Friday, January 15, 2010

More Thoughts on Leadings

Should one have a sense of leading before serving on a committee?

This question has surfaced in a variety of ways in my meeting recently and has been troubling me.  The argument seems to be that there are certain All-Purpose Friends who Get Things Done and do good work on many different kinds of committees.  Thus, the nominating committee can put these Friends just about anywhere, to the good of the meeting.  The All-Purpose Friend sees that something needs to be done, agrees he could do it, and says yes to the nomination.

The problem for me is that whenever I agree to serve on a committee without a sense of leading, things go badly.  Committee meetings feel like a burden, conflicts arise, and the work is not smooth.  I get resentful and feel like I am not appreciated.

This is not to say that things are always easy when I do something because I have a sense of leading.  On the contrary, that work is hard too, and I usually find myself questioning my decision at some point.  But there is an underlying sense of rightness, or at least a memory of my initial clarity to help me through hard times.

So I think it is important for Friends to have a sense of leading before serving on a committee.

The next question is, what does it mean to have a leading?  I don't have a good answer for that.  I know how I feel when I have a leading, but I don't know how other people feel unless we talk about it.  And I know there are not always words to describe the experience, but I want to know how other Friends experience the Spirit or Way Opening when considering what to do.

At the center of this is our commitment to listen to the Spirit.  The role of the meeting is to listen to the Spirit and name gifts in Friends, gifts that the Friends may not know they have.  The role of the individual is to listen to the Spirit, consider the gifts the meeting has seen in them, and use those gifts for the good of the community.

But what do we do if no one has a leading to do something we consider essential to the life of the meeting?  What we always do: wait, listen, and trust that God will give us everything we need.


  1. My sense of leading usually begins with a sense of my giftedness fitting with a committee's felt need. When I see that felt need and realize my giftedness matches I start asking questions. Then I usually ask a couple of "weighty" Friends to sit in discernment with me. Usually after this discernment I find that I have clarity.

  2. I've seen an awful lot of committee work approached as a chore, a job to be filled, with tasks to be done. When that's the motivation, the i's are dotted and the t's crossed but the creative, extra-mile work is usually absent.

    But we've all seen people who would be doing the work even if there hadn't been the whole nominations process. It's not always exciting or sexy work, but they're led and there's a joy even in the drudgery. I'd love to see meetings start thinking more about gifts in the community--and how to recognize and support them--and worry less about filling slots in a committee list.

  3. My question is, how do you when listening to the Spirit becomes inertia? Sometimes I feel like people are not very responsive and decision-making can at times be painfully slow. I'm a very thoughtful and contemplative person and I find myself really stretched by the slow decision making. In our meeting some of that is attributable to prior leadership that did not encourage independent thinking. But I'm not sure that accounts for all of it. I have definitely learned grace through being in this particular meeting but I've begun to wonder if this is the right place for me. Thoughtfulness and action are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  4. It seems to me if we are doing things to which we are not led, that will distract us from things to which we are led. We should not accept a responsibility simply because we think someone needs to do it and we are capable. If the work is something blessed by God, there will be people who are led to do it.

    I remember a time when I served an organization as Treasurer becauue someone needed to do it. When my term was up, I refused to be reappointed because I did not feel led to that work. Folks in the group were really worried that no one would do it, but what happened was that someone much better qualified - a CPA who was Treasurer of a Monthly Meeting - came forward, someone with whom they were not previously aware. I don't think that would have happened if I had accepted reappointment on a duty basis.

    Many years ago, I read Towards a Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren. He said they did not have committees to do things, that they would not take on any work unless God sent someone with a call to it, and that when someone expressed a leading to a ministy they put that in their bulletin to find others with such a leading and those led to do the work became a team doing it. This concept of a team is different than a committee. A team is those doing. A committee is a group with authority over something, but not necessarily the people doing it.

    Friends have tended to become bureaucratized, IMHO. The proliferation of committees puts a lot of pressure on members to serve on committees even when they are not so led. This is not something in Quaker tradition, but rather something that has developed in the last century or so, more so among some groups of Friends than others. Has God really led Friends to this proliferation of committees? I have my doubts.

  5. You raise good questions here, and I don't think there's one answer. I have had leadings that were definitely not in my "giftedness", but the pull was so strong that even when I tried to ignore it, rationalize it away, beg off, the pull from *inside* was still there.

    In once case I was led to be on a finance committee, definitely NOT my area of expertise. The resulting group was a nice mix of people from different walks of life, and we each brought a voice to the table that was needed.

