What does a church need from her pastor(s)? I propose every church needs pastoral leadership that exhibits the three-fold office of Christ: prophet, priest, and king. I gave an overview of this in my last post. In this post, let’s take a deeper look at the prophetic role.
What does a prophet do? To put it in basic terms, a prophet hears from God and shares the message on behalf of God. But what kinds of messages does a prophet share? Again, to put it in very simple terms, a prophet shares God’s intent: what God expects, what God desires, what God is planning, and what God judges. A prophet shares God’s message with those who want to hear and with those who don’t. Christ fulfilled this role during his earthly ministry through his teaching and preaching (and occasional ruckus among the money changers). Indeed, one could say that Christ initiated the kingdom of God by sharing clearly God’s intent and by making it possible to align with God’s intent.
So a prophet shares God’s intent. But there is more to it than that. In 2 Peter we learn that a prophet does not share based on his own understanding or initiative, but from what the Holy Spirit reveals (2 Peter 1:20-21). Today’s pastors should use this passage as a reminder that true visionary leadership does not emanate from the pastor’s intellect, research, personal values, or planning. Those are not bad things, but they are poor substitutes for Holy Spirit revelation. Pastors are wise to read scripture, pray, engage in godly conversations, and notice circumstances where God is at work – four behaviors that turn one’s ear and heart to God, allowing the pastor to hear from God and to be challenged to share God’s message.
So let’s flesh this out a bit. What does the prophetic office look like in today’s church context? I believe pastors are called to provide prophetic leadership via four specific practices:
- Preaching. There is no substitute for sound, doctrinally solid, Spirit-invoked preaching that has as its aim the connection of God’s intent with God’s people. In other words, prophets make God’s intent known so that God followers can live rightly. Much preaching these days is more therapeutic than prophetic. While prophetic preaching does heal (it’s God’s intent that we find wholeness and healing in Him), it is not merely therapeutic in the most popular sense (aimed at helping people feel good about themselves and/or have felt needs met).
- Decision-making: Prophetic leadership happens from the pulpit, but it also happens in board meetings, in one-on-one ministry settings, and in the budgeting processes. Churches need prophetic pastors who challenge their institutional processes, question the status quo, and push for godly change within the church. Prophetic pastors resist mere pragmatism and opt for decision-making processes that implement God’s intent.
- Vision casting: A key pastoral role is to inspire a shared vision of who a congregation is to be in the midst of their community and world and what the church is to do in order to live out this vision. The vision comes from God and is oftentimes first witnessed by mature church members (they catch glimpses of what God is calling the church to be and do). It is the pastor’s responsibility to listen deeply, discern prayerfully, and then speak compassionately so that the entire church community can see clearly the vision God has for their body and then carry out that vision.
- Community engagement: The prophetic pastoral role extends beyond leading the local body of believers to being a God-ordained witness to the world. As the OT prophets challenged Israel and their neighbors, a prophetic pastor will bring a message of God’s intent to the church, to those who are marginal to the church, and to the community in which the church lives. This does not mean the pastor calls the unchurched to behave as if they were all Christ-followers. Instead, this is a specific type of evangelism: sharing the good news of God’s intent with those who are currently far from God in expectation that they will repent and align themselves with God through Christ.
I suspect that there are other aspects of prophetic pastoral leadership that I have failed to notice, so I will look forward to anything that readers have to add – just use the comment feature.