newcomers, to our children, to each other? This should be one of our secondary goals, I think, to be able to do so with confidence as a meeting.

History, faith, and practice

Knowledge of the history of the faith and practice of vocal ministry in our tradition.

Knowledge of the practices that have over time proven effective at fostering deep worship and ministry—giving time after someone’s message before speaking ourselves, not addressing another person’s ministry, etc.

Programs in this area might fall to either Adult Religious Education or Ministry & Worship Committees. Since such programs will never reach a certain considerable percentage of the meeting members and attenders, especially those new to the meeting, I think some short handout should be distributed on the benches periodically that lays out the conventions governing our practice of worship and vocal ministry. My meeting just produced such a handout and I think it’s quite good. You can download it here.


Knowledge of and experience with various centering methods to nurture the vocal ministry’s roots in the Spirit.

Programs in this area might fall to an ad hoc group of Friends with experience in meditation, centering prayer, breath work, Experiment with Light, etc. This gets to the “deeper” part of the over-arching goal. There are lots of Quaker-friendly techniques for centering, by which I mean they are inward, simple, and effective. I believe that a deeper state of consciousness does foster religious experience. Simply turning inwardly and consciously “toward the Light” within, however one does that, seems to me a uniquely Quaker form of centering.

Calling to ministry

Support for those who feel called to the ministry.

Discernment and support for those who speak often in meeting, to the degree that they welcome such attention: Do they think of their speaking as a calling? Do they feel a need for support?

Programs in this area might fall to Worship & Ministry Committee or, if the meeting has one, as mine does, to a Gifts and Leadings Committee, or some such. Ever since we laid down the centuries-old culture of eldership with which we used to nurture vocal ministry, we have left ourselves without any way to support those who feel called to what used to be called gospel ministry. I suspect that many meetings no longer even think that such a calling exists among us anymore, or that it should. But here and there, it does. Such Friends should not be left bereft of our meetings’ support in what is for them a divine calling.

And some of our frequent speakers may have such a calling but not think of it that way. Thinking of it that way could deepen their ministry. And just bringing the possibility up could deepen both the meeting’s worship and the Friend’s own life in the Spirit.

At the very least, meetings should be more attentive and proactive regarding vocal ministry, starting with those Friends who speak often.


To know each other better with regard to our ministry—opportunities to share our feelings about our own vocal ministry, the tests and processes we use for discerning whether to speak, our feelings and concerns about the quality of the meeting’s ministry in general.

Programs in this area might fall to Ministry & Worship Committee.

Sharing of this kind deepens the bonds between us and gives us deeper respect for one another’s messages.

Unity on the issues

Knowledge about what the members and attenders feel about the current state of our vocal ministry. A sense of the meeting regarding vocal ministry as a calling, whether we consider such callings real and legitimate and deserving of corporate support and oversight. Knowledge of who considers themselves so called and whether they want support and/or oversight. I have created a blind survey that tries to elicit this kind of information. If we find that many Friends are unhappy with some aspect of our worship, then we are more likely to do something about it. Here is a link to a Word document version of such a survey.

Meeting-wide agreement about our goals vis a vis vocal ministry, and specifically about whether the meeting wants to address whatever comes up in the discovery process mentioned above.

Trust on the part of the meeting in Worship & Ministry Committee’s authority and judgment regarding vocal ministry, especially in terms of its eldering role. Unity within the committee itself about its authority and roles—are the Committee’s members clear and in unity about how proactive they should be in nurturing vocal ministry, about when, how, and why the Committee should speak to someone about their ministry, either in support or with gentle eldering, and about who should do it?

The committee that has the care of the meeting’s worship and ministry should be confident in its charge and have the support of the meeting, it should be unified in its approach, and proactive, not just reactive.


§ 3 Responses to Vocal Ministry — Goals for Nurture Programs

  • “Discernment and support for those who speak often in meeting, to the degree that they welcome such attention: Do they think of their speaking as a calling? Do they feel a need for support?”

    As a person who rises reasonably frequently in spoken ministry, this is a difficult question for me to answer. Each time I rise is a calling. The written ministry I produce and post on my blog is such a calling, in each instance. The deliberate writing I do is a calling more generally. Is it all tied together as an overall calling, as might have been recognised and recorded as a minister in former days? I don’t know. I don’t think I can test that on my own, and there’s not much avenue to do so in the usual practices of Britain YM.

    It’s also a burden. A joy, but a burden. It stops me doing some things that I might otherwise do, and it leaves me in fear that others won’t appreciate it, will think that I’m somehow acting improperly. I fear that far more than I fear that I might be acting improperly; the only way I could be acting improperly is if I am deluded, it seems to me.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sam.

      I’m sorry there’s no way to seek corporate discernment in Britain YM. That’s true in lots of meetings here in America, also. It shouldn’t be so. We shouldn’t be left alone with our fears regarding our ministry, whatever our fears are about. I now carry a ministry for the recovery of the faith and practice of Quaker ministry, as a result.

      I feel I have a call to written ministry, also, hence this blog and other things I’ve written. But this feels different from vocal ministry in some important ways. For one thing, vocal ministry is always social—I am with other people and I am speaking to them—while writing is solitary. For me, that changes my inner dynamic.

      Also, much less preparation and forethought goes into the vocal ministry. Still some, in the sense that what I’m studying and thinking and writing about sometimes surfaces in vocal ministry and part of my discernment about whether to speak involves sitting with the message for a while until I am clear, one way or the other.

  • treegestalt says:

    If an error in someone’s Message is not answered… does this make worship “deeper” or merely more sedate?

    Where does ‘Truth’ come into this? With George Fox interrupting a preacher’s sermon and being hauled off to jail?

    Or with the reasoning: If this really came from God, there couldn’t have been an error in it so there can’t be anything needing correction?

    Are we tacitly protecting a fictional understanding of the nature of Messages? (Not that they aren’t inspired — but that inspiration implies infallability?)

    Are we thinking: “It’s not nice to publicly tell a person you love that he’s got something wrong? Maybe afterwards?”

    Is all this implying: “We’d rather be wrong than get caught being wrong”? Is this as loving as we think? Is it as spiritually deep as we think?

    All of it maybe implies: “We aren’t There yet.”


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