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QuakerSpring: A New Creation

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
– Isaiah 60:1-2

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
– Romans 8:22-23

God continues to surprise me. All the Holy Spirit has to do is blow through, and I am back to square one; the sand castles that I have built are swept away by the tide, and I am left without fortifications before God. I suppose it could be frustrating to realize that most of the things I had been worrying about for months do not really matter. But all I feel is joy.

I see with stunning clarity that God is not like me at all. Though I am characterized by grasping and self-centeredness, God’s character is one of self-giving, healing and mercy. God’s presence is power to receive forgiveness, and to be remade in the image of Christ.

This presence and power was very much in evidence this past week at the sixth annual gathering of QuakerSpringin Barnesville, Ohio. QuakerSpring is a unique, Spirit-led retreat that was conceived as an alternative to the frantic programming of some other Quaker gatherings. Rather than planning the schedule ahead of time, each day’s agenda is set out according to the group’s sense of the Spirit’s leading.Rooted in deep worship and shared discernment, QuakerSpring unfolds according to the community’s sense of God’s call.

I was surprised by the spiritual intensity we experienced this year. There was a palpable sense of connection to God, but also an awareness of spiritual darkness. At the heart of our time together was a deep sense of our human brokeness, and of Christ’s presence within, calling us to deeper faithfulness. Our spiritual burdens felt like a heavy weight, but as we sat together in Christ’s presence, much of this darkness was revealed, brought into the light, and purified in the Refiner’s Fire. Both individually and as a group, we experienced real transformation.

During QuakerSpring, I personally became more aware of the burdens I had been carrying. I saw more clearly that I was struggling with a spirit of anxiety and confusion around issues of financial security and support. I was so caught up in worry about the future that I had lost sight of my present Ground and Source, Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, an elder was able to name what was happening. She expressed her sense that the Adversary was loose in our midst. When she said this, I knew immediately that it was true. I perceived the spirit of confusion and anxiety for what it was – a spirit that was not from God – and I felt an immediate release. In what felt like a miraculous moment of spiritual house-cleaning, the darkness, confusion and anxiety cleared out of me. I give praise to God for using this elder to name what was happening, and to reveal the dynamics at play that were keeping me in bondage.

One thing that struck me this week was the prominence of what I would describe as almost “charismatic” expressions of faith. The reality of darkness and evil emerged as major themes of our worship and conversation. At the same time, there was a deep sense of Christ’s inward power that is breaking out of forms and structures and transforming us in ways that we could never have predicted. God is doing a new thing, though it is still unclear what this new creation will look like.

As someone who has been involved in QuakerSpring since the first gathering in 2007, this year felt like a turning point. I have always valued QuakerSpring as a chance to rest in the Spirit and grow in community. I saw QuakerSpring as a vacation from the hard work of ministry in the wider world. This year, however, I had a growing sense that God has a broader purpose for this gathering. What if QuakerSpring is more than a spiritual refuge? What if God is using QuakerSpring as an engine of renewal and rebirth for the Religious Society of Friends?

Everything in the Religious Society of Friends seems to be falling apart right now. Yearly Meetings are splitting, and old venerable institutions are in decline. Many of our Meetings are in states of crisis, and there is a general sense that we don’t really know what to do. We are at a loss for how to respond to our present circumstances. At QuakerSpring, I experience a community that is grounded in the Spirit, listening and seeking to be obedient to the voice of Jesus Christ within. This is the kind of community that I want to be a part of. It is a kind of Quakerism that could truly be relevant for 21st-century post-modern America.

QuakerSpring represents the unique meeting of Christian (or Christian-curious) Liberal Friends and Conservative Friends who seek a more vibrant and flexible Christian faith. I learned in high school biology that hybrids are often much stronger than “pure breeds.” Could this new community – this mutt of branch lineages united in the Spirit of Christ – find a voice and a witness that speaks to the needs of modern-day North America? How is God teaching us to contextualize the truth that early Friends re-discovered in our own – dramatically different – context? How might we move forward with our Guide?

There are no easy answers. While many of us wish there were some sort of “technical” solution for the challenges facing the Religious Society of Friends today, I am convinced that there is no quick fix that will produce faithfulness and awareness of God’s presence and power. Rather than developing a technique or a process, God is gathering a people.

QuakerSpring is not an abstract model or process that can simply be exported. This is not something that we can manage or control. Rather, QuakerSpring is apeople who are being knitted together in God’s love and power. Based on my experience of QuakerSpring, I am more convinced than ever that rebirth within the Church will not be the result of our human plans and strategies. There is a new creation that we can sense, and Christ himself is creating it.

