3. Ministry and Counsel

A. Purpose


The meeting on ministry and counsel has particular responsibility for nurture of the religious life of the meeting. Its purposes are:

  • to exercise general care of meetings for worship and support of the spiritual ministry, and
  • to provide pastoral care of the membership.


Though Friends serving on ministry and counsel have those direct responsibilities, all members of the meeting should be under the weight of this concern and take responsibility for their own participation.


Members of ministry and counsel should be familiar with the contents of Part One—Faith, and particularly the second section, dealing with “Seeking the Spirit.”


B. Organization


Ministry and counsel is organized and functions as a meeting at monthly, quarterly, and yearly meeting levels. Membership appointments originate in monthly meetings, but these appointments carry with them related responsibility for participation in the larger meetings.


THE MONTHLY MEETING. In individual meetings, organization varies widely. Because of size or established practice, some meetings may designate some of the functions of ministry and counsel to elders or overseers, who may hold separate meetings for consideration of their particular responsibilities. Monthly meetings are free to determine the type of organization suited to their needs but should clearly delineate the separate areas of responsibility if ministry and counsel is subdivided. Suggestions for subdivision are given below in Section C, “Functions of Ministry and Counsel.”


ELDERS. If the monthly meeting decides to continue or establish the office of elder, it should appoint a special nominating committee to propose names of qualified members for appointment to terms of five years with varying expiration dates. The monthly meeting determines the number of elders. Elders, by reason of their office, are members of ministry and counsel but may also meet separately (see the later paragraphs on “Ministry and Spiritual Life”).


OVERSEERS. Where a monthly meeting decides to appoint a separate group of overseers, appointments are made on recommendation of the regular nominating committee of the meeting on the same basis as appointments to ministry and counsel described below. The monthly meeting determines the number of overseers. Overseers regularly hold separate meetings for conduct of their activities and are not considered members of ministry and counsel unless the monthly meeting so directs. However, it is recommended that occasional joint meetings with ministry and counsel be held for sharing of common concerns (see the later paragraphs on “Ministry and Spiritual Life”).


MINISTRY AND COUNSEL. Appointments to ministry and counsel should be made by the monthly meeting after careful consideration and proposal by the regular nominating committee of the meeting. Length of service is an important matter. Long-time appointments of some may hinder the development of others with latent ability for ministry, eldering, or counsel. Too-frequent change may leave the meeting without the depth of spirit that is nurtured through service. The term of office is three years, with one-third of the members appointed each year. The monthly meeting determines the number of members. In some cases, where previously appointed Friends manifest special ability and concern, the meeting may find it desirable to reappoint them to a second successive term. Whenever possible, after serving two terms, a member should not be reappointed a third time without an interval of one or more years.


Where the monthly meeting comprises several preparative meetings, it is important that each preparative meeting have adequate representation. The membership of ministry and counsel should be subdivided, with each group assigned responsibility for a particular preparative meeting; but it is expected that the entire meeting on ministry and counsel of the monthly meeting will also meet and act jointly.


Where a meeting has a pastor or a meeting secretary, this person is generally also a member of the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel.


The meeting on ministry and counsel should annually appoint one of its members as clerk to preside at its meetings and, where appropriate, a recording clerk to keep minutes.


Preferably, the meeting on ministry and counsel should meet each month, but not less frequently than once in three months. The ministry and counsel clerk may call special meetings at the request of two members. Regular meetings may be limited to ministry and counsel members for the consideration of special problems or concerns. However, it is also advised that other meetings be held with members of the religious education committee and other standing committees of the monthly meeting, or with members and attenders at large.


The meeting on ministry and counsel of the monthly meeting should appoint such representatives as the regional meeting or the yearly meeting on ministry and counsel* may request. Despite appointment of any such representatives, all individual members have the responsibility to attend the larger general membership meetings and to share equally in the deliberations of those meetings.


THE QUARTERLY OR REGIONAL MEETING. In quarterly meetings, organization will generally follow that of the related meeting for business. Where the latter meeting is fully organized as a general membership meeting, a similar structure may be chosen for ministry and counsel. Alternatively, ministry and counsel may wish to organize and delegate most of its work to a regional committee. This committee may function separately, but it should coordinate its work with that of the regional committee or meeting on business affairs.


If organized as a regional committee, this committee should provide for occasional general membership meetings centering on the special interest and concerns of ministry and counsel members. The clerk of this committee should also function as clerk of any general meeting of ministry and counsel members. The quarterly or regional meeting clerk should report the name of the ministry and counsel clerk to the yearly meeting office.


