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A Problem Created?

I have grown up in the pastoral Quaker context in the Northwest, and am writing specifically from this place – yet I believe my concerns/observations are perhaps not unique to pastoral meetings.

My current work is with youth and and young adults, and one of the areas we deal with often is vocation/life calling. I have only worked in this current position for two years, but have noticed something – none of the 75-80 young people I work with talk about the possibility of entering pastoral ministry.

In addition, many of the pastors in our YM have come into the YM from other denominations – meaning a large percentage of our current pastors did not grow up in the Friends church.

And so the question I began to mull over is this – is there something about the way we do ministry that somehow makes pastoral ministry in the manner of Friends less appealing?

As I thought about this, I though about the students with whom I was in seminary. There were a good number of young men and women who were attracted to pastoral ministry, whose churches said – “you should consider being a minister/pastor.” These students were coming from a variety of denominational backgrounds, none of them Quaker.

And I know from my church experience (significant time in three distinct denominations) that other churches place a high emphasis on their pastoral leaders – sometimes too much. But nonetheless, children and youth grow up with considering pastoral ministry to be a worthy or important calling – something they should perhaps consider.

As Quakers, we value the equality of all people to hear the voice of God, and this is something I affirm. But I wonder if the ways in which we talk about this lead our young people to think less of pastoral ministry.

Essentially, “Anyone can do it – so it is not a ‘special’ calling.”

It seems to me, in the NW at least, that we need more of our youth who have a pastoral gift strongly considering the call of pastor – even in the unique context of pastoral ministry in the Friends tradition. We have uniquely gifted and passionate youth in our midst, and I want them to love the church in such a way that it continues to grow in vibrancy.

What do you think? Do we send subtle messages about the relatively low importance of pastoral ministry to our youth?

  1. Davida
    June 6, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    Jamie, I disagree with your assertion that “Anyone can do it, it isn’t special” is the characterization of pastoral ministry in the Quaker church. I would counter that the message is “Any vocation can be one of ministry, whether or not you work as a preacher.” This may, as you say, minimize the importance of a specifically pastoral ministry, but perhaps it allows young people to think of ministry more globally and less specifically. I think the gains provided by this kind of thinking outweigh the losses.

    • June 6, 2011 at 1:28 PM


      Thanks for your post. I am in complete agreement with you – in actuality, the vocation of minister/pastor is not more special than that of a biologist or accountant, etc. But I wonder if the message we send somehow makes pastoral ministry seem insignificant – for instance, to be a college professor has esteem, a sense of achievement to it. I wonder if the Quaker church has removed the esteem or achievement associated with becoming a vocational pastor?

      What I mean is – we rightfully talk often about the ability of the Holy Spirit to move and speak in the lives of all people. And I just wonder if somehow this makes being a pastor seem like something that is not as awesome as another profession that not everyone is gifted with. I guess I am most concerned that there are young people who dismiss (perhaps even unknowingly) pastoral ministry because of the (important!) message of Christ’s presence for all.

      More thought, or push back?

  2. Mike Huber
    June 6, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    This is a very important topic, so thank you for starting the conversation! Like you, I’ve noticed the lack of young pastors from within our yearly meeting. I’ve also noticed that young Friends are still drawn toward ministry. However, they tend to become spiritual directors, community organizers, or advocates for justice. The growing trend toward non-pastoral expressions of public ministry should clarify something about our current situation: young Friends are still listening for the call to serve, but they are not hearing, “get thee to a parsonage.”

    Since I happen to be a pastor, I’d like to think my work is indispensable for the health of Christ’s church. However, I know that structures change over time. “Structural maintenance” is never as important as listening for the fresh guidance of God’s Spirit. That is a central value for Friends, so perhaps it’s not surprising that our young ministers are at the vanguard of a cultural shift.

    I would reframe the question, slightly. Instead of asking, “How do we get more young Quaker pastors?” I would ask, “If there is a transition ahead of us, how do we get through it with the greatest possible sense of love and mutual respect?”

    • June 6, 2011 at 2:44 PM

      Thanks, Mike! You thoughts are insinuating a cultural move away from the church – that “ministry” will be defined, by this generation, as something done mostly outside of the church building, and those who come to it during a given week. Am I reading this right?

      If so, that is one very real possibility – but I also see young people attracted to the church in ways that makes me think it is not going to change too dramatically – though perhaps you are suggesting merely more of a bi-vocational model – which is what a lot of NWYM pastors do currently.

      What other models would allow for ministers like you mention, but not be the typical “pastor” role like the church currently knows and has known for so long?

      • Mike Huber
        June 7, 2011 at 6:17 PM

        If young Friends are not called to ministry (at all), then the problem is undeniable. If young Friends are not called to a specific ministerial role, then the problem may be with our expectations. Rather than predict the future, I am trying to say the future is unpredictable. At least in theory, If Christ is calling people to new FORMS of ministry, then it seems wise for the church to acknowledge that this “reorganization” comes from the top!

