Vocal Ministry—Some Questions Toward a Profile

January 17, 2019 § 1 Comment

I know I keep coming back to our problems with vocal ministry, but it really weighs heavily on my soul.

I can’t tell how widespread the problem is, but I fear that many of our meetings are in a crisis regarding their vocal ministry. I know mine is. Friends have stopped attending meeting for worship because the vocal ministry drives them nuts. I’ve done this twice myself in the past few months.

I don’t yet have any answers to this problem, but I do have some questions, and I’m hoping that airing these questions out loud, as it were, here in this blog, might unlock something, in myself and/or in my readers. I am praying for a breakthrough.

With the questions that follow, I hope to profile the problem.

What? What is happening?

Lots of worship sharing. Some harangues. Personal opinions, basically stand-up blog posts. Appeals for help. Demands for attention. Musings and anecdotes from the speaker’s past week. Hand-wringing about the state of our society and especially of our politics. A dearth of the Spirit and of the spirit of service.


A lot. Cascades of shallow, jarring, or merely personal messages filling the hour, especially the twenty or so minutes before the children come in ten minutes before rise of meeting. But also, unnervingly often, in the first twenty minutes, before we’ve had a good chance to settle and while the latecomers are still trickling in.


In loud, commanding voices. In voices so soft that even the only moderately hearing-impaired like me can’t hear it. Mostly quite confident; not much humility.


Lots of relative newcomers. Some more seasoned Friends. Rarely from our most seasoned elders.


I suspect that some of the relative newcomers simply have not yet been fully baptized in the Spirit. Also, they have learned what’s appropriate ministry by osmosis and that means that the current predominance of weak vocal ministry in the meeting makes it look like that’s what’s appropriate. It’s an unvirtuous circle, a feedback loop.

The disquiet that this culture creates in the more seasoned members and the sheer frequency of messages work together to suppress the ministry we might get from more seasoned Friends, so we hear fewer models of more Spirit-led ministry. It’s a feedback loop.

Some people seem desperate for a platform, for the sense of having been heard, for being known in a deeper way than is available in the rest of their lives.

And finally, our current culture of ministry continues because our worship and ministry committees are paralyzed, unable to address the problem for various reasons. I want to get deeper into this last problem in my next post.

§ One Response to Vocal Ministry—Some Questions Toward a Profile

  • Don Badgley says:

    The questions and concerns Steven raises in this blog are most familiar and are reflective of a malaise that is found in nearly every meeting I have attended. The inability or unwillingness of our Ministry and Counsel/Worship Committees to labor in this concern is but one aspect of the problem. In a recent article I wrote that was published in the NY Yearly Meeting newsletter, Spark, I shared a story of a non-Friend who characterized Friends as a “social justice club.” Inappropriate messages are reflective of that truth.

    Part of the “feedback” loop is the product of a profound lack of understanding of what meeting for worship is intended to be. That lack falls at the feet of the meeting’s seasoned elders, worship committees and clearness committees for membership. In my meeting we have the same problems that have been described, and our M&C committee is very cautious to address inappropriate vocal messages from new or even more seasoned Friends lest we stifle them or even drive them away. We are cautioned to be gentle and listen for the Light even in secular messages. It is believed that even the most gentle counsel could hurt or offend.

    My recommendation is two-fold. First, we must set an example. Truly Lighted ministry, arising in the Spirit is so obviously different than “what I did this week” that it also quiets the instinct to offer self-centered, worldly and ego-driven messages. This can be done proactively by encouraging Friends who have that capacity to share it. A Spirit led ministry early in the worship can set a powerful tone and gather the meeting. Also, it is well within Quaker tradition to “bring a message.”

    Second, I recommend the meetings hold special gatherings to raise member’s awareness of the concern. Several Friends who have the gifts of ministry could facilitate such a gathering to remind everyone what meeting for worship is, should be and can be. My meeting calls these Friendly Discussions, often held as worship sharing at rise of worship. That format poses no risk of singling anyone out and can be instructive to all.

    The common tradition of the children returning to worship 10 minutes before rise of meeting should be considered again. Their happy arrival effectively ends the spirit of worship that may have just begun. In most meetings the body has not settled for 15 minutes because of latecomers. That phenomenon combined with the children’s return creates a 35-minute meeting. The tyranny of the clock is as deadly as poorly led messages.

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