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Community: What is the Point?

Quaker musician and minister Jon Wattspublished another provocative blog post on Friday, entitled Support A Minister. Sell Your Meetinghouse. In his characteristically passionate style, Jon is calling on the Quaker community to step up to the plate and support the ministry that God is raising up in our midst. He insists that genuine, Spirit-led ministry requires real commitment, not just on the part of the minister, but also from the wider community.

For many Quakers, the idea that we should financially support ministry is a radical concept. The truth is, we often struggle with providing even basic counsel and spiritual care for our budding young ministers. Rising generations have a deep need for mentoring, love and guidance – a need that often goes unmet for a variety of reasons.
In some cases, our communities may not have the spiritual depth to provide this kind of care. Other times, we might shy away from providing explicit guidance for the lives of others, fearing the appearance of hierarchy or rigid dogma. So often, our capacity to guide and care for the emerging gifts in our midst is simply overwhelmed by the demands of everyday life. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
If providing basic spiritual care and oversight for ministry is often challenging for us, providing financial support can be even harder. We are caught in the economic stranglehold of the Great Recession, and most of us are looking for ways to reduce costs and hold on to the little bit we have left. Even in more prosperous times, financial support for ministry could be a hard sell. Now is a particularly unfavorable moment to make a pitch for financially released ministry.
Yet the crisis facing the Quaker community today is not primarily financial. As a group, North American Quakers have all the money we need. Scarcity – at least for the time being – is not the issue. The real question facing us has to do with what it means to be a community in the 21st century.
For Quakers, the definition of community has been unraveling for at least 150 years. At one time, Friends lived under a tight code of community discipline, similar in many ways to the modern-day practices of the Amish or Conservative Mennonites. Being a member of a Quaker Meeting meant submitting to a strict code of dress, behavior and speech. It also meant participation in an intense form of solidarity with the other members of the community. If the Meeting determined that a minister had been led by God to travel in the service of the gospel, Friends would financially support that minister and her family for the duration of her travels. Ministerial trips frequently lasted for months – even years.

Our way of life has changed dramatically in the last century and a half. At this point, “community” is a vague term that can mean almost anything, and even the most traditionalist Friends come nowhere close to the level of shared commitment, discipline and solidarity that once characterized our Meetings. Indeed, the basis of our congregations has become so weakened that in many places the very idea of formal membership is being challenged. What is the point of formally joining a Quaker Meeting?

This is a legitimate question. In most cases, our communities are a pale reflection of the robust network of relationships, mutual support and obligations that once characterized our fellowships. When formal membership no longer represents significant commitment, it is quite reasonable to ask: What is the point?

I think that we as Friends would do well to sit with this question, without seeking to answer it too quickly, because it strikes to the heart of our shared crisis today. Clearly, the structures of historic Quakerism do not work the way they once did. The Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meeting no longer have the same power to draw us in and command our attention. Why is this?

Jon Watts writes about the ministry of prophetic music, saying, “I want to say that I don’t see it as myministry. It is yours. You tell me what to do with it.” Who is Jon talking to? Who is the community that Jon is seeking to be accountable to? As best I can tell, Jon is speaking to “all Friends everywhere.” In his desire to be faithful, answerable and supported, Jon has reached out to everyone.
But “everyone” is not a community, in concrete terms. In the Quaker tradition, members of communities make concrete commitments to one another, and stick to them even when it is uncomfortable; even when there is fierce disagreement. Members of Christian communities love one another, not merely because of momentary passion, but because we sense that God has knit us together into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. We become a body. The body of Christ.

We all long for this. Our hearts ache for this true community – the fellowship we find when we are drawn together into something bigger than ourselves. This experience of unity, love and shared purpose in the Spirit is the basis for all support, shared discernment and accountability. It is the foundation upon which sustainable ministry is built.

Do our centuries-old systems of Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings still serve as useful containers for this experience? Is formal membership, as it functions in many of our local congregations today, an aid or a hindrance to the uniting power of the Holy Spirit? Do the ways that we gather together amplify the voice of Christ within, or do our inherited forms threaten to block the continuing revelation of Jesus?

Jon Watts suggests that we should sell our meetinghouses and use the proceeds to support Spirit-led ministry. That is an exciting idea. But we may need to go even further. What would it look like to re-imagine our formal structures as Friends? What would a 21st-century understanding of membership look like? Of gospel ministry and eldership? Of mutual support and accountability under the direct leadership of Christ?

What if selling the meetinghouse is just the beginning?

Counting the Cost of a New Valiant Sixty

I was pleased to read the latest post on Earlham School of Religion‘s blog, Learning and Leading, which featured an essay by a newly-convinced Friend in Spain. Luís Pizarro describes his convincement into the Conservative Quaker tradition, and the challenges he faces as he attempts to foster a new Friends Meeting in his home city of Seville. Luís shares his experience of being an isolated Friend in a country largely lacking Quaker Christian witness, and how he faces a western European culture that is intensely secular, and often hostile to Christianity.

