Pastoral Ministry

Preparing Quaker pastors was the primary reason Earlham School of Religion was founded in 1960. Today, though ESR graduates minister in numerous professions, ESR graduates serve as pastors in every FUM yearly meeting that has pastoral meetings as well as some EFI yearly meetings. Still, Friends face a crisis created by a shortage of qualified, well educated, Quaker pastors. This proposal seeks $1,750,000 to endow the Pastoral Studies Program at Earlham School of Religion.

This endowment will accomplish these important objectives:

  • Elevate the pastoral studies faculty position through the creation of a named, endowed faculty chair.
  • Support an ESR-led discernment assistance program for meetings and Friends responding to calls to ministry.
  • Provide continuing education and renewal opportunities for Friends pastors building support networks.
  • Solidify the pastoral studies program for perpetuity as a permanent feature of the Master of Divinity program.
  • A donor who funds this endowment in full will have the option of naming the program.

The Dilemma Facing the Quaker Pastor

Over 100 years ago as the face of Christianity in the United States was undergoing significant changes, many Friends accepted pastoral ministry as one means of leadership within the local congregation. With that move, a particular type of transformation took root within pastoral meetings. A single individual became responsible for a set of ministerial responsibilities. Over time, excellent preaching, home visitation, teaching abilities, counseling skills, community involvement, and administrative leadership within the congregation have become just a few of the lofty, yet standard, expectations that meetings and churches place upon their pastors.

The Friends pastor is now a permanent fixture among Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International congregations. As such, these individuals can be faithful ministers and significant influences in the lives of congregation members. They do much more than preach, visit, marry, and bury! They help individuals form their religious beliefs systems and spiritual values—both of which play an enormous role as persons interpret and assign meaning to life's events.

As important of a role as they play, the Friends pastor is, in some respects, an endangered species. Consider that in Indiana Yearly Meeting, the average tenure of a Friends pastor in a given location is approximately three years. Only thirteen of the eighteen persons recorded as pastoral ministers in Indiana Yearly Meeting since 1992 remained in pastoral ministry as of 2003, representing an attrition rate of twenty-eight percent. Statistics from three of the larger FUM yearly meetings demonstrate the shortage of qualified leadership as represented by pastoral vacancies, few members preparing for ministry, and many pastoral positions filled by non-Friends. If educational data were easily accessible for Friends pastors, a more alarming dimension of the picture would emerge, as many have no formal preparation for pastoral ministry.

Yearly Meeting Number of Meetings Non-Friends Pastors Candidates for Ministry Pastoral Vacancies
Indiana 67 18 6 10
North Carolina 75 2 16 10
Western 62 14 7 1

ESR's Contribution Thus Far

Since Lawrence Barker, Paul Van Ness, and Anne (Webster) Weaver made history as the first graduating class of Earlham School of Religion in 1963, the school has graduated 461 students from its degree programs. Over 500 additional students have studied here for a period of time without earning a degree. Over 1000 persons have benefited directly from the educational ministries offered at ESR as they prepared, in the words of George Fox, to "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone" (George Fox, Journal or Historical Account of the Life, Travels, Sufferings, of George Fox, p. 289).

Persons who leave ESR scatter to all parts of the world, from Belize to Kenya to Japan, from Maine to California, and many points between. They engage in ministry that is as varied as the gifts that have been shared, discovered, and nurtured during the ESR experience. The following list provides a representative sample of the types of ministries through which ESR graduates are bearing fruit in the world.

  • Yearly Meeting Superintendents
  • Yearly Meeting General Secretaries
  • Yearly Meeting Assistant Superintendents
  • Faculty at institutions of higher education
  • Pastoral Ministers
  • Friends United Meeting Staff
  • Friends school faculty and administrators
  • Chaplains and hospice caregivers
  • Acclaimed authors
  • Retreat leaders
  • Spiritual directors
  • Conflict mediation centers
  • Artists
  • Friends Centers on college campuses
  • Quaker missionaries
  • Pastoral caregivers
  • Administrator at a not-for-profit dedicated to congregational life and health
  • Habitat for Humanity

Some graduates practice ministry within the usual structures of meetings and churches. An estimated one-third of our graduates have served meetings and churches in Friends United Meeting affiliated yearly meetings, a few churches belonging to Evangelical Friends International, and numerous churches in other denominations. Other graduates pursue further studies in preparation for ministries of teaching, as the faculties at Earlham College, George Fox University, and indeed the Earlham School of Religion, demonstrate. College campus focal points for Quaker identity and leadership cultivation, such as the Friends Center at Guilford College, benefit from the vision and commitment of graduates from the School of Religion. Friends schools such as Olney and Westtown have received superb teaching and administrative ministry from ESR graduates. The picture is clear: ESR alumni/ae are not only making an impact in the life of the local congregation—they are also strengthening the wider educational framework that unites Quaker communities around the world.

