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Missional Quaker Faith: Conclusion

The end of this series of essays is really just a beginning. From here, I hope we can move together from theory to concrete application. Friedrich Engels once wrote that, “an ounce of action is better than a ton of theory,” and one transformed relationship certainly beats any series of essays I could write. While I hope that my writing might serve as an impetus to deeper reflection about where we are at and where we might be headed as a Religious Society, my greatest desire is that we translate our reflection into lives of faithfulness and courage.

I hope that these essays have served as the beginning of a call to action. I am not the first one to issue this call, and in many waysMac Lemann reading the Earlham Word this is nothing new. The Gospel seems new and fresh to each individual and community that receives it, though it is the same Gospel that every generation has been confronted and comforted by. Our call for today is to contextualize this eternal Gospel into our life in the post-modern, post-Christendom West.

This re-contextualization will take many forms. It will effect the revitalization of some of our old structures – our Meetings, Yearly Meetings and para-church organizations. We will also see the Gospel rising up in new communities and new structures, just as it did in the early days of the Friends movement in seventeenth century England. Many of our traditions, structures and networks can be salvaged; if we are faithful, much of what we cherish about twentieth century Quakerism can be re-tooled, re-defined and re-deployed. But we cannot remain the same as before.

The post-modern, post-Christendom era requires that we move beyond theBrainstorming at YAF Intervisitation Consultation Constantinian church models that have seeped into our tradition in the last three hundred years. We can no longer be a “faithful remnant,” hedged off from the world and more concerned about our own purity than the needs of our neighbors. Nor can we be unreflective activists, tossed about by every wind of human wisdom; we must root our engagement in deep listening to Christ. We must ourselves be changed before we can seek to change others.

If we are ready to be transformed, Jesus will walk alongside us. He will guide us, heal us, strengthen us, prepare us. When he bursts the old wineskins that no longer fit God’s purposes in our present time, Christ will give us new wineskins, new ways of thinking and organizing ourselves that can sustain us in the work we are called to. Are we ready to lay everything at Jesus’ feet, holding nothing back?

I would like to invite you to join me and many other brothers and sisters in exploring this new thing that Christ is doing in ourYAF Gathering 2010 Planning Committee generation. To begin with, consider whether you have something to contribute to this online conversation about what a missional Quaker faith looks like. Join the Quaker Church-Planters group. Write your own blog post, either on your personal blog, on QuakerQuaker, or Facebook. Or, just write me an email. I would love to connect with you.

And, as important as it is that this conversation continue online, I hope that you will join us in putting all of this theory into practice. Come and worship at a missional Quaker worship group, or start your own. Let us know what you are doing, so that we can pray for you, collaborate with you and share the word of what God is doing in your town or city. Let us be the Church with you.

Have no doubt: Christ is calling us to the same depths of courage, sacrifice and joy to which he called the early Church and the early Friends. Be valiant for Truth upon the earth.

Resources for Further Study:

The full text of George Fox’s epistle to Quaker missionaries (including the famous, “answering that of God in everyone” line):

Missional Quaker Faith: A Heart for Service

The word “mission” comes from the Latin missio, which means “sending.” As a missional movement, we are sent by theMural art in Richmond, Indiana Holy Spirit out into the world to glorify God and invite everyone into the life of challenge and transformation that Jesus has shown us. Just like the first Christians in the Roman Empire, we are called to proclaim and embody the message of Jesus Christ in a wide variety of contexts – most of which are hostile to the word of God.

For far too long, our gatherings have been places of refuge from the world, an escape. We first turned the Church of God into anMural art in Richmond, Indiana accomplice of Empire, and later, into little more than social clubs for people with similar class, race and ideological backgrounds. In many church communities, a living relationship with Christ has been almost incidental – nice if you have it, but certainly not expected – most definitely not something to base a community on.

