Speaking in Worship / Vocal Ministry

How do you  “test” ministry in the Meeting for Worship?  How do you know when you are supposed tospeak?  What is the process you go through to make sure you know it is time to stand?


Collected From an Open Online Survey
6/29/09 – 7/2/09


I have very physical cues — heart pounding, stomach full of butterflies…. I can’t NOT speak. I review what I have heard several times, and eventually my legs lift me up, I breathe and I speak.

-Sue Tannehill Buffalo, NY


There is no specific “test” that might be applied without making that test itself a form of idolatry. Every time, I need towing it, seldom sure how much will reflect God’s intention & how much might be “just” mine–and of course these arenot mutually exclusive, but we all know what a pain it is listening to someone’s unredeemed conceptional verbiage.  Imay or may not have been thinking about the content of the message beforehand. But there is this feeling of “I need to say this,” which rightly or not, makes the issue moot.

-Forrest Curo, San Diego Meeting


Discernment in ministry is like discerning any situation. I think plainness was an almost hackneyed first step inministry for 300 years because it opens up the can of worms of ego vs service that any Friend needs to wrestle with. Huge Barbour’s “Five Tests of Discernment” is a handy checklist that helps us get away from the me-ism of modern culture into the listening model of (early) Friends. BTW, Reading “Infant Ministry” (Chap 4?) of Samuel Bownas’ Description of the Qualifications can work in a small group situation–amazing experience at a AYF retreat a few years ago.

-Martin Kelley. Affiliation: “It’s complicated”


It’s trial and error.  I’ve been told I have a gift for vocal ministry and yet it has seemed for years to rankle more thaninspire, or so it seems.  The first question is this:  why do I need to give this message? If I need to give it, then it’s ofme and not of God.  I really have to fight my ego. I try to allow messages to leave me and if they come back I paythem more mind.  I also try to feel how my body is reacting; usually if I’m too comfortable, then it’s probably meagain wanting to say something and not of God. If it is of God, then it clearly needs more seasoning.  If I’m reallyspeaking for God, then I shouldn’t have a casual reaction to what I’m experiencing!  I also have to check myself formy frame of mind: whatever the content of the message, is my heart one of love and charity?  If not, then I do someserious praying because the message may very well likely be for me and not for the group.   I learned a long time agothat when I offer ministry in a place where I feel love for myself god and neighbor, then the messages are generallywell-received even if they aren’t easy to hear or offer.  You know what they say about the road to hell and goodintentions . . . .   Eventually, I end up feeling pushed to speak, and I say a short prayer of assistance from God to be faithful in delivering it and I try to offer what is given to me.

-Anonymous, Seton Hill Worship Group / Homewood Friends


How do I feel inside?  Am I:

  • excited on my own account
  • do I simply have some good ideas from my own brain, or
  • is this an unquenched calling that comes from somewhere that feels more transcendent than either of those?

Does this fit with my understanding of Friends’ faith?  Does it answer other ministry that has already been shared?

Would it help others, or is it something that I should keep in my own heart, at least for now?

The process of testing ministry has been a many year process for me.  I’m coming to understand that followingleadings and understanding openings is as much a matter of feeling my way to truth in an ongoing relationship withChrist as it is a realization of soul shaking internal experience.  So I’m coming to experiment with ministry.  I’ll lowerthe standard for a message–going ahead and speaking it without a full understanding that it’s perfect for the day.  Ican check how it felt after or ask some of my spiritually sensitive Friends, who are often also the appointed elders(members of the Committee on Ministry & Worship) their experience of what I said.

-Jay Thatcher, Corvallis Friends Meeting, North Pacific YM


I wait with the message. Does it pass? Does it remain? Does it change? Does someone else deliver it? If the messageis insistent, is it meant for me or for the gathered body? Along with these questions, I feel for a visceral sense that themessage demands to be spoken. After speaking (if true), I come into a deep sense of peace and work accomplished.I’ve also had the experience of messages I’ve not spoken, followed by a sense of a moment missed, regret.

-Judy Goldberger, Beacon Hill Friends Meeting & Jamaica Plain Worship Group


Each time I am led to speak is different. Sometimes it is with trembling, or “quaking.” At others it is a simpleconfidence that I have ministry. The word ministry for me means that I am not speaking to receive personal recognition, but that I am seeking to give to others from the Light have seen.

