Worship Sharing and Vocal Ministry
July 9, 2018 § 13 Comments
Yesterday, my meeting got a lot of personal sharing and basically no vocal ministry. My judgment, of course, though I know I am not alone in feeling this way. It wasn’t really a meeting for worship as much as a large worship sharing session. This is a decades-long trend among liberal Friends.
What is the difference between worship sharing and vocal ministry? How might meetings and worship and ministry committees in particular make the distinction between these two kinds of spoken message more clear, for they are clearly somewhat confused in the minds of many of our worshippers?
Worship sharing is sharing; vocal ministry is ministry; that is, it is service, which is the root meaning of “ministry”. Traditionally, vocal ministry is service to God, or the Spirit, if you will. But also service to each other, and to the worshipping community. I’ll talk about what I mean by “service” shortly. But back to the difference between the two.
Worship sharing starts with an “I” statement by definition. In meeting for worship, it usually stays with I until it ends. While it comes from one’s self and is about one’s self, worship sharing nevertheless does foster a “We”. This We is a community more deeply bonded through a shared understanding of the “I” who has spoken. Worship sharing builds community.
Vocal ministry starts with “You” and it stays with You until it ends. While the message may pick up personal elements along the way, from its initial impulse to its final words, it has a direction out from the self toward one’s fellow worshippers and/or toward the community as a gathered body. It, too, fosters a We, but this We is a community more deeply bonded through a deeper experience of the Spirit. Vocal ministry answers that of God in one’s fellow worshippers. It brings spiritual blessing to the community.
The language of the message carries practical indicators of which kind of message it is. A worship sharing message virtually always starts with the pronoun “I” and it doesn’t lose this first person singular perspective until, perhaps, the very end. For such a message often comes with a lesson of some kind at the end, and it is this lesson that I suspect feels to the speaker like a potential blessing that would qualify it as vocal ministry.
Very often, if we had just heard the lesson without its personal and often anecdotal preamble, it would have felt much more like Spirit-led vocal ministry. So why quibble about it? Because, by the time we get the lesson, it is so saturated with “I” that it has trouble lifting off the ground to transform the We. Our consciousness has been so deeply drawn into personality that it hinders the transpersonal character we hope for in vocal ministry.
More importantly, though, the worship sharing message has no real direction toward the We. It is self-reflective. It projects a mirror out from the self to show us more of the self. Even the lesson at the end is often just a final reflection of a personal take-away, a sharing of what the I got out of the experience recounted, offered in the hope that it will be inspiring to others, as well. Which it often is. We listeners often can take something away from the account for our selves. That’s the power of worship sharing. But that doesn’t make it vocal ministry, in the traditional mold.
Vocal ministry will certainly pick up elements from the I, from the personality of the speaker and/or from their experience, but it starts somewhere else and its going somewhere else. It starts from an inward depth, a motion whose roots run deeper than mental reflection on an event, which is the form most of this sharing takes, or from mental musings. Reflections and musings live in everyday consciousness. You don’t have to go deep to get them.
More importantly, though, vocal ministry doesn’t stop moving. It rises up from somewhere deeper within us than everyday consciousness, it may pick up some of the I on the way, but it’s headed out and it doesn’t look back.
It’s a service. We have been waiting, as a waiter waits in a restaurant until a patron needs water or their food, and when it’s ready, we bring it to them. And while we are serving, our focus is entirely on those whom we serve.
We meet their needs, we answer that of God within them, in our own style, of course. But our job is to feed the sheep, to deliver the bread of life, to offer living water. Not to share an anecdote and the nugget we took away from its experience.