C. Functions of Ministry and Counsel




SPIRITUAL CARE OF MEMBERS. Seeking divine guidance in their discernment, members of ministry and counsel should seek to:

  • foster the spiritual growth of the meeting membership and enhance their religious life and fellowship, including especially the nurture and strengthening of corporate worship of the meeting;
  • consider individual needs for guidance and to make provision for personal counsel and assistance in matters of interpersonal relationships among members;
  • assist individuals and families confronting problems pertaining to illness, financial matters, marital relations, and decisions of conscience, keeping in mind at all times the limits of ministry and counsel’s expertise;
  • review annually the spiritual condition of the meeting and its membership and to write the State of the Meeting reports;
  • develop programs and conferences, study groups, and public meetings to disseminate information regarding Friends' spiritual concerns and to assist members and attenders to deepen the life of the spirit;
  • where desired by local meetings, consider qualifications and make recommendations concerning recording gifts in ministry or engagement of pastors or meeting secretaries;
  • foster a meeting culture that encourages the emergence of gifts, and assures support and accountability for Friends who carry individual gifts in ministry.

CLEARNESS COMMITTEE.  Friends seeking spiritual discernment or clarity on an issue of concern to them may find it useful to seek the help of a Clearness Committee.  Traditionally, Friends have appointed  Clearness Committees for those requesting membership in the meeting or couples seeking to marry under the care of a meeting.  Additionally, Friends may seek a Clearness Committee to address particularly stressful personal needs, seeking reconciliation between aggrieved Friends, or for support of witness or travel in the ministry.  


The monthly meeting on ministry and counsel may appoint a Clearness Committee at the request of a member or group of members.  On whatever occasion, the Clearness Committee meets as a meeting for worship with a particular concern. It searches as a group for divine guidance to assist particular individuals.


The Clearness Committee is usually organized and selected by the individuals seeking clarity in cooperation with Overseers or Ministry and Counsel.  A person is usually agreed upon to be the Convener.  This person can take responsibility for scheduling the meeting, for opening and closing the meeting, and for following promptings for silence and worship at appropriate times.  Thus those initiating the meeting have full participation in the meeting.


The session begins with a period of worship.  From the silence the person seeking clarity presents the matter to be considered including leadings and details (for marriage and membership Clearness Committees, the convener may present the details).  The group may return to silent worship.  There may be more details from the persons involved in the matter.  Others may ask questions and speak to the situation.  All those participating need to be open and listen for God’s leadings in the matter.  Participants will have an opportunity to gain an understanding and appreciation of the individuals involved and any special situations.  Individuals taking part in a Clearness Meeting hope to avoid giving advice or projecting their own situation and views on the individuals seeking clarity.  Clarity may be reached in one session or it may take several sessions.


A Clearness Committee is not intended as a vehicle to give advice, or as a substitute for professional counsel or therapy when that is needed. It is a way of gaining support and using the nurturing aspect of the meeting to help with immediate problems, concerns, or decisions.  Friends with an interest in or need for this process may talk this over with the clerk of Overseers or Ministry and Council. Friends are invited to seek other sources including those on the internet for further information on the process, rewards, and challenges of serving on a Clearness Committee. 

PASTORAL CARE OF THE MEMBERSHIP. (NOTE: These functions are usually considered the special duties of overseers in meetings where such a group is appointed in addition to ministry and counsel.) Members of ministry and counsel should:

  • endeavor to acquaint themselves with all members and to keep informed about their various needs for personal encouragement and assistance;
  • keep in touch with members, especially those isolated or non-resident, by personal visits and correspondence;
  • be concerned with the welfare of any who may be ill or incapacitated;
  • arrange for material aid where it may be needed;
  • encourage all members to participate in the work of the meeting;
  • help new members acquaint themselves with the organization and function of the meeting and find their best places in its various activities;
  • keep in touch with members who have lost contact, bearing a concern to restore their interest;
  • be concerned with the instruction of attenders and seekers who manifest an interest in the Society;
  • where appropriate, extend an invitation to membership to those who show an understanding of Friends’ principles and manifest an interest in the meeting and who give evidence of willingness to share in the service and responsibility of membership;
  • consider and make recommendations concerning applications for membership, transfer or termination of membership, and proposals for marriage before they present these to the monthly meeting for action;
  • assist families in funeral and burial arrangements, including conduct of memorial meetings or funeral services under the care of the meeting. (See Section 6, "Memorial Meetings and Funerals".)