        Instead of allowing ourselves to be divided into opposing camps of “traditionalists” versus “innovators,” I hope we will all listen together for how Christ is building the church in this time and place. I am confident that ALL who listen will find a meaningful role (even if the structure is something different that what we’ve come to expect).

  3. June 6, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    Very interesting post Jamie. Since I don’t usually like to comment on such things and I find myself doing so.
    I think you are on to an interesting issue, but since I have not grown up in the Quaker church I don’t know how relevant my input is going to be.
    With that said, when thinking about going into pastoral ministry the question I often find myself asking is, “is it worth it?” I think my general perception of pastoral ministry within the Yearly Meeting and without is that it requires an inordinate amount of work, with frequently little to no recognition. In other words, the work of being a pastor is a vocation that requires a complete level of commitment of one’s life and energy, that outside of the right congregation, does not always feed you back reciprocally.
    To that end, the role of campus pastor, professor or non-profit work is incredibly appealing because it seems that there are 1) buffers inherently in place in such work to enable greater distance between one’s personal time and time expressly spent in vocation and 2) there are frequently rewards or benefits inherent in the job such as tenure, the ability to be published and hopefully the respect of one’s students.
    This is not to say that I think about things in such a black and white, risk-reward analysis (though I did major in Economics), but that these are some reasons why I find the idea of pastoral ministry incredibly intimidating and at times even more off-putting while I do not find the same feelings in regard to being a campus pastor of some type or function. I know growing up this was not the way it was, but as I became more aware of vocations and my desires to do ministry, the question of “is it worth it” became more and more frequent, in tandem with “am I up to that challenge.”
    It seems one needs to be of incredibly strong character and experience to make a good pastor, I could not see myself as being a pastor today in almost any capacity, while I could see myself working at a college in a spiritual life capacity somewhere.
    All that to say… as a “youth-type” I understand feeling a call of God on your life but not seeing the work of a pastor as necessarily the most fulfilling.

    • June 7, 2011 at 6:34 AM


      Thanks for your “young” and wise perspective! Perhaps that is one way the church in general can work to assist its pastors – the creation of boundaries, and the helping to maintain those. It is true that the church in general places too many expectations on pastors – a lot of pastors thrive on that (dangerous, obviously) – but we certainly expect more from them than say our banker or our barista! The “is it worth it” question is a good one, and one that is perhaps as good a starting place as any for beginning to address the issue.

  4. June 6, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    I come from the liberal unprogrammed tradition, and although we affirm the equality of all and the potential for anybody to give spoken ministry in meeting for worship, we certainly *don’t* believe ‘anybody can do everything’ – we recognise that people do have different gifts which can be nurtured; not everybody will be a meeting clerk, or elder, or overseer during their Quaker lives!

    Does your tradition have the structure of nominations committees to discern gifts (and potential beneficial challenges!) in individuals who can be appointed to Quaker roles? If it does, is the apparent under-interest of young people in full time pastoral ministry something which could be pointed in their direction to nurture? If it doesn’t, is it something your tradition could learn from our tradition to our mutual benefit?

    • June 7, 2011 at 6:38 AM


      Thanks for your thoughts. The programmed Friends I am a part of are in agreement with you – not everyone is capable of fulfilling any role in the meeting. I think sometimes though the gifts that fit with vocational ministry (being a pastor in our context) are seen less as that, and more as he gifts of a good college professor, or high school teacher, or community organizer. And we do have committees (many of them!) to nominate folks – and those committees are attempting to incorporate young people, which has added an important voice. But I wonder if too often we don’t encourage pastoral gifts, for whatever reason, and so our youth don’t grow up thinking – “one day I might be a pastor!”

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

  5. Christine M. Greenland
    June 7, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    Mike, thanks so much for your perspective as a pastoral minister. Jamie, thanks for starting this discussion.

    Among non-pastoral meetings, there is a similar challenge when young ministers — with considerable gifts — call older Friends to task concerning the structures with which we bind ourselves. I see here — as among pastoral Friends — the leading to take “church” into a broader context than mere structural maintenance can allow. Non-pastoral Friends are just as tied up with things structural, I find.

    • June 7, 2011 at 6:40 AM

      Good noticing, Christine. There are voices from youth that are asking us to think about how we structure/think about church. And like Mike said, perhaps this is the beginning of the end of normal church structure as I know it – but even if that is the case, there is still need for the prophetic, the teacher, those who are drawing the church together as a body. And that is where I wonder if we have not nurtured those gifts well…

  6. Jason
    June 7, 2011 at 8:06 AM

    To directly answer the question of making it “less appealing”, I don’t think so. I think it could be argued that it is not being made more appealing. IMHO making something less appealing means that we are actively downplaying the importance of it, which I don’t think we do. I think we do an excellent job of emphasizing the non-vocational aspect of ministry, but I don’t know if I’ve seen much effort in the way of emphasizing vocational ministry.