Have you experienced the Spirit drawing a new community together? What does it feel like on the growing edge of a faith tradition? Where is the intersection between what God is doing in each of us individually, and the ways that God is at work in the Body as a whole? How do we give this new creation space to breathe and develop, avoiding the temptation to suffocate it with our own ideas and agendas?

Sing and rejoice ye children of the day and the light; for the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt: and the Truth doth flourish as the rose, and lilies do grow among the thorns and the plants atop the hills, and upon them the lambs doth skip and play. 
– George Fox

I Will Remember

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2

Tomorrow is the day that the Christian community celebrates Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. It was on Pentecost that the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s coming united the early Christians at the deepest level, in a living experience of God’s presence and power. They were transformed from a loose collection of individuals into a new creation, a vibrant community that was of one heart and one mind. Jesus sent the Spirit of Truth, just as he promised, and this Spirit-filled human community became his continuing presence in the world, the Body of Christ.

This year, the celebration of Pentecost falls on Memorial Day weekend. This unusual alignment of these two days of remembrance has spurred me to do some thinking about the relationship between Memorial Day and Pentecost. The former is traditionally a celebration in remembrance of those who have given their lives in military service, while the latter commemorates the in-pouring of God’s Spirit into the world. Many Christians will celebrate these two days side by side, without any sense of contradiction.

I cannot do that. As a Quaker, I believe that when Jesus Christ disarmed his disciples in Gethsemane, he disarmed the Church. I believe that when Jesus died on the cross, he set an example for those who would follow him – taking on suffering rather than inflicting it, blessing those who curse us. As a follower of the Crucified Savior, I must remember the martyrs – those who sacrificed their own lives, possesssions and comfort in order to demonstrate God’s love to a world in pain. This Memorial Day, I will remember the faithful servants who have gone before, joining Jesus in blazing the trail that I now walk.

I will remember those like Stephen, who was put to death for his witness to Christ’s love and justice. I will give thanks to God for the faithful service of Paul of Tarsus, Francis of Assisi, George Fox, James Nayler, Edward Burrough, Margaret Fell, Tom Fox, and all those who have suffered for the Truth. Whether by a martyr’s death or simply through handing their entire lives over to the work of Christ in the world, they paid the ultimate price for their faith.

I will remember the way that so many have laid down their own privilege and comfort to serve the poor and the lost. And I will remember how I was one of those lost ones. I will give thanks for the grace these servants of God showed, loving me in spite of all the ways I pushed them away.

I will remember Dorothy Craven, who lived a life of simple faithfulness and gentle love for all people. I praise God for the way she laid aside her comfort and walked in faith with the Friends of Jesus commmunity in Wichita, Kansas. She served as an elder to us, a mother in the gospel. She introduced me to the writings of Thomas Kelly and taught me Algebra, even though I was probably the most frustrating student she ever had. She loved me when I did not deserve it. She believed in me when there was no good reason to do so. She was Jesus to me.

Dorothy has now joined that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds me. Sitting at Jesus’ right hand, these faithful witnesses call me forward. They spur me to greater courage and vulnerability in love. They are my heroes, and I experience them as being somehow, mysteriously alive in the Spirit that unites us. This Memorial Day, I will remember these holy ones who stand, unarmed, by the throne of God. Together with Jesus, they call me into a life of fearless love and peace. This Pentecost, I will celebrate the Holy Spirit that unites us beyond life and death.

Who are the witnesses that call you forward?

Ministers and Elders Retreat in Barnesville

This weekend, Faith and I traveled out to southeastern Ohio to attend a retreat for Friends with a call to gospel ministry or eldership. The retreat was held at the Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting, near Stillwater Meeting House.

Our facilitators for the weekend were Brian Drayton and Jan Hoffman, both ministers from New England Yearly Meeting, and Eric and SusanSusan Smith, an elder from Ohio Yearly Meeting. I really appreciated their work in helping us reflect on the distinctions between ministry and eldership. I was especially glad for their willingness to examine how these mysterious gifts manifest uniquely in each person. For the most part, we stayed away from one-size-fits-all definitions and sought to understand how God’s gifts were at work in each of our lives.

Besides our leaders, there were twenty of us in attendance – the maximum capacity for Friends Center. Six attenders were from Ohio Yearly Meeting, four from New England Yearly Meeting and three from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The rest of us came from Baltimore, Illinois, Western, New York, Canadian and Pacific Yearly Meetings, as well as a Friend from Alaska Friends Noah and JimConference. There was a wide range of experience represented. Some of us were seasoned Friends with decades of ministry/eldership experience, while others of us were still still emerging in our gifts. Some attended as a part of the process of discernment of calling and gifting.

