Traditionally Friends reserved the term ministry to refer to Friends with a special calling to Spirit-led vocal ministry in: regularly scheduled meetings for worship, smaller gatherings (what Bill Taber liked to call “opportunities” with those traveling under religious concern, and public evangelical gatherings to share the good news of Quakerism to non-Friends. These are three settings where a “Gospel Minister” could be used by God to speak to preach, teach, pray, or prophecy.
Friends today place greater emphasis on a diversity of gifts held within the faith community. Paul frequently writes about the importance of embracing a range of gifts including preaching, teaching, prophecy, healing, discerning, and ecstatic utterance. Today Friends may use the word ministry to describe special gifts of faith-led social witness, chaplaincy, religious education, spiritual formation, or healing work.
Leadings. This is a Quaker term for when God speaks to an individual providing direction for action or choice. Leadings are both the precursor to a more well-defined spiritual gift or ministry – and are also the ongoing guide to faithfulness as one attempts to follow one’s gift or ministry. Faithfully responding to leadings from God is the individual equivalent of a community’s faithfulness in responding to God’s guidance in its corporate decisions and actions.
Discernment of call. Any path of religious service or ministry begins with the recognition of some kind of call by God to a particular work or service. This often begins with small promptings in the heart. Friends feeling such nudges often initially request a clearness committee to help them discern their call. This can either be done formally through a ministry and counsel committee or more informally.
Support (or care) of ministry committees. Anyone who feels a long-term calling to particular service needs to clarify the specific steps to be taken. Discerning how one is being led can be done by personal prayer, exploration, and reflection. But we often need others to help us discern the true path. Again, this can be via clearness committees (that meet one or perhaps a few times with the person asking for assistance in discerning God’s leading), meeting with others who have perhaps pursued a similar path for a longer period, or through asking the meeting to provide ongoing oversight of the ministry. Note: Some Friends are uncomfortable with use of the term “oversight” because of its association with overseers in chattel slavery.
Anyone attempting to pursue a ministry faithfully may, at times, lose the way or “outrun their guide” (where they are following ego or intellect rather than God’s direction). A support of ministry committee sometimes plays a passive role of listening to the minister’s description of how they are being led, providing feedback and suggestions, prayerful support, and eldership. The strongest support committees, however, truly hold the ministers being supported accountable. Many Friends have talked about times when a support committee told the minister that the minister was off course. Many of us tend to take on too much and become exhausted and unable to pursue our calling faithfully. The support committee and minister may agree that the minister will not take on additional activities or projects without bringing the proposed activity first to the support committee.
Faithfulness (or accountability) groups. Marcelle Martin and several other Friends have recently developed a new approach to mutual discernment, support, and accountability. Instead of having several Friends provide one-way support to an individual Friend as in a support of ministry committee, three or four Friends meet and offer support to each others’ ministries and leadings. This enables many more Friends within a faith community to receive support in pursuing their own spiritual gifts.