    • June 7, 2011 at 9:05 AM

      Good point – there is not a current of “you could/should do other things.” But I also think about friends in ministry in other denoms who were targeted by their denoms in order to be trained/encouraged to enter vocational ministry, and I wonder if our theology keeps us from doing that, and if so, is that a bad or good thing? What it would look like to emphasize vocational ministry alongside of what we already do well?

  7. Bob Hampton
    June 7, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    Jamie, this is a great question that of course draws each of us to reflect on this dilemma based on our own experience. I think each of us naturally wants reach out to the group we are the most like. Our concerns center mostly on reaching those who are most like us. I used to think I was like a lot of the population. I still think this except that none of them are in “church”. If pastors are to reach out to and speak to the need and condition of the hearts of the “listeners”, it certainly narrows the field of who will be called to minister to a much smaller flock of sheep. The women of the Friends Church have risen to meet the challenges that women face in this world and have put their passions into action to change their world. Men have failed miserably in rising to challenge our crisis. The church has largely missed the mark in acknowledging that men are different than women and are motivated differently to reach their world. Until Friends embrace this, things won’t change.

    • June 7, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      Bob – good thoughts. What would be some of these motivations for men?

  8. Bob Hampton
    June 7, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Jamie, for me to try to put into words, what men need, would be a disaster. Many would think I am out of touch with reality and write me off while there would be some who could take my suggestions and get beyond the specific activities I might voice and spell out the challenges we face as men and how to deal with it. For all the studies that show the vast differences in males and females from the time we are an infant through adulthood, the church seems to spend a lot of time in gender neutral activities and motivation. The ones who stick around either don’t mind or haven’t put their finger on what is wrong yet but a few will rise beyond the norm and speak to the condition of those whom God has laid on their heart.
    I will never attempt to guess what it is that motivates women but I do know that what has motivated me in life is far different from what motivates my wife. In high school there were a small number of guys on my wrestling team who were helped by a coach telling them they could beat the guy who was unbeatable but most of us did our best when the coach said “you don’t have a chance, this guy is better than you but just do the best you can”. That is when “what God gave me, kicked in”! In practice two coaches would bet each other dinner who could be held on their back and who couldn’t be beaten. You have never seen a workout until you’ve seen the testosterone fill the room on those occasions. I think we all knew that none of those bets were ever collected on but those coaches got what they wanted from us because they knew what it took to challenge us.
    I don’t really remember the specifics of a lot of teaching that I already agreed with in my life but I sure remember the times I hated hearing what I needed to change. I have battled in my spirit many times when I heard what I knew to be true but wasn’t willing to live out. I guess you could say that hearing what I don’t like, agrees with me.

  9. Tom Smith
    June 7, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    Maybe one of the answers is to encourage women to be pastors/ministers in the Friends tradition.
    In developing leadership in general, maybe an expansive view of ministry through listening, counseling, providing opportunities for young people to lead worship, etc. would provide avenues for possible pastoral ministers to learn experientially/experimentally Friends leadership.

  10. Christine M. Greenland
    June 8, 2011 at 3:46 AM

    The example of early Friends (and the intelligent women who were a part of that movement) comes to mind. Ministry among Friends as always been “on the edge”… if one follows the Spirit of the Living God (remembering the Hebrew, spirit and wisdom are both feminine nouns). We need both, not one or the other to become a vital community.

    Although I didn’t intend to do so, I did attend seminary because I felt that the Friends tradition I was in was stuck, and that my faith needed some challenge to it. After a few years, I found myself with an M.Div. (and my part of the tradition is a bit leary of anyone with an M.Div. (We aren’t that sort of Friends, you know.)

    It occurs to me that real ministry is both pastoral and non-pastoral. If we speak truth with steadfast love (agape) to each other, we are indeed following the Spirit of the Living God, the incarnate Christ. Men or women, recognized pastors/ministers or elders or not, we need to be both faithful and yielded — not to our own understanding, but to what God would have us do. What we each/all need to do is to encourage those in our communities to get beyond the points where they are “comfortable”. To do that, we need to be willing to be uncomfortable from time to time.

    One thing that impresses me about younger Friends (of all parts of our tradition) is the willingness to look at the spiritual life and ministry and challenge the idols we have with us… whether this happens to be church structure or meeting structure, or just the unwillingness to consider differing points of view… It’s too easy for us to congregate in clusters of “like” folks… This is our loss.

    One thing I like about the Evangelical stream is the willingness to consider mission work in different cultures. However, that may mean that the “mission work” in our home congregations isn’t what it might be. If Friends are too comfortable in their surroundings, what can we say of faith or of faithfulness?

    I observe here in the center of the more liberal branch that there is a similar unwillingness to allow younger Friends to engage in leadership roles.

  11. Bob Hampton
    June 27, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Jamie, according to George Barna research, when a child comes to faith,17% of their families will follow. When a woman or mother comes to faith, 31% of their families will follow. When the father is the one coming to faith first, 93% of their families will follow. Every one of these categories is huge and not to be diminished by another but if fathers are not being reached, we have ignored the largest impact we could have.

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