-Anonymous, Northside Friends Meeting Chicago ILYM


Varies, and this feels difficult for me…still a bit amorphous.  Sometimes there is a message that has been building in me before MfW. I try to test whether the message is coming from ego. Am I at peace?  Is there energy?  I seem to be clearest when I have a visual image that is connected to the message…so that it’s less me talking, teaching than me describing, inviting…

-Lu from Rochester, NYYM


This is a matter of spiritual discernment, not intellectual evaluation.  When one is surrendered to the Holy Spirit in meeting for worship, the Holy Spirit itself (our immediate and perceptible Guide) informs us of what to share and when to share it.

-Lloyd Lee Wilson, Rich Square MMeeting, NCYM-C


Being centered and calm is important, Asking the questions: is this message for others, is it for those gathered here,must it be spoken now and waiting for the answers is a key



We are told what the fruits of the spirit are, and Christian discipleship is all about getting to know the Teacher’s voice– Christ speaking to me. I feel very humble when I am meant to speak to the meeting, tender-hearted and confidentof God’s grace, hoping for the Meeting to receive the words. There is a solid ground within me which the Holy spirithas prepared by its work on me. I cannot go on living ignorant of the destruction of God’s Holy world. I must act,reaching for God’s grace through my prayers. That sure knowledge is what impels me forward into action. I believe itis God speaking through me, saying NO to the sinful life I was born into in the media/cultural soup and expectingother people to save us. It is God who can save us and I must put my faith in God and do as I am bid. I think it is afault of liberal meetings to get too obsessed with whether to speak and not enough obsessed with the saving power ofGod’s grace. I would rather have anyone speak or sing or pray who is in need of God’s grace than the whole group sitin a silence which sometimes is not meeting anyone’s needs.

-Alice Yaxley, Britain Yearly Meeting


I am told to.  my head fills up with a huge “you will say this”.  if that isn’t present, what ever message i receive is always for me and not meeting.

-Anonymous, sandpoint friends meeting


I hate to have to say that I sort of resist an impulse to ministry, but it is true that one “test” seems to be that the impulse overcomes that reluctance to “put myself out there.”  I’m not sure whether it may be rationalization sometime in that resistance, but I do ask myself if this is a message that should be shared, that will be of value to the community

-Nate Swift


Sometimes ministry drops into me unexpectedly and other times in rises gradually.   I “test” it by sitting with it, listening, conversing and debating with God–not this message, not me, not now, give me some words–until I finally surrender and stand, heart pounding, sometimes quaking, praying to let go so completely that the message can simply come through me and I will faithfully put spoken words with the inner knowing.  The stillness that comes affirms my faithfulness in this one instance and I am grateful.

-Anonymous, Rich Square Meeting (NCYMC)


I used to think that when I felt my heart pounding heavily and other physical sensations, that meant I was to stand and speak. Now, when something comes to me, I hold it in prayer for as long as I am able. If my heart starts topound and/or I notice other physical signs, I see them only as a pointer: it is time to pay more attention to whateverI’m being given. I pray, asking God to help me to know whether to speak, and, if so, when. Usually, what is given to me to say is said over and over in my head many times before I stand up. I try to see if whatis given to me is just for me or if it is for the gathered community. I also try to lay before God any biases or judgments I might have about the vocal ministry and how the meeting for worship is going.

-Mary Kay Glazer, Ticonderoga NY Worship Group


I do not have a gift of vocal ministry so I don’t speak at Meeting for Worship.

-Anonymous, NCYMC


Getting those butterflies… the rush of heat… agitation; quaking, you might call it.  That’s usuallyhow it feels when it’s right.  And I usually “test” by trying to center back down, away from thethoughts I think might be ministry; if they come back, that’s a good sign too.  Makes sense… if Istill have them when I’m centered, it’s more likely they’re coming from the Center.  So, I’ll wait awhile after I have the first impulse, to test it.  Also, if I have to word-smith it too much, or explain it to myself or argue about it in my head, that’s a bad sign; that’s me wrapped up in my thinking.Sometimes, I’ve waited too long, though, and realized afterwards that I ought to have spoken.  It takes courage.

-Frederick Martin; Monadnock Meeting, New England