Luís touches me with his willingness to let his life preach, becoming a visible witness to the presence of the Risen Lord in Spain. HeChurch building courageously holds out the possibility of intimate relationship with Jesus, inviting his fellow countrymen and countrywomen into the intimacy with Jesus that he has experienced. So far, Luís is probably the only Quaker in Seville, but through God’s sustaining and empowering Spirit, it is my prayer that there will one day be a thriving Conservative Quaker Meeting there. Indeed, I pray that Luís’ courage and faithfulness to the Holy Spirit’s work in his life might open the door for the development of a new Yearly Meeting in Spain. One day, there may be a Spain Yearly Meeting that can look back to these days, in the second decade of the twenty-first century and say: “This is how it all began, with one man’s courage and faithful witness.”

Of course, Luís’ courageous witness is not enough. As he himself states in his blog post, he needs our support. He looks in particular to Quaker Christians in the United States to extend him the hand of friendship, encouragement, and teaching. Luís has been convinced of the truth of Friends’ testimony of the Resurrected Jesus, but his only connection to his brothers and sisters in Christ abroad thus far has been through literature and personal contact through email and Skype. Luís, and the Meeting that we pray will begin to grow in Seville, needs ongoing connection with the wider Religious Society of Friends. Friends in Spain need our prayers, correspondence, counsel, visitation, and practical support.

Luís is an outstanding example of the ways in which Jesus Christ is raising up testimony of his continuing life and presence throughout the world. Fortunately, however, Luís is by no means unique. There are men and women across the United States and throughout the world who are discovering Christ’s inward voice and are being drawn to unite with the testimony of the Friends tradition. Jesus is raising up his witnesses in Spain, the UK and Brazil. He is raising up modern-day prophets and apostles in Atlanta, Detroit, DC,New City Friends in Detroit Philadelphia, Chicago and elsewhere. How are we as Quaker Christians in the United States called to nurture the new signs of life that are emerging in our cities, as well as across seas and mountains, beyond Quakerism’s historical geographical and cultural boundaries?

There are millions of women and men who are discovering the presence of the Spirit of Jesus in their lives and are looking for the next steps in their relationship with him. Their encounter with Christ leads them to seek community with others who are walking in the Way. What is our role as Quaker Christians in providing eldership and oversight for these individuals and new worship groups? How can we be more intentional about releasing the gifts of ministry, eldership, oversight and apostleship that are present within the Religious Society of Friends, commissioning a new Valiant Sixty to carry the good news of Christ’s gospel – his living presence – out into a world that his hungering to hear his word?

Unlike the original Valiant Sixty, this new generation of Quaker apostles cannot be satisfied with preaching the message andTenleytown, DC moving on. The old method of “setting a fire and leaving it burning” never did work, and we must recognize the need for ongoing discipleship, support, and care for new Christians and emerging fellowships. How can we provide the nurture, teaching, practical support, and modeling that new Friends and new Meetings need in order to grow to maturity in Christ? Are we ready to release the the resources – human, financial and spiritual – that will be needed to equip a new Valiant Sixty? Are we ready to outfit and support dozens, even hundreds of gospel laborers to work in the fields for months, years, or decades at a time? Are we ready to invest our lives and resources into the work of proclaiming Christ’s love and building up his Body, the Church?

As we are faithful to the call to go into all the world, proclaiming and embodying the gospel of Christ’s living presence, we can be sureCapitol Hill Friends visit Rockingham that we will not only enrich the lives of those whom we visit – we will also find our own lives changed and faith strengthened by our encounter with Christ in others. Luís and Friends in Spain surely have a great deal to teach those of us in the United States that have taken our relatively religious culture for granted. When we respond faithfully to God’s call, we can be sure that our lives and worldview will be turned upside down.

Jesus warned us to count the cost before setting out on a journey with him.(1) He knew that walking in his way would cost us everything – our very lives! We must be ready to sacrifice in order to support our brothers and sisters who are crying out for the living witness of the Church in our suffering world. The harvest is plentiful, but we will never see it unless we commit ourselves completely to serving Jesus and modeling the tradition in which we experience him as a community. Are you ready? Will you join us?

1. Luke 14:28-33

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.

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #3

Dear Friends of Jesus,

My ministry of intervisitation and prayerful listening is continuing here in Wichita, Kansas, as I prepare to reach out to Friends communities in Oklahoma, Northern Kansas, Texas and Nebraska. These past two weeks have been a time of great blessing and hope for me, as I have felt and seen the work of the Lord prospering in the Body here in Wichita.

Among Friends in Wichita

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first in-person meeting with my yearly meeting oversight committee. I met with representatives from Heartland and University Friends meetings in Wichita and Hominy Friends Meeting in Hominy, Oklahoma. We had a rich time of worship and prayerful sharing on the state our local meetings and our personal walks with Christ. Following the meeting, David Nagle of Hominy Friends Meeting and I lingered to share more time together and discuss how we might work together in Oklahoma. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am looking forward to meeting with Friends in Hominy soon and seeing how I can be of service.