    I have also stayed too long in a job where there were others who could learn and lead, because my comfort level (and my ego?) was so great that I couldn't see it was time to let others develop their gifts.

    I remember reading in Friends Journal a number of years ago about a meeting that elected to take a sabbatical year from all committee work, in order to pay more attention to the worship and nurture of the meeting. Guess what? The meeting lived on! So I tend to agree with Bill that sometimes we get over-bureacratized.

    Thanks for this discussion!

  6. RantWoman highly recommends the section on committees in the NPYM Faith and Practice, approx. pp62-68.

    RantWoman is also a philistine and a former clerk of Hospitality Committee. She wonders how the dishes will get washed and the floors swept if one relies only on Faith and Practice. RantWoman confesses she herself would rather just nurture a glad heart along with the clean dishes; RantWoman also has plenty of experience with spiritual concerns forming specifically in connection with ministries of hospitality and hot liquids.

    RantWoman further notes that Faith and Practice omits any mention of what RantWoman calls Quaker baptism, all the seekers and newcomers who jump into dishwashing as a way to fit in.

  7. I'm a strong believer in being led to be on committees - or anything for that matter! You're right that if you get involved not out of a leading, it's just not as good.

    When I was at NSFC folks took giftedness and leadings very seriously. Lorraine always used to saying something like, "Christian maturity does not mean serving on a committee." (Something like that, I can never remember exactly!) But the point was they didn't want people serving on committees because they *had* to - or because if they didn't, no one else would. (Oh the horror!) So sometimes a committee just didn't have anyone on it! And that was okay.

    Jan Wood led the community through an exercise one time in identifying our spiritual gifts. This really helped people figure out where they could plug in. We identified one person who you might call "All-Purpose" and would serve on any committee we asked. This wasn't because she had every gift, but one of her gifts made her want to jump in if someone asked her - though she would often end up burned out and overwhelmed. Even "all purpose" friends will fit better in some places than others. [I fear I am not explaining this well, hopefully it will mean something to someone!)

    One way I feel a leading about being on committees: After hearing about the committee or being askied to join it, I can't stop thinking about it, what I'll do, how I'll be involved, and I feel excitement or joy. If someone asks me to be part of a committee and it doesn't capture my imagination like that, I generally don't join.

  8. Some probably random thoughts:

    While there are some people with many gifts, and some with a very focused gift, I am not sure that 'gifts' is what it is all about.

    I have had some clear leadings that took me WAY outside my gift set.

    I also learned in Africa that my desire and belief that I should always having meaningful work that uses my unique personality and skills was part of my spoiled American syndrome. The vast majority of people in the world never get any such choice. They do what is put in front of them and are faithful.

    I don't really believe in "all purpose friends" that can and should be plugged into any hole, but I do have the experience of an all purpose leading. My call to help bringing a Quaker meeting into existence, means that I have a general all purpose leading towards its health. I have never felt a divine leading to clean the toilets at FFC, but I do it when I see that it is needed. I do many things that way.

    I think most Quaker churches and meetings have too many committees. And I agree that if the nominations people can't easily find a cheerful volunteer, then many tasks can and should be set aside until workers show up. But this does not apply to toilets - or paying the bills - and many other tasks.

    Sometimes I have had the greatest spiritual gains from from things that I approached with a grumbling and miserly attitude. As long as I stay open to change. Sometimes I find the leading along the way.

  9. I very much appreciate Peggy's "spoiled American syndrome" reminder. Not everything needs to be a leading and not everything needs to be organized by committee. We shouldn't have to discern whether it's our responsibility to scrub a toilet. A sign-up list should be sufficient. If no one can muster the fortitude to get past the natural grumbling stage then we need to crack open the gospels and do a little remedial reading on the ministry of Jesus.

    Right now, my wife's Catholic church is about two years into an ad hoc campaign to stay open despite the greedy bishop's attempts to close it (and sixty others in the diocese). It's fascinating to see how people have come out of nowhere just when they were needed--very much like Bill describes. Some of them have specific skills that no one knew or thought much about but others pull some amazing of piece of personality out at just the right meeting--to everyone's surprise. By coincidence this morning's reading included the gifts portion of Paul's letter the Corinthians. In light of the church's campaign, I took it as a reminder to keep faithful and remember that surprising gifts lay in the most unexpected of human vessels, ready for their moment to advance God's agenda.

