Vocal Ministry: Who Calls? Whom Do We Serve?
September 25, 2018 § 1 Comment
Quakers are fond of saying that, when we let go of paid professional religious leadership, we did not get rid of the clergy, we got rid of the laity—that each of us is a minister. Or more accurately, that each of us is a potential minister. We become a minister when we answer the call to ministry, to service. For “minister” means servant and “ministry” means service.
For centuries, it has been the presumption that the calling to Quaker ministry comes from Jesus Christ and that it is him whom we serve.
Today, at least in the liberal branch, we no longer presume in this way. Some of us feel called by the spirit of Christ and serve the spirit of Christ with our ministry. Many of us—probably most of us—would not say that.
Yet the questions remain: By whom or by what, are we called? And whom do we serve? Or do we feel called, at all? Do we think of vocal ministry as service, in the first place?
The answers matter. They affect how seriously we take our vocal ministry (and our other ministries), and how we carry our ministry. And they affect how our meeting relates to our ministry.
When you believe you are called by Christ—or by God, however you might experience “God”—and that you are speaking the word of the Lord (however you might experience that), well, that’s serious business. You welcome help, oversight, discipline. Getting it wrong is bad news. And the meeting feels a similar responsibility.
On the other hand, if you think you are called by the Inner Light, or by “the Spirit”, this relative vagueness, this lack of personal relationship, confers upon your ministry a fair amount of latitude, in terms of both style and content.
And if you don’t think of vocal ministry as a calling at all; if you do not experience any caller at all, but only the kind of impulse to heartfelt sharing that characterizes worship sharing, then this latitude expands by an order of magnitude.
Without a caller, whom does one serve? If in our ministry we are not surrendering our will to God, to some Source that runs through our self along a different axis than that which defines the self, then we are left to serve—what? Each other? The meeting? Both are worthy of our service.
The problem is that when the message is defined by the self, the self attaches a tether to the message, a kind of friction that can hinder the spirit of service. The self wants to serve—itself. When it gets the upper hand, it might even undo the spirit of service altogether. We might not even think to ask ourselves before we rise to speak, whom does this serve, and how, and why?
Of course, these are dangers for the gospel minister—for someone who feels called by Christ—as well. That is why we used to record ministers (leave aside for now the real decay that eventually set in and prompted us to lay the practice down)—the meeting’s ministry was too important to leave to the self.
And isn’t it still?