In addition to “pastor as scholar” or theologian, a la The Center for Pastor Theologians, I believe the local church now requires a pastor as prophet.
The prophetic tradition is clearly evident in the Old Testament record during the Divided Kingdom and the exile. God raised up prophets to speak a “word from the Lord” to judge, encourage, and show the way to Israel. These men and women risked their lives when they spoke against kings and religious leaders, yet they proclaimed the message God put on their lips to speak. They were ridiculed, tortured, and killed for the words they spoke; yet, they spoke because God had spoken and commissioned them to speak God’s word to the people.
In the New Testament, we usually think of the “gift of prophecy” (1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:1-33) rather than the role of prophet in the movement of the church. Yet, Luke tells us in Acts 13 how “in the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers” and he then listed them by name; among them were Barnabas and Saul (v. 1). Judas, Silas and Agabus were recognized as prophets in the Acts story (Acts 15:32; 21:10).
Paul understood that God gave to the church “some to be…prophets,” for the equipping of Christ-followers for ministry (Ephesians 4:11). John warned of “false prophets” who have gone out into the world” to pollute the message of Christ (1 John 4:1). The role of prophet as a spokesperson of God’s truth continued in the new covenant community of the Risen Lord, and that role of servant leadership in the church continues today.
The Church in America needs prophets in its midst more desperately than ever.
It is not a stretch to draw an analogy between our nation’s current culture, which has placed the will and wishes of the individual above the will and absolutes of God’s rule, and the cultural conditions biblical prophets faced. Then, too, the things of Self—capital S—outweighed the things of God at every turn. People have not changed that much. Now, the church needs prophetic voices to call people to live as God designed our lives to be lived, rather than to provide simple lessons about how to get along and go along or platitudes to get through tough times. We need bold proclamation of how we should live as kingdom citizens in an ever-increasing hostile culture toward the things of God.
Biblical prophets had no loyalty to a government or a race. God alone was their “audience of One” and the source of their message. Pastors as prophets today must remain loyal only to God’s ways and words without allegiance to any earthly power or party. Prophets like their biblical counterparts are still a threat to the status quo. Prophets speak truth boldly and unashamedly about how things look from God’s perspective. They do this because God has spoken. They must speak God’s Word to both the church and the culture in which they serve. They accept the consequences of their words and actions and trust God to preserve them until their work on earth is done. God’s Word, not popular opinion or political influence, determines what they say and to whom they say it.
What does a pastor as prophet look like? What does a prophet do and say in days like these?
Pastors as prophets:
- Lead others to the suffering servant messiah-like Isaiah
- Explain judgment and call for repentance like Ezekiel
- Call for social justice like Amos
- Demonstrate God’s covenant love like Hosea
- Emulate the faithful suffering of Jeremiah
- Accept the consequences (and deliverance) of one’s obedience like Daniel
- Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God like Micah
- Build the House of the Lord as evidence of God’s presence like Haggai
- Take the Good News to our enemies like Jonah
- Proclaim the Day of the Lord like Zechariah
- Call out priests/pastors whose teaching causes people to stumble like Malachi
- Expose the lies of the religious and political establishments of the day like Jesus
- Exemplify the life and teachings of Jesus without reservation or hesitation
- Proclaim the truth of the Gospel of Jesus, Lord and Christ, in the public square like Paul
- Warn of coming dangers like Agabus
- Speak to people “for edification, encouragement, and consolation”
Prophets need to be heard in our churches. They don’t have a place in many of our churches due to some theologies and traditional structures. The five-fold ministry of APEPT* has made room in its configuration for prophetic leadership in the church, but my point is not to find a “place” for prophets.
My goal is to call for prophets to be in places wherever God places them to speak God’s Word to a timid church and a hostile culture.
May the prophetic voice of those God-calls be heard in the church and public square. May we support those voices in prayer and actions.
Serving Him With You,
*APEPT is a reference to the five-fold ministry of the church, including the Apostolic, Pastoral, Evangelistic, Prophetic, and Teaching ministries.