How does an ESR education help prepare Friends for pastoral ministry in particular? We asked our graduates that question. Here is a sample of their responses:

  • "ESR provided intensive work with exegesis, Quaker theology, Christian thought, church history, counseling, spiritual biography, and writing "to spec" for a variety of purposes." —Josh Brown, Indiana Yearly Meeting
  • "ESR compelled me to investigate why I believe what I believe and challenged me to think critically about what I believe." —Bill Bruneau, Indiana Yearly Meeting
  • "ESR helped me develop a voice to express my Christian faith through the lens of Quakerism." —April Vanlonden Degner, Indiana Yearly Meeting
  • "The whole study program was indispensable. I feel totally adequate in all ways as a result of the education I received from ESR. What I appreciated most was discerning Scripture as we each understood it—room was allowed for different hearing of the Word." —Keith Mardock, Iowa Yearly Meeting
  • "ESR provided exploratory opportunities such as time in Appalachia or in Chicago with the Fellowship of Friends. These presented opportunities to better understand the peace testimony. I pursued opportunities to work with the poor while I was in seminary. Now I combine Head Start with ministry, working with the poor and serving in a liberal church, which is a good match for me. It is a peace-oriented church that is active in peace and justice issues. The basis of who I am and where I am is largely due to my experience at ESR." —Karen Mendendall, Iowa Yearly Meeting
  • "I love the opportunities pastoral ministry presents to work with seekers, to introduce them to an understanding of the gospel. Pastoral care—the entire spectrum of weddings, dedication of babies, comforting families in times of loss, the honor of being invited into significant times and journeys in the lives of others. ESR provided good theological training to prepare me for these acts of ministry. I was not raised as a Friend and it was good to come to an understanding of Quaker history, its faith and practices." —Deborah Suess, North Carolina Yearly Meeting
  • "Phil Baisley (pastoral studies professor) and Stephanie Crumley-Effinger (field education director) were influential in giving me concrete, practical experience." —Ben Thornber, Western Yearly Meeting
  • "The seminary and Indiana Yearly Meeting landscapes (pastor at Farmland) let me experience the depth and breadth of Quakerism, to not be frightened by Quakers from different areas. ESR helped me think about what it means to be a leader of an organization and a mystic at the same time." —Scott Wagoner, North Carolina Yearly Meeting

ESR graduates are serving in pastoral ministry across the country. Clearly, Earlham School of Religion is having an impact on the Quaker pastorate.

Forming the Quaker Pastor—Why It Matters

A pastor's theological understanding of faith and ministry shapes the manner in which he or she offers ministry—a fact that is frequently unnoticed when Friends search for a pastor. To gain insight into a pastor's spiritual formation, consider questions such as these:

  • How do the Bible, the Holy Spirit, personal experience, and tradition inform the pastor's work? Denominations differ on how these four sources contribute to spiritual formation. A pastor's conclusions on this subject have a dramatic impact on how he or she approaches ministry.
  • What styles of pastoral leadership are appropriate within a meeting or church? How one thinks about authority and decision-making will shape how one leads others.
  • How have Friends thought about the nature of God and redemption through Jesus Christ? Church history reveals that denominations understand these topics differently, even though all claim to be Biblically based. How a pastor understands God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit will shape how she or he preaches, approaches outreach, gives pastoral care, etc.
  • Friends have a rich tradition of listening and discerning God's leadings. How does one learn this spiritual practice, and how does it best empower pastoral leadership? A pastor's own spiritual practices of listening to God are one of the strongest influences on how he or she makes decisions, leads others, and listens to others.
  • What does faithful living entail? If one thinks of faith as a static set of beliefs, one will envision the act of pastoral ministry differently than if one understands faith as a dynamic relationship with a present God lived among and with other members of a faith community.

