Released ministry is more than just a buzzword to me; it represents being provided the financial freedom to reach out more intentionally to the community outside the church with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not primarily to serve as a chaplain, though that is a part of it as well, but to serve as a spiritual usher who helps people find their place in the family of God. Ministry is something for all believers, yet some are called to be empowered financially by the church so their service will be even more effective. I feel called to serve in this way.
Philosophy of Role
The role of a pastor in a Friends congregation is not the model of a “sage on a stage” but more of a “guide alongside” approach. I see this role as not only equipping the body to do effective ministry and teaching, but as helping God to make and draw in new Christians to the body personally, so that continued discipleship in the community can take place. What I see as distinctly Quaker about this is that the pastor in this kind of released ministry is not only equipping others and empowering them to do ministry (in the usual pedagogic model), but also interacting outside the church buildings and circles personally, in the same way I hope to be equipping the congregation to do. I do not see released ministry as “leashed” ministry, i.e. doing certain things so the congregation does not have to, but as freedom to do even more of the same types of things the congregation is supposed to be doing and equipping them to do these things better.
Authority stems from responsibility, and responsibility from love. I want to empower responsible people to steward authority, and the only way to do that is to share the authority they need to succeed at what they are responsible for. Micro-management is not in the job description of a Friends Pastor. I plan to educate and equip committees, other groups, and individuals to understand the broad ways that they are free to make decisions and take actions, as well as communicate with the other groups within the body in an interdependent way.
The Priority of Christ as Teacher
I will admit I barely grasp the mystery of Christ’s present teaching of the body in relation to specific areas of implementation and function as of yet. Christ is the head of His church. Many within the church know Him as their Present Teacher and some do not. Many are faithful to His teachings and commands, while some are not. My hope, wish, and expectation is to help reveal the faith of the faithful to the unfaithful, within and without; to bring people to a place of submission and obedience to Christ’s present will in their lives. I desire that the Present Christ will help the body function in a spirit of unity and love that draws people in and challenges them to respond to Jesus. My hope is that what God does in the hearts of His people on Sunday morning will only be a small part of what God is also doing with, through and in them during the rest of the week in its tragedies, triumphs and mundane moments.
Philosophy of Worship
Worship is a blend of both pre-decided and spontaneous movements of the Spirit. At times, the Spirit will spontaneously—even drastically—alter what seemed like the way God was leading up to that point. Whether it is a sermon, a song, or an aspect of vocal ministry, I want to be in tune with God’s will and constantly developing such good spiritual reflexes in myself, and the congregation, that Christ will aid us in His own worship. This means that the plans I make will be held loosely and that the church body will be taught to do the same with their expectations.
Helping to facilitate worship in a distinctly Friends way seems historically to be one of encouraging those in the body to partake of the deeper realities of the spiritual walk, and to do this corporately. Not everyone comes to a place where they will fully appreciate the practice of silence, and unfortunately, that is a reality. Even as I deeply love silence, I feel that—like the forced liturgies the Friends once critiqued—silence can easily become a dead ritual if we do not continue to teach about its nature and embrace ways people can go deeper in waiting and listening corporately. Surely, the stewardship of silence means more to Friends than offering a pamphlet to the newcomer, it needs to be an invitation to the opportunity to be discipled.
Often, the concepts of music and worship have become so entwined that people cannot conceive of one as possible without the other, to our detriment. I hope as a Quaker pastor to expand the bounds of worship beyond this. If a congregation is not very musical let them not guilt people into serving by singing every time there is a meeting. On the other hand, I also feel we have not harnessed the unifying power of music to its full potential. I hope to foster a spirit where new songs can rise up from within our congregations and empower creative people to find new ways to worship God that fit our context. I want to encourage people to steward music in ways that best build up the body and reach outside of it. The hymns we now often cling to were once written as much to bring theology into the coal mines, as to the pews. I want to recapture that vision in Friends worship.
I love the Quaker understanding that vocal ministry is shared by all, and the encouragement of such ministry to take place. I also desire everyone to listen to God and speak from that experience in obedience, yet I do not see prepared sermons necessarily as a threat to this. Regular Sunday preaching has become a reliable vehicle of God’s movement and a very intentional part of discipleship for us. I hope to stretch people’s expectations and push them to listen and respond in the moment as well as in the developing of formal preaching. It would be silly not to recognize that some people have gifts in preaching and teaching and will tend to use those gifts more than others. I want to make room for both of these, and empower both of these types of vocal ministry, neglecting neither.
Looking back at what I have written here, it is hard to tell how “Quaker” it really is. Perhaps some of its “Quakerness” lies in its simplicity. I am clearly a product of my time, place, and culture, as well as the programmed system. I have however, experienced the depth of Quaker discipleship, and it has led me to an understanding that all Quakers are actually pastors. The problem is perhaps that they have not yet realized it. Perhaps that is what released ministry needs to be about in our time. Mine will be a journey of rediscovering the roots that bore the fruits I now enjoy, and inviting others to do the same.