These past couple of weeks I have begun attending University Friends’ youth group on Sunday evenings. The youth group is very lively, with about thirty or forty middle school and high school aged youth present, depending on the night. They gather together around six o’clock; many of them are picked up by the church van. Once they are assembled, they participate in worship and religious education, followed by basketball in the gym or board games, and finally there are snacks before the youth are taken back home. I am thankful for the work that close to a dozen volunteers are putting in to keep this youth program going, which is in large part an outreach effort to the wider community – many of the participants are not from families of church members. I pray that God will guide me as I seek to be of service in this context.

I am excited by my opportunities to serve with Friends at University Meeting, and I am equally upbeat about the work that we are doing together at Heartland Meeting. This past Sunday was monthly meeting for business, and I was pleased at the discussions we had about how to move forward together in this ministry. We continue to discern how God wants to use me in my ministry to Heartland Friends. My care and support committee has been very proactive in supporting me and helping ground me, and the meeting as a whole, in this process. I felt very positive about our most recent meeting this past week; I feel like I am receiving a fair amount of counsel and constructive eldering from the committee, and it feels good to know that these Friends care about my welfare and about our faithfulness in caring for this ministry.

While I hope that Friends at Heartland Meeting are coming to know me better as we deepen our relationship, I feel that I am growing in appreciation and understanding for Heartland as a body. Since I have only been a member since late 2004, I have had a very limited view of Heartland’s character. Meeting with all of the active membership has helped me gain a greater appreciation for the history of the meeting and the human relationships that go back decades. The personal connections that undergird this meeting have been largely unknown to me as a relative newcomer, but with Friends’ help I am gaining a greater sense of the history of the meeting.

Beyond the Religious Society of Friends

As rich and valuable as my experiences have been with Friends in the last weeks, I have been increasingly sensing that God is calling me to engage not only with Quakers, but also with all seekers of God’s truth. In particular, I feel that God has been drawing me into relationship with the wider Christian Church here in Wichita. It began last month when Faith and I met with a group of young Methodists who were led to live together in a house that they had renovated in their neighborhood in downtown Wichita. We saw how God was moving not just among Friends, but throughout the Church, and we knew that we wanted to be a part of that larger movement of the Spirit. We have been drawn deeper into relationship with the wider Church in the past few weeks through encounters with fellow laborers from the Protestant tradition. First of all, Shane Claiborne came to Wichita. Then, I was able to meet with Jerry Truex, pastor of Mennonite Church of the Servant here in Wichita.

Jerry really impressed me with the story of his church and their work for peace and justice in Wichita. The church meets in a very marginalized part of Wichita, and many of their members are homeless, drug and alcohol addicts, and/or living in dire poverty. As I understand it, the church began in the 1970s as a collection of house churches that came together for Sunday morning worship. This legacy continues today, with most of the church members living in the neighborhood and being involved in ministries that seek to embody Christ’s love and justice among the poor of Wichita. I am interested in seeing how I and others might partner with Church of the Servant in walking in the Way of Christ among the poor in Wichita. I met recently with the young Methodist community to see if they would be interested in connecting with Jerry and the Church of the Servant to see how they might collaborate. God willing, a number of us should be meeting together to talk about the possibilities later this month.

Beyond Wichita

While things may soon be heating up here in Wichita, my schedule for visitation outside of the city is becoming more densely packed. I will be traveling to Hominy Friends Meeting in Osage Country, Oklahoma, March 20-22. I will be helping out with their annual Wild Onion Dinner, bringing a message that Sunday, and leading a workshop on Friends history and heritage. The following weekend, March 27-29, I will be traveling to Manhattan, Kansas, to visit the Friends meeting there. I have been so looking forward to this visit since the last time I visited there about a year ago. Friends in Manhattan are a precious meeting, and I am excited to be among them again. The weekend after that, April 3-5, I will be traveling to Lubbock, Texas, to visit Lubbock Friends Meeting (South Central Yearly Meeting) and Caprock Christian Fellowship.

Furthermore, I have received word from Eric Jones of Central City Monthly Meeting that the worship group in Kearney, Nebraska, will continue meeting on the first and third Sundays of the month, and that a new worship group will probably be formed in Grand Island, meeting every fourth Sunday. April 17-19, I will be in Kearney to meet with Friends there, followed by a trip to Grand Island April 24-26. It is my hope that my visits might be a sign to Friends in central Nebraska of Great Plains Yearly Meeting’s continuing love and concern for them. I also hope that God might in some way use me to lend energy and momentum to these two fledgling worship groups, that they may grow in God’s care into strong and deeply rooted meetings.

Right Now

I am very encouraged by the work that God is doing in the Church in the Great Plains region. I feel deep personal gratitude for how God has upheld me in my personal life and public ministry. The Good Shepherd really does feed his sheep, though I doubt. Thank you for your prayers, support, counsel and hospitality. Please know that God is working through us as we seek to be obedient together. Christ is walking beside us, among us.

For the coming weeks, I would ask that you:

* Continue praying – for me, for the meetings I will be visiting, for Great Plains Yearly Meeting, and for the entire Church in the Heartland of the United States. Your prayers are making a difference!

* Consider whether you feel led to accompany me on any of the visits I have mentioned.

* Write me and let me know how God is working in your life and what ministry God is calling you to.

Blessings on you and your ministry as we walk together in the Way of Jesus,

Micah Bales