MINISTRY AND SPIRITUAL LIFE. (NOTE: These functions are usually the special responsibility of elders, in meetings which appoint elders.) Members of ministry and counsel should concern themselves particularly with the vocal ministry of the meeting for worship and the spiritual condition of the membership, although this does not lessen the responsibility in the matter of all members of the monthly meeting. Humility of spirit and confidence that the power of God is at work in each person are essential to this service.


Members of ministry and counsel should encourage those who give evidence of true spiritual insight and expression. They should provide guidance into more helpful lines of service for those whose messages are not acceptable to the meeting. They should bear in mind Friends’ individual differences in mental training, fluency of expression, and power of interpretation. The spirit of the message is more than the form, and the example of one struggling to be faithful in a difficult task may be more helpful than a polished address.


Ministry and counsel members should encourage Friends’ private worship and meditation, devotional reading, and religious study. They should develop activities to promote growth in the spiritual life and prepare each worshipper for the corporate meeting for worship. They should direct attention to the timeliness of messages to the end that vocal utterances in meetings for worship may be in season and in harmony with the spirit of the meeting. This is of special importance in a large gathering when many accustomed to speak are present.


Though the vocal ministry serves an important purpose, Friends should be constantly aware that the opportunity for silent communion with God is basic to our religious practice, and the quiet portion of corporate worship should not be unduly limited by an excess of vocal expressions. Those who may be inclined to speak unacceptably, or at undue length, or with too great frequency, should be advised with loving counsel.


Members of ministry and counsel should tenderly advise members of the meeting as to their spiritual condition and provide Friendly help toward the attainment of a high standard of Christian life and unselfish service. The discovery and development of particular gifts and concerns is a very significant responsibility of ministry and counsel members.


Eldering embraces the positive aspects of nurturing, supporting, and helping members and attenders grow spiritually. When a member or attender is found to be acting in ways not in accordance with our faith and practice, either in meeting for worship or business or at other times, Friends’ custom is to appoint two or more members to perform what is known as eldering. Those appointed must go in love to the person to be eldered and speak gently and sensitively, but truthfully, in an attempt to help the person understand the discord.

STATE OF THE MEETING REPORTS. Once each year, at a time sufficient to meet the request of the yearly meeting, the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel should appoint one or more of its members to prepare and present a report on the spiritual condition of the meeting. This should be reviewed in turn by ministry and counsel and by the meeting for business of the monthly meeting. When the monthly meeting approves it, with or without revision, the clerk should forward the report to a designated person or committee of the yearly meeting’s Ministry Coordinating Committee and also, usually, to the clerk of ministry and counsel of the quarterly or equivalent meeting of which the meeting is a part.


The State of the Meeting report should be a searching self-examination by the meeting and its members of their spiritual strengths and weaknesses and of the efforts made to foster growth in the spiritual life. Reports may cover the full range of interests and concerns but should emphasize those indicative of the spiritual health of the meeting. A suggested list of topics for consideration follows:

  • quality of worship and spiritual ministry
  • efforts to foster spiritual growth
  • stands taken on Friends’ principles
  • personal and family relations
  • relations with community and other religious groups
  • participation in general activities of Friends
  • significant activities or concerns of the local meeting


Those preparing the report may be guided by consideration of the general queries and advices or by any special queries that may be directed to the local meeting from time to time by the quarterly meeting on ministry and counsel.*


MEMORIAL MINUTES. Memorials for deceased members of the meeting may be prepared by the meeting on ministry and counsel in cases those Friends deem appropriate. If the monthly meeting approves, the clerk should enter such memorials in its minutes. If the deceased member was active or well known in the yearly meeting or in the wider circle of Friends, the monthly meeting may forward the memorial to the clerk of the yearly meeting. Copies may also be sent, where appropriate, to the quarterly meeting.


Whether or not memorials have been prepared, it is further recommended that monthly meetings send names of deceased members and date of death annually to Spring Ssessions of the yearly meeting.


CARE OF MINISTRIES AND RECORDING OF GIFTS IN MINISTRY. In cases when a member has given public ministry that is sustained, consistent, and enlivening and has rendered this service to such an extent as to afford a basis for discerning the nature of those gifts and calling, the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel should carefully consider whether there is evidence of a gift in the ministry that should be officially named or recognized. Friends should bear in mind that such recording of gifts of ministry is a recognition of the gift of the Spirit to the community and a recognition of the need for care and nurture of that gift.