I felt blessed to gather with Friends from a wide range of Yearly Meeting backgrounds under the explicitly Christian auspices of Ohio Yearly Meeting. While there were certainly a variety of perspectives and understandings present, it felt like we were brought together in Christ Jesus. Over the course of the weekend, we received God’s word in our hearts and heard substantial, grounded vocal ministry. We were strengthened and deepened in our common walk of Christian discipleship. We received wisdom and teaching as we continue to seek God’s purpose for our lives.

In our meeting for worship on Saturday evening, I felt that the word of the Lord to the group was that we are called to theBrian and Elaine baptism of fire that John the Baptist proclaimed and that Jesus offers us. We were reminded that we are born of water and given spirit/breath by our Creator. After these baptisms of water and spirit comes the baptism of fire, which is a spiritual circumcision. The baptism of fire is a cutting, a stripping down and cleansing of all rebellion and ungodliness. It is a baptism into holiness.

While we were called to pass through the crucible of inward spiritual baptism and crucifixion of self-will, we were also reminded that dying to self is the beginning of new life in Christ. We were exhorted to rememberJoe and Cathy that the good news of Jesus Christ is not the fire, but the life, joy and peace that lies beyond it. As ministers and elders, we are called to act as midwives to the birthing of new, everlasting life in the Spirit.

I was grateful to have the opportunity to be present at this gathering of Friends. Over the course of the weekend, the Holy Spirit worked on my heart, bringing me to a clearer understanding of my own spiritual condition. In particular, I became even more aware of my own need to be humbled and yielded to Christ’s lordship. I was shown that I am called to greater singleness of purpose in my life.

For years, I have run myself ragged, seeking to accomplish more, do more, be more. But this weekend the Lord deepened my understanding of what Christ asks of me. I saw that God desires not achievement but submission. The Spirit calls me to not greatness but yieldedness. To walk in the way of Jesus is to embrace not human honor and glory but anonymous love and self-sacrifice. I am convicted that my anxiety is a sign of my sin, not of Jan Hoffmanmy diligence. I am called to simple, childlike trust. Worry is not a part of God’s plan for me, because the power of the Lord is indeed over all.

I am grateful for the work of the organizers this weekend, and for all of the ministers and elders who traveled to be with us. I give thanks for the powerful ways that God has moved among us, and for Jesus’ resurrected presence in our midst. He continues to teach us, and I pray for the grace to yield to his instruction. I can trust his word to me. I know he loves me. My only job is to love him back, and share that love with others.

Missional Quaker Faith: Organic Growth

We read in the Book of Acts that, in the days and weeks following the coming of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, a tiny, rag-tag, mostly clueless band of disciples grew into a movement that was felt all across Jerusalem. People were being healed, lives were being changed, and a new community was taking shape where everything they owned was dedicated to the mission of glorifying God and proclaiming Jesus Christ. “And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”(1)

Since those early days, we have seen this pattern replayed again and again wherever women and men have received the Holy SpiritOn a bus to the World Gathering of Young Friends, 2005 and lived into God’s call for their time and place. The early Quaker movement is a prime example. Signs of spiritual power were common; the Holy Spirit was felt and obeyed by the community as a whole; and the growth in numbers and in spiritual maturity of the Religious Society of Friends was meteoric. Within a matter of decades, Friends transformed the religious landscape of the English-speaking world.

There have been many other movements that have exhibited the vigor and charisma of the early Church, including the Wesleyan and Pentecostal movements. And we can expect to see more such movements of the Holy Spirit in the future, because Christ is ready to lead all who will open their hearts to him and live into the Kingdom-life. He stands at the door and knocks.(2)

When we let Christ lead us directly, we see the reemergence of the apostolic Church. We witness remarkablePeople in the streets in Richmond, Indiana energy and dynamism when all of the gifts of the Spirit find expression in the community of faith; and the full exercise and expression of the gift of apostleship is instrumental in creating an environment where all the other gifts can flourish.(3)

Each of the gift-clusters represented by the traditional offices of the Quaker Meeting have an important role to play in grounding our communities in the Life of Christ. The prophetic gospel minister calls us to repentance and new depths of openness before God; the elder nurtures our spiritual life, encouraging us when we are discouraged and correcting us when we miss the mark; and the overseer cares for our needs and helps us to resolve conflict. Yet, without fully embracing the gift of apostleship, this sturdy triad can devolve into a self-serving institution that cares for itself more than it does for the mission that we are called to in Christ.

