When I arrived to my first business meeting at a Friends’ Church I had a very vague idea what to expect. The pastor of the church saw that a new person was attending and explained the process that we would be going through as we sat together and listened for the voice of the Holy Spirit together. After that meeting, the pastor invited us over to his house to have dinner and talk about our experience. This began a subtle discipleship process that gave me my basis for understanding the role of a released minister. Being a released minister is a challenging role that requires intentional listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit within and at its essence directs people back to the inward teacher so they may learn how to discern the Spirit’s voice for themselves. The key role of the released minister for me is that of filling in the gaps when through life circumstances or lack of training, people are having difficulty, or don’t know where to start, listening for God.
My goal in this writing is to articulate how I see myself fitting into the role of released minister and should not be taken as a prescription for how released ministry should function. The reality is that Friends ministry follows the gifting of each person as they are called to build up the community. I will begin with how I feel led to live out my call as a released minister. I will then briefly discuss the necessity of discerning the gifts of the community as we plan our weekly meetings, and will talk about my understanding of the ways gifting and authority to live out one’s call to build up the community work. Finally I will discuss my understanding of the ways Christ teaches those who listen as they live out their days.
Gilbert as a Released Minister
My primary gifting is displayed in the areas of relationship building and creating hospitable spaces. As a Quaker minister my goals are to help people build relationships with God and each other and to be a person that carries a welcoming peace that opens others up to the work of being taught by God. Some of the ways this will work out is through teaching others the tools of discernment, giving encouragement as the practice of listening grows difficult and giving people opportunities to exercise their gifts with appropriate support. I see the role of a released minister as that of a facilitator of others’ ministries, bringing people with similar concerns together with resources of the meeting to live well into and continue discerning their calls. In other words I am a combination of teacher, leader and supporter, relying heavily on the Holy Spirit and the relationships I have with my community to discern which role is called for at any given time.
Weekly Meetings, Gifting and Authority
In my experience as a released minister, I treasure the time of silence in the weekly meeting. In the silence I find my center from which I can speak and teach. Without the time of silence the meeting becomes stressful and more like a performance in which I MUST measure up. Silence is the center of worship and places me in the position of listening in dependence on Christ, our worship of the spirit. The rest of the meeting is dependent on the gifts of the community; if you have no musicians in the community then worship through music will be difficult, if you have graphic artists or dramatic artists, maybe their gifting is how God is calling the community to worship with emotion or “heart.” Since I am gifted in teaching I will enjoy leading the time of worship through the mind, either in sermon or discussion. All of these giftings of the community come together to build up our strength to worship through the lives we live outside of our weekly meetings. Having this kind of weekly meeting requires a commitment to listening and being in relationship beyond the weekly meeting time.
Micro-management is the most frustrating form of management for everyone involved, and is based on the manager’s lack of trust and need for control. When we as a community discern someone’s call to serve the community, it is imperative that we trust that the way someone tries to do the task is the way God designed them to do the task. We should always be ready to help people work through what worked well and what didn’t after they perform a task, but I find it important to give people authority to complete a task in the best way they are able with the tools that are available to them. When we give people freedom to be creative we can be surprised with what gets accomplished with little resources. Will there be failures? Of course! We are dealing with human beings who are imperfect. The probability of mistakes should not prevent us from giving people the freedom, authority or resources to try. The real failure is if we don’t learn the lessons from our mistakes and use those lessons to improve. To summarize: authority is given with the call, but that authority comes with the responsibility to submit to the analysis of God and the community at appropriate times over the course of the task or project.
The Present Teacher and the Released Minister
There is an underlying assumption to every word that has come before these: that Christ Jesus “has come to teach His people Himself.”
of George Fox</title></titles><pages>578
p.</pages><keywords><keyword>Fox, George, 1624-1691.</keyword></keywords><dates><year>1976</year></dates><pub-location>Richmond,
Pacific Univ Friends BX7795.F7 A2 1976 c.1 sN</call-num><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote>(Fox Journal of George Fox 1976 153) This assumption redefines the role of minister from one who proclaims the words of God to others to one who teaches others to hear the words of God themselves. In a very real way the released minister’s role is very much like that of a parent teaching their child to ride a bike. You explain the process, show the process, put training wheels on the bike, after some practice you take the training wheels off and run alongside to steady the bike, then you let go. Sometimes there are accidents and skinned knees to take care of, but there is nothing like seeing someone you walked beside listen without falling and actually get somewhere. My best act of teaching is modeling a life of listening to the present teacher, which is a task that requires relationships with Christ and others in my meeting that permeate my every day life.