William James wrote that, “in some people religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever.”(1) The movement that Jesus calls us to definitively qualifies as the latter. It cannot exist merely as a routine, a comforting ritual, a family heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation. Such an antique faith is dead, and we would do well to bury it and move on. We are called to lives of radical faithfulness that will shake the foundations of our neighborhoods, offices and public spaces. Jesus invites us into his Way, which will lead us out of our selfish stupor and usher us into a life of service to others.

If there is any single trait that sets missional communities apart from otherMural art in Richmond, Indiana kinds of Christ-centered fellowships, it is the decision to place the group’s focus on the work that God is calling us to do in the world. As missional churches, we should concentrate our efforts primarily on going where Christ is sending us, rather than on preserving the comfort and superficial stability of the existing community. As students in the Way of Jesus, we are called to be like a kernel of wheat that falls to the ground and dies.(2) By surrendering our own comfort, assumptions and inertia, we die to our own wills and are able to see more clearly God’s will for us. As we live into that will, we will be shown the ways in which God wants to use us to share Christ’s love with the world.

In order to be faithful to God’s call, we are challenged to do two things simultaneously: First, we must look inward, listening carefullyPowerlines to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, both in our hearts as individuals, as well as in the ways God speaks to the church as a whole. At the same time, we must maintain an outward focus, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with our neighbors and doing justice in the wider world. It is not easy to maintain a balance between inward listening and outward action; we are tempted to pick one or the other – either inward contemplation or “results”-focused activism. However, if we are to live out the radical mission that God has for us, we must keep our inward ear open to the voice of the Spirit, while at the same time being faithful to the work that Christ calls us to in the world. This is the narrow Way of Jesus that leads to life.

As we walk the tightrope of inward and outward focus, we must take care that we not become self-focused. This can happen whether we are looking inward or outward. Whether we emphasize contemplation or activism, it is far too easy for the work to become about us, rather than about God.

One thing is clear: There is enough work to go around, so we do not need to seek it for our own sake. We can trust in God to giveGraffiti us the tasks that we are particularly called and gifted for. We stand the best chance of serving faithfully when we wait upon the Lord to show us how to proceed, rather than acting out of our own assumptions as to what is important.

1. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture I, 1901-1902.
2. See John 12:24

Resources for Further Study:

Paul Lacey, Leading and Being Led, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #264, 1985.

An Introduction to the Missional Church

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)


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.


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: of gospel
5.For a description of elders today, see Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline:
6. Acts 6:3
7. For a modern-day description of the duties of overseers, see Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline:

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: Letting Our Lives Preach

Our encounter with Jesus changes everything. When Jesus approached Simon, Andrew, James and John while they were working as fishermen by the sea, his call to them was so compelling that they immediately left behind everything that they had known – family, profession, security – and followed Jesus.(1) When we experience Jesus’ presence and hear his gentle but firm invitation to come and follow him, we are challenged to radically change our lives – both in the outward details as well as in our inward motivations.

In our life together as a community of disciples, we come together to follow Jesus and to practice deep listening to how the Spirit isFriends at Chestnut Ridge Meeting House, Barnesville, Ohio guiding us in this present day. As we listen for God’s guidance in stillness and song, in rest and in work, we are drawn deeper together as a human fellowship that is rooted in love and obedience to the Spirit. It is in this context of love and trust that we are able to lean on one another as we walk together in the Way of Truth.

Ultimately, though, this loving community is only a small haven within a wider culture that is dedicated to the pursuit and protection of money, power and self-interest. It is in this wider world that most of us live the greater part of our existence, and it is to our hurting world that Jesus is extending his healing hand. Jesus knows the pain of this world better than any of us, and he knows what it is like to be excluded from polite society for loving those who are viewed as too sinful to have a part in mainstream society. He hung out with tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes, as well as with zealots, pharisees and desert mystics.