However, when we receive and empower the gift of apostleship that the Spirit provides to our communities, we unleash God’s intentionYoung Adult Quakers at Beacon Hill Conference Center for us as the Church. Where before we were self-focused, God gives us a heart for serving others. Where we were comfortable, God creates in us a discomfort that can only be relieved by justice and righteous living. Where before we isolated ourselves from those around us, God calls us to reach out.

When we have embraced the apostolic gift that God sends among us, we are transformed as a community, because we realize that our community exists for God’s mission, not the other way around. Alan Hirsch observes that a disciple-community living into its apostolic gifting has four traits:

  • It has the ethos of a movement, rather than an institution
  • It spreads like a virus, via an “incarnational” model rather than an “attractional” model
  • It forms new communities that are reproducing and reproducible
  • As it grows, it takes on the structure of a network of communities (4)



A Movement Ethos


Lets take a look at each of these points briefly. First, a community that is living into fullness in Christ will generate a movement ethos,Young Adult Friends at the World Gathering of Young Friends in England, 2005 rather than an institutional one. While institutions focus primarily on self-perpetuation, movements focus on mission. Institutions most highly value results that can be concretely measured, while movements are most concerned about being faithful to how the Holy Spirit is leading. Institutions are based in rules and procedures, while movements are primarily based in relationships and vision. On a fundamental level, institutions believe that they are the answer, but an apostolic movement believes that Jesus Christ is the answer.

Virus-like growth and the Incarnational Model


Next, a community that has embraced and embodied the Spirit’s call will spread like a virus. Many commentators have pointed out that for the past fifteen hundred years or so the Church has been functioning in an imperial, “attractional” mode. The attractional model assumes that the wider society is Christian, and that the role of the Church is to be the gathering place for that established Christian society. It is questionable whether this was ever a good model, but it is clearly increasingly irrelevant in our post-Christendom context in the West. The wider society is no longer even nominally Christian, and the Church is being forced to reengage the world on an even playing field with other religious and secular perspectives.

In our present context – which is similar to the context of the early Church in many ways – the most faithful way for us to be theRenaissance House, in Richmond, Indiana Church is by living into an “incarnational” model. In this understanding of the Church, our role as followers of Jesus is to embody the love of God in the wider world – in our work, at school, and in our neighborhoods. Instead of expecting the world to come to us, we must engage with the world on its own terms, serving as witnesses to the love of Christ.

When we live into our apostolic gifting as followers of the Way, we should expect to grow, not by bringing our neighbors into the long-established church institutions that our parents and grandparents set up, but by establishing new fellowships in the contexts of the people we are called to partner with. Just as Jesus entered into our context to show God’s love for us, we must abandon our comfort and privilege, entering into the life and struggles of the communities that surround us. When we humble ourselves and learn from our neighbors, co-workers and classmates, we will come to understand how the Lord is already working in their hearts, and we will be able to partner with the action of the Holy Spirit to establish new communities of disciples in the way of Jesus.

Reproducing and Reproducible Communities


When we do form new discipling fellowships, an apostolic movement will give birth to communities that are reproducing and reproducible.New life in Costa Rica That is to say, the ultimate goal of new churches is not to establish huge institutional structures that can self-perpetuate for generations to come, regardless of the will of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, our goal is to embed sound teaching and practice in the new groups, so that they will in turn embody Christ’s love in their own contexts. The result of a Spirit-led movement is not to gather huge numbers of people into one community, but instead to seed our towns and cities with many, many small fellowships that can embody the Gospel and make disciples in a wide variety of contexts.

Apostolic communities will tend to be small, local and simple. Faith in Jesus will be expressed in a variety of ways, and each community will have its own unique character and gifting. They will be seeded with sound teaching and practice, and they will ultimately bear fruit by passing this gift on in the form of new disciple-communities that they will help raise up. In a Holy Spirit movement, each small group bears within it the seeds of many new communities; forming new churches and making disciples in new contexts should be an explicit objective of these fellowships from the beginning.

Network Structures


With all of these small groups spreading out and sharing the Gospel throughout cities, regions and nations, it is crucial that as theA network of flowers movement grows it take on the structure of a network of communities. Just as individuals benefit from relationships of support and accountability with local fellowships, local churches are far more likely to be healthy and balanced when they are a part of a larger community of churches. The relationships between individuals, communities and networks is reciprocal and constitute an ongoing conversation of discernment and deep listening to how the Spirit is leading individuals, local groups, and the movement as a whole.

For Friends, our movement-wide network has traditionally taken the form of a system of local churches (Monthly Meetings), regional bodies (Quarterly Meetings) and super-regional bodies (Yearly Meetings). I believe that this traditional model can still function, though it is obvious that many of our present-day structures have become overly-institutionalized and sometimes unresponsive to Christ’s guidance. We do well to reexamine all of our structures in light of how we are being called to serve in the movement of the Holy Spirit in this generation.

