Friends and pastors

Some Quaker thoughts follow.

My mind drifts back about 130 years. Kansas Yearly meeting was still growing, and everything was about to change. Back then, there were three appointed offices for ministry. The meetings recognized ministers (deacons), Elders (presbyters) and overseers. Ministers were usually recognized for their gift of spoken ministry, which they proved by giving spoken ministry over time. Elders encouraged vocal ministry, and provided accountability for ministers. Overseers were what a 21st century person might think of as a non-preaching visitation pastor, responsible the spiritual development of the meeting, making visits and speaking with the meeting’s attenders.

Friends had a tradition of writing traveling minutes, so ministers could travel with a concern. In the past there were numerous evangelists who traveled from place to place with a concern for the gospel. They would go and preach — many would make a confession, adding numbers so the overseers had new people to care for. Eventually the model changed. In 1880, Kansas Yearly Meeting’s discipline called for discipline against any meeting using hireling ministry, in 1903 the discipline seemed to assume that every monthly meeting would have a pastor… and it was clear that pastors were seen as a successor to the ‘minister’. Many things changed. In brief, Overseers were (over time) eliminated — or at least moved to oversee large areas and not individuals. Elders were kept, but reduced to a honorary title with no authority. Ministers became either very quiet, or very active depending on if they were given a pastorate. Likely worst of all, as the evangelists became pastors — traveling ministry became less and less common. Meetings became more and more isolated — and small meetings were no longer nurtured but allowed to die. Soon after pastors were introduced, Kansas Yearly meeting began to shrink.

Of course, a pastor is very useful. Visitation and spiritual direction are vital parts of the ministry — however the wrong people became pastors. Instead of releasing overseers, we bound evangelists. We did not consider the person’s gifts for pastoral ministry but instead the gifts for spoken ministry. Most often — the best speakers are not the best persons to provide individual spiritual direction.

I submit the following proposals to pastoral meetings:

#1: Rethink the role of the pastoral ministry
: Consider that Pastor is Latin for shepherd — it is the role of the pastor to lead, feed, and protect sheep. The pastoral ministry is not about standing above the sheep — it is about wandering in the same mud as they, and finding what is needed to sustain life. Consider being an Overseer more than a minister. When evaluating performance, sermons should not be considered. The pastor is responsible for the spiritual health of the flock, not for preaching.

#2: Equip and build a core of strong elders who are able nurture and judge wisely

#3: Raise up ministers
: Friends ministry has always hoped for more than one voice in a meeting. The skills necessary to give solid vocal ministry is simply enough devotion to grow mature in Christ. Friends lose much when we ignore our heritage of an open free ministry — we lose the very genius of Friends worship that encourages every member to grow into maturity, so that each can minister to the others.

#4: Write traveling minutes
: We need to rebuild our relationships with our neighboring meetings. The larger meetings with many strong ministers need to prayerfully consider how they can give ministry and aid to the smaller meetings that might be struggling. The traveling ministry both helps smaller meetings, and helps build communications and fellowship throughout the Religious Society.

I offer these modest proposals to any who would wish to consider them. I think we can, with though, recapture much of what we lost in the 20th century and rebuild a stable ministry that nurtures people as they grow into Christs image.


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