Jesus embodied God’s love to those who the culture of the time had deemed unlovable. He was scandalous in sharing his presencePreparing a Meal at Renaissance House, Richmond, Indiana with those who were not even allowed to enter the Temple – the center of social, religious and economic life in his time and place. Jesus summed up his generation’s judgment of him like this: “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”(2) Today, we might well say of him, “a friend of Muslims and atheists.” Jesus shows mercy to those who are open to receiving it; and if those our society regards as “successful” are not ready to hear the Good News, he will share it with those whom the wider culture has cast out.(3)

We are called to embody the reckless, socially unacceptable love that Jesus shows us. We are called to love not only to those who appear to be doing well in the current social order, but also those who have been rejected by mainstream society. We are called to show Christ’s love to the poor, the uneducated, the physically and mentally disabled. We are called to love those whom our culture excludes. We are called to demonstrate our love in acts as tangible as washing feet and breaking bread.

If we truly wish to follow Jesus, our daily habits, patterns of consumption, and social relationships must change. As we struggleDowntown Chicago to embody the Gospel in our daily lives, we are challenged to open ourselves to people that we never would have associated with before. We are forced to get out of our comfort zones. Embracing the radical hospitality of Jesus means being confronted by our own routines of exclusion and self-centeredness.

We should be horrified that the modern-day Church tends to exclude the very people that Jesus commands us to embrace. How often have our churches treated the poor as a problem to be fixed, rather than as brothers and sisters to be embraced, loved? How many of us have treated our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters like the Pharisees treated lepers? How many people have we sent screaming into atheism and New Age religions through our legalism and scorn for those who do not fit into our boxes? How many of us, still within the Church, live in fear of being excluded if our fellow Christians were to learn who we really are?

Rather than relating to our Christian communities as fortresses to be walled off and defended against ungodly intrusion, I believe thatSharing the Good News on Boston Common Christ is calling us to use our communities as a base from which to reach out to the wider world. The mission of the Church is the same as that of Jesus Christ: to save the world, not to condemn it.(4) While we as followers of Jesus must be clear about our commitment to be obedient to Jesus as we know him in Scripture and in his present Spirit among us, our purpose is to call others to wholeness.

To live into Christ’s mission of redemption, we will need to make substantial changes to our own lives, giving Jesus our house, job and bank account, not just our heart. Many of us who belong to privileged classes in our culture may be called to change our lifestyles, work, and living arrangements in order to do justice and live at peace with all people. Jesus’ love is not about charity; it is not about sharing with those “less fortunate than us.” On the contrary, when Christ is in us we see that we are just as deeply in need of God’s mercy and transformation as anyone else, regardless of where we fall in the world’s social hierarchy. The Spirit of Christ leads us into a life of self-emptying and service to others, in imitation of our Lord.(5)

A good outward measuring stick for communities that seek to live out Christ’s mission in the world is the Twelve Marks of the New Monasticism.Chicago Cityscape These marks, including, “relocation to the abandoned places of Empire,” and, “sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us,” present a challenge to the prevailing culture in North America. In a society that consistently encourages us to enlarge ourselves, improve ourselves, promote ourselves, we are being called by Jesus to surrender ourselves, to die to self. As we meditate on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of our Lord, and as we listen to how his Spirit is guiding us today, it is clear that our lives must be radically changed in things as practical as where we live, who we buy our groceries from, and who we have over for dinner.

We will discover who we are in Christ when we commit to changing our lives in order to share the Gospel with all people – especially those on society’s margins. The kind of sharing that we are called to goes far beyond putting a Jesus fish on our bumper or even delivering a sermon. When we are in Christ, we are called to let our very lives preach. It is through the way that we live, and the love that we show for others, that the world will come to know Jesus.

1. See Mark 1
2. Luke 7:34
3. Luke 14:15-23
4. See John 3:17
5. See Philippians 2:5-11
Resources for Further Study:

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.

Missional Quaker Faith: Deep Listening

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” – Mark 9:7

When Jesus is at the center of our life as a community, he enters into our midst and serves as our Leader. He sends the Holy Spirit to console and guide us, and through his Light he purifies us and prepares us for our mission as his Body. Through dedicated prayer, we are empowered to keep our eyes on the Lord, not being drawn away by the multitude of things that seek to distract us from the Life.