As we embrace the gifts of apostleship that God sends to our communities, we will be strengthened and energized across local,Young Adult Friends at the World Gathering of Young Friends in England, 2005 regional, and national boundaries. The vigor and enthusiasm of local communities will become infectious, giving birth to new churches and networks of churches that are dedicated to living for Christ in the world. Through a radical embrace of the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, we will be empowered to turn our focus to the wider world, seeking to serve others and to make Christ’s Kingdom visible to the wider world.

1. See Acts 2
2. See Revelation 3:20
3. Here, I am particularly indebted to the articulation of Alan Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Brazos Press, 2006.)
4. Hirsch covers this in his chapter on Organic Systems in The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Brazos Press, 2006.)

Resources for Further Study:


Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, Brazos Press, 2006.

Missional Quaker Faith – Visionary Leadership

We have talked a great deal about our mission as Christian fellowships, but how do these communities form in the first place, and what sustains them? Most fundamentally, of course, the Spirit of Christ gathers us and holds us together in unity by his grace and power. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”(1) But, as revealed by this same passage of Scripture, God does use men and women to nurture the Seed that God sows in every heart and every culture.

As members of the Body of Christ, each of us is given gifts by the Spirit that are meant to build up the body as a whole. There are aFriends at QuakerSpring, 2010 wide variety of spiritual gifts that are explicitly mentioned in Scripture(2), ranging from the apparently mundane (administration and generosity) to the spectacular (speaking in tongues and healing). The church needs a diversity of gifts, and each community that seeks after God’s will is given the spiritual resources that it needs to be faithful in the work God calls it to.

The Three Traditional Offices of Friends


Among Quakers, there have traditionally been three offices that have been formally recognized: Gospel ministers, elders and overseers. Each one of these roles is made possible by the gifts that Christ bestows on his Church. Let us briefly examine each of these offices, to learn what Friends tradition might have to teach us about the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ.

Gospel Ministers


In many Christian groups, “ministry” has been held to be the function of only a small priestly class of men. However, Quakers radically redefine the prevailing assumptions about what ministry means, and who can perform it. Because Friends believe that Christ is present and active in everyone who submits to him, all Christians are ministers in a certain sense. God’s calling for each woman and man becomes his or her ministry, his or her way of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

In addition to this general ministry to which everyone is called, Friends also acknowledge that there is a particular ministry to whichBrian McLaren preaching at Transform, 2010 only some are called and gifted. We call this “gospel ministry,” to distinguish it from all the other kinds of ministry to which Christians are called. Superficially, the gospel ministry bears some resemblance to the Protestant understanding of ministry. But only superficially. While the Protestant minister has primarily a priestly or pastoral role, the Quaker gospel minister is a prophet.

The role and gifting of the gospel minister is to reveal the word of God through inspired preaching, teaching and personal example. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the gospel minister calls attention to the presence of Christ in our midst, and calls the community to repentance and transformation. The woman or man who is called to gospel ministry cries out with Jeremiah, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention [the Lord] or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”(3) Of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Paul’s letters, those that are most necessary to a gospel minister are: Exhortation, prophecy, teaching and discernment.(4)

Elders


The second traditional office among Friends is that of elder. Elders are above all concerned to care for the depth of the spiritual life of the Church. This care extends both to the meetings for worship, as well as to providing support and accountability for gospel ministers.

In the New Testament, the word “elder” seems to be rather vague – referring generally to respected leadership within a religious/ethnic community. It seems that it was an equally vague term among the early Friends in the mid-1600s; but within a generation or two, the office of elder had come to have a very specific meaning and function.(5)

Among Friends, elders are recognized for their special gifting in discernment and intercessory prayer. They are of particular help toAn Elder of Rockingham Monthly Meeting those who are exploring new spiritual gifts and are finding their place in the Body. They are also of great help to seasoned gospel ministers, who rely on elders for their wisdom and spiritual grounding. Above all, the special calling of the elder is to hear how the Word of God is speaking in the midst of the gathered community, and, through ongoing prayer, to nurture the conditions for the Word to be received in every heart. Of the spiritual gifts that are described in the New Testament, those that stand out as crucial to an elder are: Teaching, discernment, faith, knowledge, and wisdom.

Overseers


The role of the overseer is, as the name suggests, to keep watch over the disciple-community, making sure that everyone’s needs are being met. The earliest example of overseers being named can be found in Acts 6, where the Apostles ask that the growing Church in Jerusalem choose for themselves, “seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” who could be appointed to supervise the daily distribution of food and other resources among the believers.(6) The role of these seven original overseers was to make sure that the needs of everyone in the community were met.