When the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel is satisfied that a member carries a gift in the ministry that they consider to be of suitable character, they should consult with the member about officially recognizing his or her gift and then report this to the monthly meeting. If the monthly meeting approves, the monthly meeting’s ministry and counsel should prepare a minute for the consideration of the yearly meeting’s Ministry Coordinating Committee, with a copy to the regional or quarterly meeting ministry and counsel for their information. Ministry Coordinating Committee should refer the proposal to a designated committee for examination and recommendation. If, after due consideration, the way seems clear, the designated committee shall forward their recommendation to the Ministry Coordinating Committee, who may approve the recording and furnish a copy of its minute to the monthly meeting, the individual, and the region of which the individual is a member. The action should also be reported to the yearly meeting for record. If Ministry Coordinating Committee does not approve a proposal to record, they should so inform the individual and the originating meeting.


The recording of an individual’s gifts in ministry carries a responsibility on the part of Friends in the monthly, regional, and yearly meetings to nurture, support, and hold accountable the individual in the exercise of those gifts, including by being present during the exercise of the gifts, knowing the spiritual condition of the individual, hearing reports of the ministry, etc.


In naming the gift of ministry, the monthly meeting carries the primary responsibility for nurture and oversight of the gift throughout its life cycle, including naming changes in the gift and its possible withdrawal. Care committees, peer groups, etc. may provide structures for this work, which may also be carried by the regional meeting.


In recording the gift of ministry, Ministry Coordinating Committee carries a concern for both the individual carrying the gift and the meeting in which the gift is manifested.


In cases where the gift has been withdrawn, a proposal to rescind the action recording the member as a minister may originate with ministry and counsel of the monthly meeting of which the minister is a member or with the Ministry Coordinating Committee. Final action rests with the Ministry Coordinating Committee. The individual concerned and the monthly meeting to which that person belongs shall be notified before any action is taken, and care should be exercised that any rights involved are fully safeguarded.


The status of a minister is transferable with the certificate of membership from one monthly meeting to another and from one yearly meeting to another. It is expected, however, that a minister planning to engage in the pastoral ministry in another yearly meeting will endeavor to meet the requirements of the yearly meeting to which transfer is made.


APPOINTMENTS OF PASTORS AND MEETING SECRETARIES AND OTHER STAFF. In order to facilitate and expand pastoral and other activities within and outside the meeting, it is the practice of some meetings to employ the services of people who can devote time to this work. Meetings may designate such people as pastors, meeting secretaries, or counselors.


Pastors, who are usually recorded ministers, are expected to serve the meeting in the field of public ministry, although they should always have due regard for other ministers in the meeting and for visiting Friends who have service to render. Due consideration should also be given to the value of silent worship and freedom of expression, vital to group worship. Pastors and meeting secretaries are coworkers with the members of the meeting, developing and encouraging initiative and the assumption of responsibility by the members, who are also called to minister according to their gifts.


The services of a pastor, meeting secretary, or other staff should provide inspiration for members to cultivate and expand their own sphere of Christian service. Any temptation for members to relax their feeling of responsibility in meetings for worship and business or in any other areas should be resolutely resisted.


Monthly meetings may ask pastors, meeting secretaries, and other staff to maintain a cooperative relationship with some or all of the committees of the meeting, assisting in their programs and policies.


Meetings desiring the help of a pastor or meeting secretary may request the meeting on ministry and counsel to consider the qualifications of candidates and to make a recommendation. This should include a recommendation, determined jointly with the finance committee, of a suitable salary. Pastors and meeting secretaries should not be engaged or dismissed, however, except by action of the monthly meeting.



The quarterly or equivalent meeting on ministry and counsel has general responsibility for the spiritual welfare of constituent meetings. It receives reports of constituent meetings on ministry and counsel and gives attention to the problems of those meetings. It should concern itself particularly with new congregations and meetings, weak meetings, and those meetings without ministry, offering advice and assistance including programs of intervisitation for the strengthening of the ministry.


All matters described as responsibilities of the monthly meeting on ministry and counsel (including those of elders and overseers) should be considered by the quarterly or equivalent meeting as the need arises. Programs of meetings for the general membership should be planned on various aspects of Friends’ ministry. Such meetings should emphasize the spiritual quality of Friends’ practices and faith and seek to strengthen God’s presence in the lives of all members.


The quarterly meeting should be apprised of communications addressed by constituent meetings to the yearly meeting Ministry Coordinating Committee, and it may, on its own initiative, supplement or address additional communications to the yearly meeting Ministry Coordinating Committee on matters within its sphere of interest and concern.