While Friends disagree on the role that formal education should play in preparation for ministry, they possess a consistent expectation for competent ministry. Repeatedly, experience illustrates the importance of Friends preparing their own leaders for ministry and leadership if Friends are to retain a distinctive form of Christian faith. Meetings and churches need a trustworthy leader in this area. ESR is prepared to deliver seasoned, distinctive pastoral ministry preparation in the manner of Friends as no other fully accredited institution can do.

Given this strong statement about ESR's position to prepare persons for pastoral ministry appropriate to a distinctive Friends setting, one may rightly ask, "What does ESR believe are the most crucial characteristics of 21st century Quaker pastors?" and "What type of curriculum can nurture and develop this type of leadership?"

A Vision of the Quaker Pastor

ESR begins its description of the ideal pastoral minister with the expectation that capable pastors possess sound knowledge of Scripture and of the historic manifestations of the faith community that have formed as a result of, and in relation to, the Biblical message. Pastors are important interpreters of the sacred story. Excellent pastors understand God's work through Jesus as the foundation of their Christian heritage and are familiar with humanity's various responses to that message. Such knowledge is crucial, for it establishes the contextual world in which the pastor exercises his or her ministry.

This knowledge is not merely historical knowledge; it is also theological knowledge. Excellent pastors seek to understand the movement of God's Spirit through history and/or humanity's perception of how God reveals God's self through time. Pastoral ministry is framed and formed, at least partially, by the pastor's belief system. We believe that critical theological reflection encourages a thoughtful, seasoned understanding of life, faith, and ministry that is well positioned to serve effectively in contemporary contexts.

Theological reflection leads directly to the matter of spiritual formation. We believe that a mature spiritual formation is essential to excellent pastoral ministry. It begins with knowledge of the authoritative voices in one's tradition, but it is more than mere knowledge, as the recitation of facts is not synonymous with ministry. It is also more than theological thinking, as such thinking can remain abstract and detached. Spiritual formation proceeds to include conscious theological reflection on one's own religious experience. It integrates those discoveries into the fabric of living and fosters an ability to articulate those formative experiences in ways that others can understand.

Emerging from this process, excellent pastors have a well-formed sense of ministerial identity, avoiding messianic complexes yet understanding their special role as an ambassador for God's work. Ministry is more than a career choice. It is a calling for which persons are gifted to undertake. The calling shapes the pastor's sense of self. It influences values embraced and goals set as pastors seek to honor their call. Because ministry can be a consuming enterprise, excellent pastors learn their limits and establish healthy boundaries with the congregation and community. They have good self-care practices and a commitment to continuing education, all of which help energize their calling and safeguard their ministerial identity.

This ministerial identity is exercised in a diverse, pluralistic world. Capable pastors in the 21st century require the capacity to think multi-culturally. Regardless of whether one adopts an exclusive or universal position regarding Christianity's relationship to other faiths, an excellent pastor is able to articulate thoughtfully and carefully the issues involved. Equally important, he or she is able to lead congregations through the process of analysis and reflection. Ultimately, nothing less than the Church's relationship to the larger society is at stake.

Earlham School of Religion contends that excellent pastoral ministry is relational in character, rooted in the daily experiences a pastor shares with her or his congregation members. Excellent pastors understand the power of the personal relationship. As one successful Quaker pastor in North Carolina offered in a recent conversation:

"The greatest thing I have learned is the call to be out among the people. Visiting, participating in the community, showing an interest in the interests of the people causes people to trust me, to call upon me, and gives a face/purpose to a sermon or a prayer."

When we asked members of local Friends congregations to describe the character and qualities they desired their pastors to have, relational qualities were mentioned most frequently in terms such as these:

  • Has a capacity for listening
  • Exhibits love and care of the people
  • Has the ability to empower others
  • Possesses an integrity that is able to be sensed by others

Because communication is fundamental to relationships, it follows that excellent pastors must be artful communicators. In its most basic sense, the Gospel is Good News that must be proclaimed. Effective proclamation requires successful communication. Communication may be oral, written, or visual. It may be public or private. It may take the form of evangelism, education, or pastoral care. Knowing when to speak as well as how to communicate is an artful skill that excellent pastors master.

