Some of you maybe familiar with the new prophet-priest-king (see attached PDF) leadership paradigm that many churches are using today. While it is not a perfect system I have found it helpful in a few senses. First, to guide our leaders on which areas they should focus on in their leadership giftings. Second, I have also found it helpful in guiding future leaders in the areas they should focus on. Third, it helps people know how a plurality of leadership can work together. Fourth, it helps me specifically spot the areas where I am weak, and encourages me to surround myself with people who are stronger in those areas.
Now the area I want to focus on in this blog is the area that I would consider myself to be the most gifted in—prophetic. This past week during our Story series we looked at the “Prophets”. After studying the prophets this week I would like to take some time to express a couple of fears I have when thinking about the gift of prophecy in the context of the modern church.
First, I am making a theological assumption already that I briefly mentioned on Sunday. I am continuationist and not a cessionist. This means I do not believe that the spiritual gifts we see happening in the NT have ceased—I believe that God is still using them today. Now I am a “cautious continuationist”. All this to say I believe the gift of prophecy is still being exercised today, but I also believe it is being used by God in the ways many of us would not think. The primary way I see the gift of prophecy being used today is through PREACHING.
How many of you have ever sat in a service when the pastor is preaching and feels like the message was written with you in mind. As a pastor I can tell that is not what most pastors set out to do. We strive to faithfully and carefully handle God’s word (cf. II Tim 2.15). I believe what is happening in those moments is a timely message from God that you needed to hear. It could have been a corrective message or an encouraging one. When you look at the prophets in the Bible, they deliver timely messages that are corrective or encouraging to God’s people.
As I searched the prophets this week here is what I was reminded of that I hope will be encouraging to you. Almost all the prophets did NOT have what the modern church would consider a “SUCCESSFUL” ministry. Most of them were rejected, outcast and despised by the people they were called to proclaim God’s message to. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, and many others were regularly depressed and many times did not even want to live. Listen to what the prophet Jeremiah says:
Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?—Jeremiah 20.14-18
Does this sound like someone who thinks their life and ministry is going awesome? This is not just in Jeremiah but also all across the prophets. Jesus talked about the prophets throughout His ministry:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”—Matthew 5.11-12
Prophets are reviled and persecuted. And who are they reviled and persecuted primarily by? God’s people! It was Israel who persecuted the prophets. In the NT it was religious Pharisees who reviled and persecuted Christ. One example I thought of this week was when I was talking to a friend of mine. She was a very young, successful, entrepreneurial type. She is now a mother with multiple young children, and it is HARD! I mean really hard. She struggles to see the success in her family life. She is extremely tempted to only see suffering. Her marriage is hard. Her parenting is hard. I want to encourage her and other entrepreneurs that many times the things God call us to are not easy. They will require us to suffer. Right now I am reminded of Colossians 1.24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the body, that is, the church." Paul actually sees suffering as a measure of success in his ministry/calling. Our success in the kingdom of God may not look like success in the kingdom of man.
So, how do I see this working today? First, this new school of people asserting this new leadership paradigm seems to think that people with prophetic giftings will have BIG HUGE churches because they are charismatic leaders. They are not afraid to tell people the truth. They correct and encourage through God’s message. While I would affirm it is good to think through this leadership paradigm, in fact, we use it in our small group ministry at our church. My fear is there are many wonderful people who have strong prophetic giftings whom we will never hear about. The primary group I think that live this out is our oversea missionaries. These people are my modern heroes. They are bold, courageous, and most of their ministry they will feel rejection, and will be despised. Despite all this they proclaim with Jeremiah:
“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”(Jeremiah 20:9)
Second, I think it is important we remember who hated the prophets the most. It is not those who don’t love God (or at least say they do), but it is those who claim they love God. Look back in the OT and see how God’s people, Israel, did not despise the office of “prophet” because they loved “false prophets”. They just did not love the true prophets of God. Many people here in the West want pastors/prophets who will not correct them. They love encouragement, but they don’t want correction.
So once again I want to reinforce that when we look at these “new” ideas that we consider them from a strong biblical worldview. I don’t want to sound like the bitter pastor who sees something wrong all the time, but I do want to honor Christ by holding His Word in high regard. As we listen to the message[s] being taught in the church today may we always measure it against God’s Word.