Quakers & Authority

My dad gave me my first personality test when I was sixteen:  it was one of those Myers-Briggs type indicator things.  I’m an INFJ – one letter off from perfection, according to my father (who is an INTJ).  My brother wanted to take the test, but Dad said he didn’t have a personality to test yet.  🙂

In college I really got into looking at personality types.  Perhaps it was the selfish side of me, or perhaps I was so confused about what to do in life that if I could figure out my self, then I could figure out the rest.  One night, probably after working too late at a coffee shop and then coming home to a household consisting of twelve other embodiments of estrogen (far above what is healthy for any human being to endure), I came up with a theory:  religious denominations are not so much about theological agreements, but personality types.  Quakers – introverted/contemplative.  Nazarenes – service-oriented.  Baptists – extroverted/social group oriented.  Pentecostal – demonstrative.  Etc., etc., etc.  With that thought in mind, each denomination would have a lot of the same strengths *and* a lot of the same weaknesses:  the lack of personality diversity leads to one-sidedness, lacking the “shadow side”.  I know:  lots of problems with the theory, but there may be some truth to it.

I’ve been thinking about that more this week as I’ve been hearing feedback regarding the Next Steps recommendations.  Yes, any change is generally perceived as loss, but I’ve been amazed (not in a good way) at the amount of difficult feedback that’s been expressed.  Some people feel in the dark about the implementation of the recommendations; understandable – hopefully something will be shared from up front once the logistics are figured out.  Education needs to happen:  what does “fasting” mean, and what will happen during this time?  Why do we think it’s important?   What was the journey of folks coming to the Two Services recommendation?  Etc.  All legitimate questions.

These things have been brought to the business meeting:  they have not been kept confidential.  And folks on the Next Steps group have been more than willing to share with those who were interested (my poor husband and small group are probably now having to feign interest:  they got to hear updates whether they wanted to or not  :)).

But hearing questions at this point in the process like:

  • Well, why was this committee appointed at all?
  • Who appointed them?
  • Where is this coming from?
  • Why do we have to change?
  • How long has this been going on?

with an overtone of suspicion is really surprising (and frustrating).

What I’m recognizing is a lack of trust in authority in our faith gathering.  And I wonder where that comes from.  I don’t sense that our hired pastors have done anything to deserve a lack of trust:  they lead in very open and transparent ways.  The elders have been fair and thoughtful and intentional as far as I’ve known.  So then I start to wonder:  do Quakers have a problem with authority in general?

My husband comes from the Nazarene tradition which is much more hierarchical than Quakers (well, almost *anyone* would be more hierarchical);  I don’t sense that such a recommendation would be an issue for them (but I could be totally off). It seems that if elders (i.e. people the church has trusted in having a sense of leading and leadership for the faith gathering) felt the need to appoint a committee, and the folks on that committee spent a lot of time and work and prayer and thought and conversation and passion and tears and self working hard to discern the next steps, and then that committee made their recommendation to the elders (who are supposed to be some of the wise folks of the church), and the elders approved that recommendation — it would seem that perhaps the recommendation should be considered to be a good thing and acted upon without having to prove it’s legitimacy and win over every.single.individual.

Yes, I know there are exceptions to the rule; yes, I know it’s wonderful that an individual’s voice is considered in the Quaker business meetings.  But good Lord:  how ever will we get anything done if we don’t trust?!!  What’s the point of having elders if we don’t believe they have our good in mind?  Why bother listening to the leaders for a Sunday morning message if they don’t have a sense of where we’re going in the first place?  Is that why Quakerism is dwindling down?  I hear that the message our denomination contains is refreshing and freeing and life-giving:  so why are our meetings dying?  Is it because we can’t submit – to one another, to leadership, to the Spirit, to God?

I told Jason I felt uneasy bringing this up because I know I have a problem with submission.  My parents didn’t call me “No Nap Gerick” for no reason.  🙂  But perhaps my inability to lay down my preferences for others enables me to see it more clearly in other places in the world.  I’m telling myself that I don’t have to prove my experience or my belief in what I hear God calling us to to anyone:  if I feel manipulated to have to prove myself, I am choosing to feel manipulated (hurrah for CBT).