  10. Some people's gifts are multi-purpose. Someone who is good at asking the question everyone else is avoiding. Someone who is good at setting an agenda and drawing out quiet voices. These kinds of things are not specific to Finance or Hospitality or any one committee, but are in fact useful to all committees.

    I am currently considering where I am called to serve in the coming year in my meeting. I know it's not the committee I've been on for the last three years. (Any more. It was the right place for me in the first two years.) I think it's the committee I've started complaining about again. If ideas are coming to me for a project, before I'm even on the committee, that's a sign of being called to it.

  11. I think it is really perceptive of you that some people seem to have an All Purpose gift (at least in the context you are using it) while others need a leading.... My guess is that this has to do with the gifts listed in Romans 12: Prophet, Servant, Teacher, Exhorter, Giver, Administrator, and Mercy.

    While all of us are called to be servants, not all of us have the actual GIFT of servant. This is a slightly different thing. Some people believe that people have an overall life calling that fits into more of one of the seven gifts above - even though all of us are called to do all seven at times, one of the seven is your actual make-up.

    My guess is that those with the actual gift of "servant" are those All Purpose friends you are talking about. In reality, they are not truly All Purpose people - but in the context where there needs to be a hardy individual who is just willing to serve on any committee necessary, they easily enough have grace and patience for any type of committee. But if your gifting is mercy, the Spirit will most likely take you to committees where they need input from a particularly compassionate person...or if your gift is teaching, you will be led to committees where a great deal of clear understanding and truth is in order and you can help the committee think clearly, if it is administration, well, you get the idea. Your spirit will start to feel uncomfortable in a setting where it has no particular gift to release to the others.

    Different giftings also experience leading in different ways, in keeping with the shape of their inner spirit. The leading tugs on their deepest essence, so if your essence is that of a prophet, the leading will be one of your inner self being awakened to a vision or passion that motivates you forward, if your essence is that of a mercy, the leading will be a sense of God's compassion and love leading you...etc etc...

  12. I think it is important to have a leading before serving on a committee but in my experience that leading may be about a willingness to accept the leading of the nominations committee to approach you.

    I have served on many different kinds of nominations committees myself and have found that they work best when they can be really open to possibilities in people rather than only to 'giftedness' or 'skill-sets'! In Britain YM there is an increasing tendency to rely on people's worldly qualifications rather than their spiritual ones and I am very uneasy about this.

    I know that some of my best experiences [not the easiest] on Q committees have been when I have been asked to do something I didn't expect and for which I did not have any giftedness that was obvious to me. I have seen this work for others too.

  13. I appreciate the post and the comments, and I want to add another piece that I've been holding.

    There is a difference between having a leading and being given an opening.

    Sometimes there is an opening--and I don't mean a vacancy!--for a Friend to serve on a committee, an unexpected opportunity. In that case, the Friend who is invited to serve may need to consider if the Way is open or shut in accepting that invitation.

    I also want to share the experience I had when I served as clerk of the meeting's Nominating Committee. I made it a point to explain to the Committee that it was NOT our job to "fill slots." Rather, we were to learn about Friends gifts, help name gifts that perhaps needed a bit of nurture to be called out, offer invitations for service, and let God work in the hearts of those Friends invited.

    There were many times when we were tempted to go back to the way Nominating used to do things, but when we reminded ourselves of our spiritually grounded work, we were freed up and did our work more effectively. Then the committee was able to bring a report back to the meeting, explaining that either Nominating had not found Friends with the necessary gifts to carry out the work, or that Friends did not find the Way open to serve.

    Those reports became opportunities to explain to the meeting the responsibility of Nominating Committee as well as the responsibility of community members (that is, recorded members and regular attenders).

    Another concern I have about committees is that they are often too big! Not every committee needs five, six, or more Friends. But that too is a change that has to be accepted by the meeting, trusting that the necessary work will be carried out by a smaller... more discerning? ...committee.

    Regarding your question, Ashley, about what it "means" to have a leading, or how do we know we are being led... Here are the signs I usually look for:

    1. Does the leading last over time?
    2. Is there a sense of increased "rightness" of the leading as I begin to live into it/follow it?
    3. Am I learning about love, building up the community, the Way of the Holy Spirit, etc.?
    4. Am I feeling humbled by the opportunity to serve?
    5. Even if I struggle with obstacles, is there an underlying sense of joy or peace?
    6. After having lived into the leading for a while and then looking back, are there fruits that I am aware of? (Sometimes, though, we cannot see the fruits of our faithfulness.)

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  14. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments! It is wonderful to hear from all of you and I am glad this post sparked such a great discussion.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.