“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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I think many people, if you talk to people who are no longer part of the church — while not stereotyping– a majority… that happens because of poor leadership. They’ve been hurt, they’ve been damaged, they’ve encountered leaders who acted with authoritarian–with unkind hearts and who could not listen to disagreement. If we could do those things differently the Friends church would look dramatically different than many churches around.
Pastoring in the Society of Friends
My name is Derek Brown. I live in Haviland, Kansas, I am a member of Haviland Friends Church, and I’m the Vice President for Graduate Studies at Barclay College where I also serve as Professor of Pastoral Ministry.
The role of pastoring is a controversial topic for some, especially depending on where you reside in the movement of Quakerism. And I think it’s important to perhaps go back to the beginning for those who perhaps are unfamiliar. You know, the movement began with no clergy, with no pastors, and in fact it began as almost a reaction and a rejection to the clergy of the time. Yet today we have a large segment of Quakerism with pastors and I think the controversy or if there is a division, it resides in, “Is that right?”
Now I would argue that pastoring itself, or the role of the pastor, is not contrary to the ethos of Quakerism because it was not the pastor itself that George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, and the early Quakers that they were rebelling against; it’s what the system represented. To be a pastor back then you could only have gone to the best schools, it was often limited to the upper nobility. Because of that social divide there were cases of clergy just not caring about their congregations. We have examples of the clergy riding into town, flipping the hourglass for their sermon, and once it’s done riding away. And all the while the people are having to pay through taxes for the preacher’s salary. If we have pastors today who do not do those things I think pastors can function within the Quaker ethos. In fact, if you look at early Quakerism you had leaders in the church who preached, who oversaw meetings, who cared for people and even monthly meetings who financially supported these traveling ministers, so we were not far off.
What Does a Friends Pastor Look Like Today?
I think the challenge today is distinguishing a Friends pastor from a Protestant pastor. 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. To be distinctive from other pastors, I think Friends pastors, to truly make an impact, should do one of several things. First, they ought to help people discover their gifts and create the freedom within a worship service for those people to express their gifts, and this is not easy, but hopefully though prayer, through consensus, and through faithful service you’ll see that a church, a meeting where everyone recognizes their gifts and serves one another in the world — the theologian Miroslav Volf talks about serving as the person of Christ, whether you empty the trash can or preach a sermon, when you do that and you live out of that gift, you’re serving as Christ to somebody. When we’re all doing that the church is much, much stronger. So, helping people find their gifts, removing yourself from the center of attention, and above all, I think just acting with humility.
The Role of a Pastor in Unprogrammed Meetings
You know, I don’t think it’s my job to sell pastors in the Friends movement but I often thought as many in the East Coast, as many unprogrammed meetings, as their congregations get older, I do think there is a role and value of having a chaplain, a spiritual guide, a pastoral care role, especially for aging congregations of unprogrammed meetings. I think especially as members aren’t able, as much, to practice pastoral care visitation on each other, I think there is a place for it. That does not mean bringing in an entire new ecclesiological system but I do think there’s things we can learn. Just as Evangelical Friends churches and pastoral Friends churches can learn more about the historic Friends testimonies, I think the unprogrammed Friends can learn a little bit as well from pastoral Friends.
- 1) Do you believe pastoring is contrary to the Quaker ethos? Why or why not?
- 2) How do we distinguish a Quaker pastor from other pastors? What should they do differently, if anything?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.