Finally, excellent pastors are exceptional leaders. Leadership styles vary among denominations. Since Guerneyite Quakers adopted the pastoral system over a century ago, they have been adamant that a pastoral minister is one minister among many, and that authority does not reside in the position itself. Even so, all pastors must know how to lead. Excellent pastors have mastered how to lead with grace in a manner that fits the context in which they serve. In Friends' relational, non-authoritative context, achieved influence is vital to effective pastoral ministry.

An excellent pastor tends to be:

  • A wise leader who possesses a firm grasp of the informative streams that shape the tradition and the context in which he or she ministers.
  • A holy presence, obviously abiding in the Living Christ, guided by the Spirit, rooted in the beliefs of Friends; not easily swept along by the currents of the moment, but conversant with the issues of the day.
  • A caring presence, offering deep listening and wise counsel as appropriate, and equipping the faith community to care for itself.
  • A leader of discernment, recognizing that in each moment strong faith and acts of ministry spring from our listening to the guidance and prompting of the Holy Spirit. Among Friends, because the pastoral leader is a minister among ministers, this individual not only practices discernment; he or she helps others learn how to do so.
  • An articulate communicator, capable of prophetic words when addressing issues that require challenge and accountability, a compassionate voice, when comfort and healing are needed, as well as a reconciling voice, remembering that the ultimate goal in every situation is to reconcile the human with the Divine and humans with one another.
  • Invitational and encouraging, inviting the entire group to participate, while actively seeking and developing the gifts of others.
  • A vision caster, who is able not only to lead the group process, but also to continually project the larger corporate vision so that it remains fresh in people's minds. In the process, he or she works to build consensus on these matters so that the group embraces the vision.
  • A coordinator or administrator who insures that the various parts of the meeting's or church's ministry are properly tended by those who have been entrusted with it.

A Curriculum to Prepare the Quaker Pastor

One crucial feature for preparing Friends for pastoral ministry is a vision or model for what such ministry entails. A second equally vital feature is a plan for preparing women and men for ministry of that type—which underlies the second question, raised earlier regarding the type of curriculum that can nurture such leaders.

In 1999, ESR dedicated a full faculty position to pastoral ministry and made the decision to hire a seasoned Friends pastor for the position. Phil Baisley joined the faculty at that time. Under his leadership, ESR has created an entire pastoral ministry curriculum capable of preparing persons for excellent ministry that can lead meetings and churches in the next generation. Courses ESR pastoral ministry students take include:

  • Adult Christian Religious Education
  • Congregational Models
  • Introduction To Church Administration
  • Introduction To Pastoral Care
  • Introduction To Preaching
  • Outreach, Evangelism, And Mission: The Church In A World Community
  • Pastoral Ministry Among Friends
  • Perspectives In Christian Religious Education
  • Quaker Life
  • The Work Of The Pastor

These courses dedicated to the practice of pastoral ministry are in addition to the usual core requirements in a graduate seminary program. ESR pastoral ministry students engage in studies of the Old and New Testaments, Theology, Church History, and Peace and Justice. The program also includes elective course opportunities for upper level classes in pastoral counseling, spirituality, Quakerism, and more. This curriculum grounds pastoral ministry students deeply in the Christian faith, prepares them for practical pastoral ministry, and helps them understand how the rich heritage of Friends can contribute to the way in which they serve as pastor.

For example, Work of the Pastor addresses very basic areas of concern that a pastor in any denomination will encounter. Primary foci of the course are: the candidate process, visitation ministry, weddings and pre-marital counseling, funerals and grief care. Discussions of principles, as well as opportunities for practice, are integral to this course. In contrast, Pastoral Ministry Among Friends challenges students to grapple with what makes pastoral Friends different from other Christian churches. It examines the way some Friends, while adopting the pastoral system, have attempted to maintain a distinctively Quaker style of worship, outreach, administration, leadership, and pastoral care, and considers the role of the Friends pastor in light of historical precedents and contemporary paradoxes. Finally Outreach, Evangelism and Mission moves beyond the typical evangelize and proselytize approach and asks students to consider how issues of conversion, cross-cultural ministry, religious pluralism and church growth all converge when a pastor and church consider evangelism in the 21st century. In its totality, the ESR curriculum combines the riches of a Quaker understanding of the Gospel with practical realities facing today's pastor. An endowed program in pastoral studies assures this important work can continue at the highest quality.