The role of overseers among Friends has been slightly more expanded from the original instructions to the first overseers.(7)Wess prepping the barbeque at Camas Friends Church While the elders care especially for the meeting for worship, as well as for gospel ministers, overseers are primarily concerned with the material, emotional, and interpersonal needs of the community. Pastoral care, informal spiritual counseling and conflict resolution are a major components of the work of the overseers. Of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture, some that are particularly relevant to the work of the overseers are: Mercy, generosity, service, administration, helps, and hospitality.

The Gift of Apostleship


Examining the traditional triad of Quaker leadership, there is an elegant symmetry and balance to its structure. Gospel ministersAfter Meeting at Chestnut Ridge Meeting House challenge and expose the community to the Light of Christ, calling for repentance and changed lives. Elders hold the gospel ministers accountable and ensure that the community is fully grounded in the love, truth and peace of Jesus Christ. And Overseers ensure that, while the gospel ministers and elders are busy attending to the spiritual depth and integrity of the local church, the physical and emotional needs of the members are not neglected.

And when our communities are healthy, this basic model can work. Gospel ministers, elders and overseers work together to build up the Body and equip us to do the ministry that each one is called to. This threefold equipping ministry forms a vibrant core from which a wide variety of other ministries can emerge and remain grounded in Christ.

But as we look around today, we see that most of our church communities are not healthy. Even in those few communities thatIllinois Yearly Meeting Sessions have maintained the traditional offices, the theory often fails to work out in practice. What is missing? I will suggest that while the spiritual gift clusters represented by the offices of gospel minister, elder and overseer are vital and necessary to the life of our communities, the Church as a whole cannot flourish without the gift of apostleship.

Apostleship can be a confusing word. For many, it is inextricably linked with the original twelve Apostles, and Paul – the unofficial “thirteenth Apostle.” To apply this word to believers today might seem out of place. Who would call themselves an “apostle” in this day and age? If the word “apostle” puts unnecessary barriers in the way of sharing the Gospel, then it may be best to avoid applying the title to women and men today. Nevertheless – the gift of apostleship is desperately needed by the Church today. We cannot do without it.

In Scripture, an apostle is simply “one who is sent.” Apostles are messengers, guided by the Holy Spirit and bringing the good newsJay Marshall, and others from Earlham School of Religion, in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico of Christ Jesus to the people. Apostleship as a spiritual gift is clearly embodied by the ministry of Paul. Paul had an ongoing ministry to disciple-communities across the Mediterranean, nurturing new churches, counseling established ones, and overseeing a number of ministers who worked with him to establish the Church in a variety of local contexts. Paul had a vision for the early Church, given to him by Christ, and he pursued this vision with every ounce of his strength. His gift was to help give shape and direction to a movement, spanning geography, culture and ethnicity. Everything he did was for the building up of the Body of Christ, and for developing and strengthening a network of believers that spanned continents.

The gift of apostleship is essential to unlocking the God-given potential of the Church, and it is at the heart of what missional Quaker faith looks like. The major concern of the apostolic gift is mission itself. Specifically, marks of apostolic ministry include:

  • Establishing new Christ-centered communities across geographical, linguistic, cultural and religious barriers.
  • Maintaining a sense of movement-wide dynamics and fostering the development of interlacing networks that empower local communities to reach beyond themselves.
  • Seeing the “big picture”; thinking strategically and coordinating preparations across the movement for the plans that God has in store.
  • Encouraging established congregations to plant new fellowships and to get outside of themselves and set their sights on serving the wider world – both locally and globally.
  • Serving as guardian for the teaching of the Church; ensuring that the core message of Jesus Christ is being embodied in word and in deed in the local churches and in the movement as a whole.

Clearly, if this gift of apostleship is absent from our communities, we are missing a dynamic component of the Spirit’s gifting. WithoutAdult Education at Heartland Friends Meeting, Wichita, Kansas recognizing, embracing and empowering the apostolic gifts among us, we are doomed to remain in a downward spiral of unreflective, self-centered ministry that ultimately results in the disintegration of the Body of Christ. We have witnessed this decline in the Religious Society of Friends in the West during the last half-century, and this trend is equally clear in the mainline Protestant denominations in North America.

But what if we embraced the gifts in our midst? They are there, after all; for God does not call us to anything that we are not equipped by the Holy Spirit to accomplish. What would it look like if we allowed Christ to transform us from settled, mostly self-serving communities into a Spirit-led movement that broke down cultural, ethnic, class and social barriers? What would we become if we laid down everything – even the Church as we know it – to follow Jesus?