As we grow deeper in our relationship with God, we will encounter Jesus in a variety of ways. When Christians think about where theyYoungins on the porch at Illinois Yearly Meeting meet and learn from Jesus Christ, probably the most common first answer is, “in the Bible.” And indeed, the Scriptures are an important way we learn about Jesus and his ministry of reconciliation. But there are many other ways we come to know Jesus. We come to know who the Lord is through his presence within us, in our hearts; we also encounter Christ in our life as a community; and we meet him in our interactions with the stranger.

In all of the ways that we encounter the Risen Lord, it is crucial that we listen to him. Christ is present with us, ready to guide us in all of our decisions. He is not merely an historical figure, nor a distant Monarch far away in heaven; he still dwells among us through the Holy Spirit. If we choose to open ourselves to how he is speaking today, he will knit us together in unity and empower us to do his work in the world.

Jesus in Scripture

One of the most important ways that we come to recognize the voice of Jesus when he speaks to us today is through study of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. As the author of Hebrews assures us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”(1), and we can trust the words and actions ascribed to Jesus by Scripture as a guide to recognizing his ongoing character today.

A healthy respect for the authority of Scripture is essential to the authenticity of a missional Quaker community. The Hebrew and Sarah Hoggatt speaks to the 2010 Quaker Youth PilgrimageGreek Scriptures are a record of God’s relationship with humanity, told primarily from the perspective of the Hebrew people. Studying the Bible is probably the most important way in which the average Christian maintains a relationship with the hundreds of generations that have come before us in the faith. We learn from their experience, which acts as a counterweight to our own subjectivity. If we believe that Christ is leading us in a way that runs contrary to his character as we know it in Scripture, we should carefully re-examine our experience and consider whether it is our interpretation of Scripture that is faulty, or our perception of our experience itself.

In addition to their role as a check on our discernment, the writings of the Old and New Testaments can serve as vessels for God to speak to us in fresh ways. Just as the disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus, we find that the Lord is present with us as we encounter the Scriptures. He opens them to us, revealing within our hearts the truth that God desires to communicate to us through the text.(2) When we read the Bible, whether alone or in community, we must take care to be open to Christ’s presence within us. He walks alongside us, ready to make clear the texts that, if read without the aid of the Holy Spirit, would either confuse us or lead us to wrong conclusions.

In our reading of Scripture, we must be always turned inward, listening for the Word of God in our hearts. The Bible itself is notPaul Buckley teaching at Illinois YM the Word of God, and never refers to itself as such; that title is reserved for Christ alone.(3) This is not theological hair-splitting – it is a key point of our faith as Friends: Because we honor Christ as the Word of God, we recognize that all writings about him, no matter how authoritative and inspired, cannot stand in his place. As we read Scripture, we seek the guidance of the Word-become-flesh, which will allow us to make sense of the Scriptures that the Word has inspired.

The way that we receive guidance from the Bible is not primarily through intellectual analysis (though God desires us to use our intellects to glorify God). Instead, when we consult the Scriptures we are reminded of how the Spirit has spoken to Israel in days past, and we hear how we are being called to faithfulness in our own time and circumstances. We trust that, just as Christ was present with ancient Israel and with the first apostles, so he will be faithful in shepherding us, leading us in his Way.

Jesus Within

The Lord walked with the first man and woman in the garden, and he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush; he made himself known to his disciples on the day of Pentecost, and he blind-sided Saul on the road to Damascus. God has always been consistent in initiating relationship with those who seek to be made whole; and the Spirit has a proven track record of doggedly pursuing those who resist the Truth. Each of us is given regular opportunities to open ourselves to Christ and his power. He is always standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to let him into our hearts.(4)

Thomas Kelly wrote that, “deep within us all, there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a Quaker Camp at Barnesville, 2007speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.”(5) Each of us is capable of having a personal relationship with Christ, and we are called to open wide the doors of our hearts and be filled by his presence. We are meant to be dwelling places for the Living God, and we are called upon to be transformed into suitable vessels for God’s Spirit.