Initially I felt that Next Steps was about discerning where NFC is called to go.  Now I wonder if it was more about dealing with embedded sins and dysfunctional dynamics that must be named and repented of before we can even think of stepping into a new revelation that God has in store for our faith community — and denomination.  That’s not easy work.  But I’m excited to do it, and I hope and pray that others might engage on the journey as well.

Spirit:  unite and ignite us.

9 thoughts on “Quakers & Authority

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  2. Michelle

    AJ-
    Thank you for speaking boldly about these issues. I have to admit, that even though I knew about the Next Steps meetings and have good friends that were on the committee-I too at times felt like things were being kept kind of “hush hush” until you made the recommendation to the elders. I’m not sure why. But, I need to add that I DO trust the authority in our church. I really respect the elders and I wish, like you seem to, that once a group has spent this amount of time praying and discerning about what they feel is best for our church body that we could just move forward. Honestly, the business meetings make me crazy. The slowness of the Quaker way of processing and discussing, and recommending and more processing, and more discussion leaves me frustrated. COULD WE JUST DO IT! (Of course I see the positive side to all of this -but my “let’s get it done” personality -likes action) I also feel that change is changeable. If we try something and it doesn’t work- hey, we can change back, we can change to something different. God will understand. We don’t always hear Him correctly- with Grace-it will be ok. I am faithful that He would forgive us, help us and redeem us. I too pray that God would unite us-and give us trust in one another. I feel the Spirit trying to move-will we let Him?

  3. Allison

    “religious denominations are not so much about theological agreements, but personality types. Quakers – introverted/contemplative.”

    I think if Quakers are dominated by one type of personality, then we’ve got a big problem. Was George Fox an introvert? Is that why he travelled all over the place, barging into other houses of worship, singing while being persecuted and jailed, healing people? That doesn’t seem very introverted to me.

    I am an ENFP and really love the religion, but I think there is a difference between silent worship and quietism as a culture. One is our religion. The other is Quakerism the culture.

  4. Robin Mohr

    On further reflection, I think that in other groups with more hierarchy, they might well be going ahead with the recommended changes, but that doesn’t mean people wouldn’t have all the same questions and concerns. They just wouldn’t have the same forum to express them.

    One of the beauties of Quaker process is that you get more of the questions and arguments out in the open before you make the decision, rather than just having people grumbling in private after the fact.

    There may/will still be some private grumbling in Quaker circles, but you’re less likely to have the subtle sabotage of people who felt unincluded in the decision making process who give lip service to approving the changes the leaders made but drag their feet every step of the way.

  5. Luke

    You got me right from the start, as I noticed my own Meyers-Briggs letters … we should start an INFJ group on facebook. Thanks for what you wrote. For some reason, NWYM and our churches don’t seem to follow well. I agree with you, and tend to put my trust in the decisions of the leaders. Even if I might not always agree I have to trust in their decision making and their being leaders in the church in the first place. It is also frustrating when people are upset with recommendations, without having wanted to be a part of the process. Some of what churches struggle with is a fear of failure, and a fear of the unknown. Who cares if we fail? What can we learn from the experience? I figure if we don’t do anything now, in a few years the situation will be so much worse, that we will have to call it a failure anyway. Unfortunately some folks have to hit rock bottom before they will accept that change needs to happen. So much for prophets, speakers of truth, being welcome in their own communities of faith. I was reminded Sunday that we also have to trust the work of the Holy Spirit, and that God actually knows what He is doing. For some that is hard to do. Thanks AJ for your thoughts.

  6. Allison

    PS – INFJs and I seem to always always always be mutually attracted to each other. My roommate, my brother, my boyfriend, my best friend in this city… all are INFJs.

  7. Walt Everly

    Not being privy to the responses you’re getting, I can only wonder: is it really a matter of people not trusting our leadership, or is it a matter of not sharing the vision of a need for change?

    I know of many people who like NFC the way it is and don’t see a need for change. This disruption of the status quo makes them nervous and insecure.

    Others may wish for different kinds of changes than those being proposed.

    I’m sure Gregg would be bewildered and frustrated by the suggestion that the vision for the fast hasn’t been articulated from the pulpit to peoples’ satisfaction, but I suspect that’s the case – more than a lack of trust in authority.

    Just wondering…

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