Friday, October 12, 2012

Eldering III

After my last post, On Outrunning Your Guide, a Friend asked me if I had any advice on what to do if you hear someone else outrunning his or her guide.  This is really a question about eldering.  I have written in the past about serving as an elder for an individual minister and about working with an elder as a minister.  This post is about eldering within one's own meeting.

Dear Friend,

You asked if I had thoughts on what to do when you hear someone else outrunning his or her guide in giving vocal ministry.  I am a little ashamed to say that my initial reaction was, "Don't do anything!"  Taking a Friend to task for vocal ministry is the kind of behavior that has given "eldering" such a negative connotation, and I have spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to reclaim the positive definitions of the word!  Still, attending to the quality of worship and holding ministers accountable is an essential part of being an elder.

A few years ago, the Nominating Committee at University Friends Meeting spent some time reflecting on the question of eldering in response to vocal ministry and concluded that it was not possible to elder someone you do not love.  I think that is true for all kinds of eldering, but especially this kind.  It is something to approach with humility and grace.

As with vocal ministry, God may call anyone to serve as an elder at any time, but there are those in our meetings who have particular gifts of eldering.  An elder's primary task is to hold the meeting in prayer.  An elder may come to meeting early to ground the space, pray for the meeting throughout the week, or have a particular concern for the quality of worship.

If you are in meeting for worship and hear someone giving a message outrun his or her guide, my first recommendation is to go as deep as you can.  Pray for the minister and try to listen for the Spirit beneath the message.  Consider that the message may not be for you, and pray that it reaches the person who needs to hear it.

After the person giving ministry has finished, resist the temptation to respond!  I know that I sometimes feel an urge to smooth things over after a message that seems ungrounded, but I know that I would just be speaking out of my own discomfort and not at the prompting of the Spirit.

If you feel led to speak with the Friend who gave vocal ministry after the rise of meeting, test that leading.  Is the leading truly for you?  Is there someone else who may be feeling led to say something?  Does your meeting have a committee, such as Worship and Ministry, with a concern for the quality of worship?

If, after your discernment, you still feel clear that you have a message for the individual, ask to speak with him or her.  Be direct, speak with love, and say what God has put on your heart.  Then listen.  Giving vocal ministry is a vulnerable thing, and the Friend may have had the sense of outrunning the guide, or may be struggling with other issues.  Hold the encounter in prayer, before, during, and after.

People speaking without divine inspiration is one of the hazards of open worship.  If the meeting is grounded, it should be able to absorb the occasional misguided ministry.  But if this happens often or repeatedly, it is a symptom of larger problems that the meeting needs to address.

Some queries to consider:
  • Does the meeting have a shared expectation that worship is a time to center and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit?  
  • Do members and attenders have a shared vocabulary to describe their experiences of feeling led to speak in worship?  
  • Is there space for conversations about vocal ministry?  
  • How does the meeting as a whole encourage vocal ministry and hold those who feel led to speak accountable?


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