This process of being in-breathed by the Spirit of Christ involves two things happening simultaneously: First, we are shown our own condition; second, we are shown God’s will for us. The contrast between these two revelations is the impetus for divine transformation. When we allow Christ to shine his Light on us, we see our selfishness, our corrupt motivations, our rebellion against God, and our failure to love our fellow human beings or even ourselves. At the same time, we see the person that God is calling us to be: selflessly devoted to God and our fellow women and men, using the gifts that God has granted us to give joy to others and strengthen them in their own walk with Christ.

As painful as it is to see ourselves as we truly are, we are also empowered to live into God’s vision for who we are meant to be.George serving as clerk for the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage Step by step, the Refiner’s Fire can remake us, unleashing the power and beauty of God’s original intention for our lives. Many of these steps will be inward changes of heart: We will be called to love instead of hate; bless instead of curse; share instead of hoard. As we submit to the Light, we will find our character being slowly redeemed.

In the midst of this overall reorientation of our character, we will often find that God is calling us to change major aspects of our outward lives. We may be asked to change professions, for example; or move to another city; or take out the garbage without being asked. In big ways and in small ways, God calls us to implement practical changes in our lives that will enable us to better live out our new-found character and purpose as friends of Jesus.
It is essential for our development as disciples that we be obedient in small things, so that we will be ready when God has greater challenges for us. If we are faithful in listening and submitting to the still, small voice within our hearts, Christ will prepare us for the role that we have to play in the wider community.

Jesus in the Midst

The presence of Jesus in our Christian communities is deeply affected by the devotion, prayer and inward transformation of their individual members. But while the faithfulness of individuals is critical to Christ’s work in the Church, the way we experience him when we gather together in his name is more than the sum of the individual prayer lives of those gathered. When two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is indeed in our midst, and we receive his Spirit not merely as individuals, but as a gathered meeting.

When we invite Jesus into our meetings, we do so literally. We invite him in to set the agenda and guide us as a people. In a FUM Triennial 2008certain sense, Friends concur with the Roman Catholic teaching about the nature of Christ’s presence in Communion. We also believe in the real presence, that Jesus is literally made flesh and blood when we gather together in his name and open ourselves to his power. Unlike the Roman Church, we do not locate Christ’s presence in wine and bread; instead, we experience Christ’s presence as we ourselves become his flesh and blood and he becomes our spiritual food and drink.

In our gathered meetings where we have laid aside our own priorities and agendas, we abide in him and he abides in us.(6) When this spiritual unity occurs, we literally become the Body of Christ, the real presence of Jesus in the world. Just as Christ lays bare and transforms the individual heart, he also works in the lives of communities that submit themselves to his healing Light. If we open ourselves to him, he is able to energize and empower us as his Church, to do his work in the world.

But, just as in the case of our personal relationships with Jesus, such depths of intimacy and transformation can only come about2005 World Gathering of Young Friends when we come before God in humility, acknowledgment of our own brokenness, and repentance. This kind of surrender is impossible enough for a single person to accomplish on their own; for groups of dozens, hundreds, and thousands, it is surely inconceivable. But through God’s power, we can indeed triumph over sin and death, not only as atomized individuals, but also as the Church. This is one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power and mercy: when entire communities are brought to repentance and spurred to lead lives that glorify God, demonstrating God’s love to others.

Jesus in the Stranger

But demonstrating God’s love to others is hard. We are able to love our friends, our family, and people that we generally agree withMeeting new folks in England without too much trouble. These loving relationships are relatively easy, because they do not challenge the underlying assumptions of our lives. We can love those who love us, those who confirm our own worldview, with our own human love. But we need the power of God’s love within us to reach beyond our comfort zone, even embracing those who threaten us.

If we wish to live out Jesus’ mission for us in the wider world, we will need to go further than our own narrow human love and experiment with the risky love of God. This will mean reaching out to people we don’t know, communities we are not comfortable in. With God’s help, we will be called into relationship with a motley assortment of people that we would never have become friends with otherwise. And we will discover that they are the Church of Jesus Christ.