Identifying the Next Generation of Quaker Pastors

Educating for ministry to Friends as a Friend is one challenge the ESR Pastoral Ministry program is prepared to accept. A second challenge is the identification of prospective, gifted candidates for pastoral ministry. Addressing this challenge requires engaging Friends within local settings and assisting meetings with the essential process of discerning call to and gifts for ministry. ESR is prepared and willing to help identify the next generation of Friends pastors. Here is how it may be done:

  • ESR will identify congregations to participate in a program of discerning gifts and calls to ministry. Participating congregations will host an initial weekend event that focuses explicitly on this topic. Discernment of call and gifts is already a core component of ESR's Master of Divinity program. ESR will develop a modified version of this process that is suited to a weekend format offered in local congregations. This process grows out of Quakers' understanding of inner listening to God and exploring possible divine leadings with the community. At a minimum, these participants will emerge from the experience with a clearer sense of their own ministries. From these groups, ESR expects to identify some who will feel called to further exploration. These individuals will form a cohort group that participates in an extended process of exploration and theological reflection. With minimal success of identifying twelve persons per year, over a five-year period ESR would work on a sustained basis with at least sixty individuals who are strong candidates for pastoral ministry.

The second tier of this leadership identification will utilize this cohort group to create a setting where members who have a similar set of questions and interests related to answering the call to ministry can explore these matters more deeply. ESR faculty members and alumni/ae will jointly facilitate this group. Participants in the cohort group will covenant to:

  • Meet monthly.
  • Read a common text related to ministerial call and identity, mutually selected by the leadership team.
  • Do reflective journal writing between meetings.
  • Pray for others in the group.
  • Engage in conversation with the group that stimulates theological reflection and practical considerations of moving toward pastoral ministry.
  • Six months into the process, engage in a two-month, supervised internship.
  • Near the end of the year, engage in a clearness committee process for discerning appropriate next steps relating to their call.

Friends will realize two immediate values of this program. The first is a focused effort to help persons respond to their calls to ministry. This will have a direct impact on the current shortage of qualified Friends pastors. A second equally important result of this work is that participating congregations will become more engaged in helping members seek clearness about their own ministries. This will greatly improve the overall health of the local congregation. An endowed program in pastoral studies will help fund this initiative.

Sustaining our Leadership

The wise leader knows he or she has never "fully arrived"—there is always more to be learned. And, fellowship with brothers and sisters engaged in similar work can be a source of stimulation and encouragement. For this reason, ESR's pastoral ministry program invests time and energy into creating rich continuing education events. The annual pastors conference is a lively gathering that has grown over seven years to nearly fifty attendees. It brings together pastors, students, and ESR faculty with leaders in the field. Together, they spend two days wrestling with current challenges faced by pastors and local congregations. In the process, important bonds are forged between all participants that strengthen networking and support. The endowed program in pastoral studies will enable the school to expand its contribution to the renewal and support of Friends pastors


For Friends in the pastoral tradition, pastors are important spiritual leaders—preachers, teachers, and caregivers. They nurture spiritual journeys and offer comfort in times of need. They influence the formation, the hopes, and the fears of families, young and old. For those who care about the future and the quality of pastoral leadership among Friends, this endowed program should be a high priority. It will:

Support a program in pastoral ministry that is grounded in a Quaker understanding of the Gospel.
Work with local meetings to identify and nurture future pastors.
Provide opportunities for renewal to Quaker pastors.

At stake is nothing less than a style of pastoral ministry grounded in a Quaker understanding of the Gospel and an understanding of Christian community that upholds the values through which Christ continues to teach his people.

Queries for Consideration

These queries are provided to help you prayerfully consider whether this major gift proposal is a priority for you as you act as a steward of your resources.

  1. Do you value the work of the pastor as an expression of ministry among Friends?
  2. Do you have a concern for the quality and the supply of pastoral ministers among Friends?
  3. Do you have the means to help Earlham School of Religion build an endowment to support the pastoral ministry program at ESR?
  4. What level of gift are you able to make to manifest this vision for Friends Pastoral Education?
  • Full funding of $1,750,000 by gift, pledge, or irrevocable estate gift?
  • Partial, but major, gift of $100,000 to $1,000,000 by gift, pledge, or irrevocable estate gift?
  • Supporting gift of $10,000-$99,000 by gift or pledge?

Contact Jay Marshall, Dean, at Earlham School of Religion to discuss your interest in this project.

765-983-1689 • 800-432-1377 •