1. 1 Corinthians 3:6
2. For the three major “lists,” see Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.
3. Jeremiah 20:9
4. For a current description of gospel ministry, see Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline: http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/discipline.htm#Ministry of gospel
5.For a description of elders today, see Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline: http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/discipline.htm#Elders
6. Acts 6:3
7. For a modern-day description of the duties of overseers, see Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline: http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/discipline.htm#Overseers

Resources for Further Study:
Sandra Cronk, Gospel Order – A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297, 1991.
Martha Grundy, Tall Poppies – Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #347, 1999.
Lewis Benson, Prophetic Quakerism, Friends Bookstore, Philadelphia, 1943.

Missional Quaker Faith: Discipleship

Taking up the cross and following Jesus is not a once-and-for-all decision. It is a choice that we must continue to make, day afterRenaissance House - Richmond, Indiana day, year after year. And the deep inward changes that come from surrendering ourselves to Christ’s guidance are generally not sudden. Though many of us experience pronounced “conversion experiences,” these intense moments of connection with God are not on their own sufficient to change us into the men and women that God calls us to be. Occasional moments of heightened awareness of God’s presence serve either as an invitation into the Kingdom-life, or as a confirmation of God’s ongoing guidance. However, as precious and helpful as these times of ecstatic intimacy with our Creator are, they are high points, not the norm.

While the Spirit is always present with us, gently guiding us and revealing how we are to walk, most of the time it is indeed a still, small voice. We need help in learning better how to listen and obey this sometimes subtle influence in our hearts. We are greatly aided by the help of experienced Christians who are able to walk beside us, accompanying us in our personal discernment and development of a more deeply faithful lifestyle. This ministry of shepherding one another as we grow deeper in the Way can be called discipleship, as it is a process of supporting each other in walking the path of present-day disciples.

As the Holy Spirit gathers us together into missional, Christ-centered communities, one of our top priorities must be developingFolks Gathered at Earlham School of Religion a culture of discipleship and mutual support. Learning to be like Jesus is not a self-evident process, and though it is ultimately the Lord himself who will guide us through the fiery process of conversion, we need the assistance of spiritually mature brothers and sisters who can help keep us on track. A healthy Christian community will be one in which discipleship (or eldering[1]) is an integral part of the group’s life and focus.
Relationships of discipleship in the life of each believer are much like the role of training wheels on a bicycle. Just as the training wheels do not provide the forward momentum or help in steering the bicycle, neither do elders(1) determine the speed or direction of progress in the spiritual life of the members of the community. Instead, just like training wheels keep a bicycle from tipping over, elders help to provide balance to women and men who are seeking to be faithful to the inward work of the Spirit.

In our attempts to be like Jesus, all of us are a lot like children at a bowling alley. We have good intentions, but our untrained spiritualBowling for Jesus muscles cause us to veer off-course so often that we do not have much chance of success on our own. Like a young child hurling a bowling ball down the lane, more often than not, we misjudge and end up flying off into the gutter. Fortunately, God has given us the spiritual equivalent of “bumpers.” Bumpers are inflatable tubes that are placed in the gutters of a bowling lane, so that a child can play without being endlessly frustrated. When the child bowls wildly out of bounds, the bumper nudges the ball back into the center of the lane.

The Church is like this. When we participate in Christian community, we are surrounding ourselves with “bumpers,” people who care for us enough to nudge us back on course when we are clumsily pitching ourselves into dark places where, if we are in our right minds, we should have no desire to go. This service of spiritually “bumping” one another is a responsibility for all members of the community, and just as we benefit from the stabilizing effect of other followers of the Way, we are each called to help others in growing deeper in their walk with Jesus.

As Christ gathers us into community, it is crucial that we emphasize discipleship as one of the most important activitiesTyler and Faith surveying the harvest field in Detroit in our life together. While some are more spiritually gifted in this work than others, everyone can have a role in caring for the spiritual needs of another member of the community. Relationships of discipleship will look different depending on the gifts of the people involved, but we as missional communities need to be intentional about fostering an environment in which the spiritual nurturing of others is central to our shared life.

If we are to be like Jesus, we must make disciples like he did. Discipleship is not something that only some small spiritual elite can do; all of us have a part in this ministry. The old Quakers often used the phrase, “in measure,” as a way to talk about responsibility according to maturity. They taught that each person had the Light of Christ “in measure,” and that each one was responsible to minister according to the measure of the Light within them. The idea was that, while we are all at different levels of maturity in Christ, each of us has responsibilities that are appropriate to where we are in our journey. Some women and men are especially called to be elders of the Church – to dedicate themselves primarily to equipping other followers of Jesus in their walk; but everyone has some role to play. For some of us, our role may be simply to provide a listening ear for a struggling brother or sister. Others of us might be called to give guidance and counsel to those called to specific ministries. Whatever our part to play, we share freely the measure of grace and experience that God has bestowed upon us.