This is perhaps the most difficult lesson for us to learn: We do not have all theJennie and Dorlan at Earlham School of Religion's 50th Anniversary Celebration in Wichita, KS answers. Not even most of them. If we approach the Kingdom-life as a matter of bringing others into the glory of our own perfection, we’re going to be disappointed. God has a lot of work yet still to do with each one of us, even those of us who have been serving Jesus for a long time. And God can speak through anyone.

The really sneaky thing about Jesus is that he shows up in the places where common sense least expects him. We find him among the poor, the uneducated, the mentally ill. We are confronted by him among religious and cultural minorities. We see his light shining in gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. We see evidence of his power among women and teenagers, old men and infants. The moment we are tempted to write anyone off as outside of Christ’s mercy, we are dumbfounded by the way he is so clearly alive and at work in the most fantastically diverse assortment of people.

If we are to be a missional community of Jesus’ friends, we have to learn that Jesus is friends with all sorts of people that we wouldDown time during the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage never normally hang out with. Just as Jesus had mercy on us while we were still in darkness, Jesus is at work in all people; his Seed is present in every heart, working for our salvation. We do not need to “take Christ” out to the people – he is already among them, teaching them inwardly. Our role as Jesus’ disciples is to answer the Seed of God in all people, encouraging it to grow and blossom into fully transformed, Christ-like lives.

And we will be changed by the encounter. We must recognize that mission is not about imprinting our character onto others; it is about sustaining a space where the character of Jesus Christ can come to full bloom in each of us. By holding this space, and inviting others to hold it with us, we will come away remade in unpredictable, surprising ways. And we may find in the end that those we were sent to minister to were in fact the face of Christ to us. We must be ready to change in response to our encounter with Christ in others. We must be willing to change our course not because it is our natural inclination, but because we have submitted to the Truth as he speaks to us in the life of the stranger.

Jesus: The Head of the Church

To conclude this essay, I would like to make a few observations about how this practice of listening, both on our own and in ourNorth American Friends meet at World Gathering of Young Friends meetings, informs the way we operate and make decisions as church communities. Because we believe that Jesus Christ is literally present with us, Friends view the primary role of the Church as being a community that discerns together how Jesus is directing us. And because we believe that Christ is present in every heart, as well as with the group as a whole, we see the responsibility for discernment as falling to the entire Church, not a small group of leaders.

Thus, our way of discerning God’s will for the group is tightly linked with our theology. We must be ready to encounter the presence of Christ in every person, and we must be ready to hear God’s wisdom from the most unlikely of places. This does not mean there is no place for leadership among Friends – on the contrary, our communities do well to empower dynamic, Spirit-led leadership. But ultimately, we are all accountable to our one true Head, Jesus Christ. We wait on him together as a community, laying aside our own opinions of how things should be done and seeking his will for us as the Church.

We have not found voting or parliamentary procedure to be an aid in hearing the voice of the Spirit. Heated debates and proceduralFestival of Friends in Indianapolis maneuvers tend to lead us deeper into self and further away from God. Even when we hold the correct opinion, our anger does not produce God’s righteousness (7), and subduing dissent through majority rule does not assure that we are following Jesus. Often, we have found that the will of God emerges as an alternative that none of the individuals involved had previously considered.

Unlike most other organizations in the world, Friends have found it not only possible but practical to wait together on God until we are drawn into substantial unity as a group. Generally, this results in unanimity – though unanimity is not our goal. We seek to recognize together the will of God and commit to enacting it as a community, even if what we hear is not what we would have chosen ourselves. Old Friends called this, “living in the cross.”

1. Hebrews 13:8
2. See Luke 24:13-32.
3. For a couple of examples, see John 1 and Revelation 19:11-16
4. See Revelation 3:20
5. Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper Collins Publishers, 1992, pg. 3.
6. See John 15:4
7. See James 1:20

Resources for Further Study:
Marshall Massey, Why We Practice Corporate Discernment, (accessed 10/23/10)
Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1983.
Paul Lacey, The Authority of our Meetings is the Power of God, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #365, 2003.