Thursday, January 20, 2011

Conditions for Gospel Ministry: A Least for Me...

I am speaking at a Friends Meeting on Sunday. That's not unusual. I receive regular invitations to travel in ministry -- which often includes giving a message if the place I've been invited is a pastoral meeting. But lately, as I've been working on the ideas in "A Modest Proposal" and how they impact my personal ministry, I have been feeling more and more led to adopt some new conditions (though that sounds harsher than I mean it) before I accept an invitation. Most of them have to do with my needing to both think about and practice what it means for me to be a Friends minister traveling in Gospel ministry. So I've been mulling over things such as not using a prepared text (as I normally do) and sitting out in the congregation and speaking from there.

So, in the interest of trying to follow this leading, I am going to be sharing the following with any pastoral meeting that invites me to come share in worship --

Hello XX –

Thanks so much for inviting me to bring a message at XX Friends Meeting on XX. I appreciate this opportunity. There are a few things, however, that you should know before I accept your invitation. Each of these is a response to my wishing to be faithful to my understanding of what it means to be a Friends minister traveling in Gospel service.

  1. As I endeavor to honor the Friends witness of speaking only when led, I will not prepare a written sermon beforehand. Therefore, I won’t be able to send a sermon title or scripture reading to you for the bulletin (if you have one). I will continue to read and study in preparation for speaking, as I always have.
  2. Also, when God’s spirit directs me to I will speak out of the time designated for holy silence (open worship, silent worship, etc.) of the gathered people of faith. I do try to be faithful to listening to Christ our present teacher and so, if I do not feel lead, will not speak. While this has rarely happened, I do want to honor the direct leading of the Spirit.
  3. If you have a time in Meeting for Worship in which the pastor normally prays aloud (pastoral prayer), I will be honored to do that, if requested.
  4. I do not have a set fee nor do I require an honorarium to bring a message. If you are led to support my ministry, then any amount (or none) is welcome.
  5. If possible, I would prefer to not speak from behind a pulpit or lectern. I would rather stand and speak, when lead, from the same level on which the other Friends are seated.
These things are not meant to be quirks or set me apart from other Friends ministers. Rather , they are ways that I am attempting to be faithful to the way Christ continues to teach me what it means for me to be a Friends minister. They are negotiable, depending on the needs of your Meeting. I certainly understand if you find these a bit odd and would prefer to invite someone else to speak to you. If God continues to lead you to issue an invitation, I look forward to worshipping with you.

In Friendship,

Following this leading is a real leap of faith for Mr. Anal-Retentive, Obsessive-Compulsive. But, in my lifelong quest for faithfulness to where I am in my life with God, I think it's what I'm supposed to do. And I certainly don't recommend this as THE way for anyone else -- it's just where I am right now.

Especially as regards the first point in the letter, I want to make clear what I mean by "prepare." What I mean is that I won't prepare a specific written manuscript, which has been my tendency. This is a real challenge for me...

When I first started out in pastoral ministry I was so smart and knew exactly what God wanted me to say (well, that's a bit strong, but not much. I think I probably came across as more than a little bit arrogant. I hope not, but ...). Back then I gave sermons based on 3 points I jotted down on a 3 x 5 card. I filled in the rest from the vast storehouse of knowledge in my shallow soul.

As I aged though, and after a hiatus from pastoral ministry, I changed and began using prepared manuscripts. That's because I'd writing much more and deeper and was learning to be care-ful with words. Words are so important -- especially in communicating the deep riches of the spiritual life. But as I look back, perhaps I was too slavish in adhering to them and in trying "plan" worship too much along the lines I thought the congregation should go/needed.

I'm not sure that either of the above (my young fill in the blanks approach or my older power of words approach) those are bad things. They might even have been good things. I'm just no longer convinced that they were the best thing. The most faithful thing. And I think the Gospel ministry deserves the best, most faithful thing.

So when I say I'm not going to prepare as I used to, what I mean is that I won't write anything down. I will think about what's in my heart/mind as I see the day approaching. And I will continue to read and study during the week. Just not with an eye toward coming up with some amazing technical points or fascinating anecdotes. I will spend time in silence listening for the voice of God around a couple of queries -- "Why did You have them invite me to give a message?" and "What is the message You want me to bring.?"

Now before someone asks, "Do you believe that God can only lead you to speak during the time allotted to waiting/open/silent worship? Couldn’t God also lead you to the message in advance?", let me say that I believe that. I think God can work in all sorts of ways. I think that my past prepared manuscripts (and even the 3x5 cards) were examples of God at work in the "advance" instead of the moment.

Who knows (or maybe I should say "God only knows" ) maybe I'll be led to some combination new combination of preparation -- 3x5 notes, typed manuscript, and complete openness to the movement of the Spirit in the moment.

For now, though, this seems like the place for me to set out on a new adventure of being a disciple and learning to listen more carefully. And for renewing my own ministry.

-- Brent

PS The photo is of the young 3x5 card Brent Bill. More hair but even less smarts than now.

Meetinghouse Photos: Meetingroom Bench & Hat, Pennsylvania