Pastoring in the Society of Friends

“It was not the pastor itself George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, and the early Quakers were rebelling against,” Derek Brown argues, but the abuse of ministerial privilege they saw around them. The pastoral role itself can still be meaningful to Friends: “God has allowed Quakerism to exist for a reason—to have a testimony and a message—and so Quaker pastors ought to embody those testimonies and help their congregation live that out.”

In an essay for Friends Journal, “Training and Educating Future Quaker Pastors,” Derek Brown elaborates on his model of pastoral leadership grounded in humility, vision, and support for the flourishing of Friends’ gifts

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10 thoughts on “Pastoring in the Society of Friends

  1. Interesting presentation. Though I’d hate to have to write the job description for an unprogramed pastor for herding cats! If I were to consider a pastor, though, I would want that person to be reaching out to attract the young, not to care for the old. Our Care and Counsel committee is excellent at the later but no one at most meetings does the former as their specific focus. We are a dying religion as a consequence.

  2. Can we go back to first principles – on what basis does Derek Brown argue that it was not the role of pastor itself that George Fox, and the early Quakers rebelled against?

    “Now after I had received that opening from the Lord that to be bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not sufficient to fit a man to be a minister of Christ, I regarded the priests less and looked more after the dissenting people… As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord did let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power. Thus, when God doth work who shall let [i.e. hinder] it? And this I knew experimentally.” (Journal, 1647)

    1. Hi David,

      Thanks for watching the video. I think one piece of evidence I would point to would be the first sentence of Fox’s quotation – that, by the standards of the day, the common assumption was that, for the Anglican Church, it was university education (Oxford, Cambridge, etc.) that qualified one as a minister (along with the societal baggage that came along with it). It is the abuses of the religious system that lie at the heart of Fox’s rejection. The later developments in Fox’s time (ministers, Second Day Morning meetings, elders, etc.) all display expressions of pastoral care and oversight. Thus, the rejection of pastors was a reaction (a necessary and good one), but the recognized need was still filled in other ways (in some cases, often quite close to the pastoral role).

      To clarify: I am not trying to invoke George Fox’s endorsement of the current state of programmed Friends, but merely stating that programmed Friends (done properly) are not anathema to the early ethos of Quakerism.


      1. Derek,

        I think this argument is circular.

        The essence of the Fox quote above in this context is “Then the Lord did let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition…” – none – irrespective of formal study and training, or degrees in divinity – or the lack thereof – none.

        Leaving Fox aside, I think much of the ambiguity I sense in your supposition has to do with not drawing the distinction between pastoral care, and pastoral ministry.

  3. The reason we DON’T have pastors is because we believe WE ARE ALL EQUAL, and therefore, we are ALL pastors, when we are led to speak!

    1. Hi Libbie,

      I appreciate you taking the time to watch the video. I would agree that we are all equal in that we all possess God-given gifts – but that those gifts differ. What unifies them is that we use them to “minister” (and thus we are all ministers). Some, however, have received pastoral gifts and, in the programmed Friends Church, utilize those gifts in the pastoral role.


  4. As fitting with the nature of Quakerism, I disagree almost entirely with any role of Pastor within the Quaker Community. As an “Original Quaker” there is no room for any leadership within the Original Community for ALL are EQUAL and there is none above the other. The “little small voice” gives to whom it will with none to stand in its way. This is the very heart of Quakerism, and this is what it means to be a Quaker!

    1. I agree completely with Joe Ewell,Libbie Counselman and David Barry on a theological level.
      On a personal level as someone who has suffered greatly from Pastors (admittedly outside ‘The Friends’)
      for over 40 years it was such a relief to meet with an unstructured Friends church . At the time your needs are the
      greatest, you need God, and not a pastor/spiritual supervisor/ etc. I appreciate this is not what Derek has in mind;
      but human nature is human nature, and once given a ‘Role’ most people will struggle to fulfill it and others will accept this
      as leadership. In the URC the minister is merely a teaching elder, but to everyone else he IS the Minister.
      Again if one accepts a formal pastoral role, why should one person be qualified to give spiritual support and guidance
      on almost any problem life throws at us. If I as a member of such a congregation seek support and guidance from other than
      the ‘Pastor’ there is a real risk of causing offense.I need support ‘but ‘gold is where you find it’! No offense Derek I hope.

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