One of the key teachings of the Quaker movement is that every Christian is called to ministry. It’s not just pastors, yearly meeting officials or employees of non-profits. Each and every one of us is called to a form of ministry, according to the gifts that God has given us. Whether we are physicians, accountants, janitors or farmers, God has a unique ministry in which each can participate. The hidden purpose of our lives is far more than what our jobs happen to be at the moment.
This is a big deal. For most human societies only a tiny minority of folks have been expected to spend much time thinking about spiritual realities. From the ancient Egyptians and the Levitical priesthood all the way down to modern-day religious hierarchies, the vast majority of the world has believed that intimate relationship with God was something for only a special elite. For the rest, it is enough to follow the rules and abide by what the priests tell us God commands.
The ministry of Jesus blew this whole worldview apart. He empowered all sorts of common people to have a direct relationship with God. Rather than having us seek his presence within the innermost room of a holy building where only the most special people could go, Jesus revealed that God is not confined to man-made temples or holy books. In Jesus, God became one of us and established relationships with women, fisherman, zealots, lepers and tax collectors. God broke all the rules of holiness in order to show his great love for us!
Still, old habits die hard. Despite the good news that God’s presence is not confined to special buildings or a priestly minority, most of us still act as if it were. Even groups like Quakers, who pride themselves on a lack of priestly forms, have developed all sorts of rules and procedures for how ministry is to be done. The outward packaging of our faith may look very different, but we have a sense of form, procedure and propriety that is just as baroque as the high church tradition against which we originally rebelled. If we are not careful, it is easy to get lost in process and lose sight of the fact that ministry is about relationship.
Growth in ministry requires us to deepen our shared life with other people. Much of the authority to serve others that Jesus gives us comes from the quality of the relationships that we develop over time. Do people know that they can trust me? Have I established a track record of fairness, honesty, wisdom and compassion? When people interact with me, do they see Christ’s reflection? These are some of the challenging questions that we must continually ask ourselves as we seek to participate in Jesus’ work of reconciliation and peace.
No amount of process and procedure can create this kind of relationship. It is only through our openness to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit that we can live together in genuine community. In this Spirit-filled community, we find the strength to embrace the fullness and variety of ministry into which Christ invites us.
Where do you find support for your ministry — spiritually, emotionally, financially and practically? What does it mean to be part of a fellowship in which we find friendship, inspiration and a collegial community of fellow workers with a variety of gifts and callings? Do the patterns, focus and procedures of your local congregation facilitate this work of equipping each person for ministry? How can our communities become centered with a shared experience of Jesus, who calls us into his ministry of reconciliation?