It is important that we remember that discipling others is not something we do once we have reached perfection. The originalFriends at Earlham School of Religion's 50th Anniversary Celebration at Heartland Meeting, Wichita, KS disciples of Jesus were far from perfect themselves, and yet Jesus commanded them to “go and make disciples of all nations.”(2) He gives the same command to us today, imperfect as we are, because it is by living into Jesus’ command to make disciples that we ourselves become more like him. Discipling others is a part of the process through which we grow in Christ, not an after-thought.

How can we as local meetings of the Church encourage each person to live into their spiritual gifts and become more like Jesus? How can we develop a culture of discipleship within our communities?

1. In the Quaker tradition, the term elder refers to a spiritually mature member of the community who aids in spiritual discernment and discipleship. It is not a function of age, but rather of spiritual groundedness and wisdom. Friends often use eldering as a verb, referring to giving spiritual care (and sometimes correction) to others.
2. Matthew 28:19

Resources for Further Study:
Sandra Cronk, Gospel Order – A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #297, 1991.

Individual Leadings and the Body of Christ – Witness and Accountability

For me, leaning on other children of light is essential for me being able to know God’s will for my life. An indispensible part of the process that I go through in seeking the will of God is bringing my leadings and concerns to other saints of Christ, my fellow ministers and elders. This is not to say that I allow all people to speak with authority in my walk with Christ – not all speak with equal weight and discernment. However, I do well to keep myself open to the Word of God even in the words and actions of those whom I consider my enemies. But, suffice it to say that I have a core of minsters and elders, spiritual counselors who I know love me and love the Lord, without whom I would make important decisions only at my own great peril.

In addition to this core of spiritual brothers and sisters – “mothers and fathers in Israel,” as Friends used to say – I am accountable to the wider Church and must wrestle seriously with the Word of God as revealed in the physically living fellowship of the saints. For me as a Friend, ideally the most intimate point of contact with the physically living Body of Christ comes in the form of my local meeting. After my most intimate circle of spiritual counselors, it is to the monthly meeting that I am most accountable. It is in the local fellowship that I am committed, as a member of that body, to bring my joys and my sorrows, my leadings and my concerns, and to set them before the meeting so that we might examine them together in the Light of Christ. The yearly meeting is, ideally, a place to deal with concerns that have been embraced by one or more local meetings and which demand the attention of the wider Religious Society.

In addition to the physically living Body of Christ, I am also accountable to and must wrestle with the testimony of the Church as revealed in the lives of spiritual ancestors (such as George Fox, Saint Francis and John Woolman), and in the most authoritative of all revelations given through the Church, the canonical scriptures. I must allow all of these witnesses speak to me and I must listen to how the Spirit of God is guiding me and the body as a whole.

All of these relationships, all of these organic webs of fellowship and authority, witness and accountability, should be characterized by shared seeking of the Lord’s will and humility before the throne of Christ. None of these relationships are meant to be tyrannies of power. Neither the scriptures, my local meeting, nor my closest spiritual friends have authority over me because of their position or inherited tradition; they have authority only insofar as they are faithful in witnessing to the Spirit of Christ and in demonstrating loving care for me. However, loving care may sometimes involve saying things that I do not want to hear. This, of course, is why trust is critical. If I do not trust my spiritual companions, my meeting, or the scriptures to be faithful witnesses to Christ in our midst, then I will not be able to receive the ministry that they offer up – especially if it contradicts my own desires or preconceptions.

Now, I want to point out that this is a dialogue. The conversation between the individual and the wider body goes both ways. Ideally, one should be subordinated to the discernment of his or her local meeting; but the meeting should also be receptive in receiving and wrestling with the ministry of the individual. The Church should be open to being corrected by the Holy Spirit as we are spoken to through the scriptures; but at the same time, the Church has a responsibility to interpret the scriptures in the Spirit of Christ. Neither the scriptures nor the understanding of the meeting is to be laid upon the individual as a “rule or form to walk by.” Instead, we are given the gift of fellowship, both of the physically living saints and of those no longer physically present who now form that “cloud of witnesses” that helps to guide us in our walk with our Lord. To fail to place ourselves under the authority of the Holy Spirit as the Word is revealed to us through others is, in my estimation, a failure to live up to our potential as members of the Body of Christ.