Prophets and Pastors - Diversifying the Gifts in the Community of God
The prophetic voices in my life changed me forever.
These were the voices that pushed me to see that Jesus wasn’t just in the business of saving individual souls but that he meant it when he said that he was making all things new. These were the voices that helped me to see how much of the Old Testament frustration from on-high came down because the children of God, the nation of Israel, repeatedly made decisions to uphold comfort and power for the wealthy while trampling on the heads of the poor. These were the voices that helped me see that it’s not just personal, sinful choices that God condemns, but that corporate sins like racism, misogyny and homophobia matter to God too. These prophetic voices taught me what loved looked like. They challenged my spirituality to get out of my head and into my way of relating to people who are not like me. They pushed and formed me. These prophetic voices changed me forever.
The pastoral presence of women and men in my life changed me forever.
These were the people who joined me on my journey towards an embodied truth, towards a love that was reflected not just in my words, but in deed. These were the people who sat with me when I didn’t know what I didn’t know; these were the people who helped me process my fear, anger and shame along the way. While the prophetic voices held up God’s vision for a redeemed humanity for me to see, the pastors held my hands along the way, showing me how to put on self-love and love of neighbor. Like good shepherds, my pastors walked with me. They were gentle and kind; they spoke truth in ways that made it easy to receive. They made me feel loved. Their presence nourished and sustained my journey towards justice. I needed them. They changed me forever.
As a pastoral person with a prophetic perspective, I often feel torn in how to best steward my leadership. One role is for me to hold up the prophetic mirror of truth, calling myself and the church to a higher standard of others-oriented, self-sacrificial love. This message is often uncomfortable, and on occasion, blatantly rejected by many. The other role is for me to be sensitive to where people are in their justice journey and to continually shape my message to accomodate them. Shepherding in this way, taking the long-road with people, is about leading people towards what’s best, but loving them whether they change or not.
I think the white evangelical American church is way more comfortable with pastors than with prophets. The pastors role and the pastors message tend to feel unintrusive which makes them more palatable in some way. But churches that are full of only pastors, much like a church that is full of only one racial or ethnic perspective, is likely to be anemic in its spirituality because it’s missing a vital member of the body. Churches need prophets to see and pursue a biblical vision of the kingdom of God.
I think the diverse, contemporary Christian justice movement in our country is more comfortable with prophets than with pastors. I see a real need for more accessible and consistent on-ramps into a justice-pursuing life. This companionship requires a pastor, a shepherd who can journey with people for the long haul as they take the time to incarnate embodied truth and love. We cannot wake people up and leave them to a culture that doesn’t support their flourishing as justice-seeking members of the body. We need to hold more spaces for people to grow into maturity. Reading books and listening to podcasts is not enough. It takes life-on-life, deep community, and time to sustain people in their justice work for the long-haul. Justice movements that are full of only prophets, much like a church that is full of only one racial or ethnic perspective, is likely to be anemic in its spirituality because it’s missing a vital member of the body. The justice movement needs pastors to see and sustain the people of God in their pursuit of the kingdom.
I suppose that this great disconnect in the collective church’s practice of love and justice is yet another casualty of our division along racial and ethnic lines. I don’t know why we all think that we can even begin to understand the Bible and God’s will apart from being the unified body that God calls us to be. We need each other, desperately. Jesus knew that so much of our witness would depend on this. Paul knew that so much of our witness would depend on this. We can do better; we can be better.
Where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you more prophetic or pastoral?
Where does your community fall on this spectrum?
What might it look like for you and your community to create space for the gift that you’re lacking?
If you want some suggestions, email me: email@example.com. Also, check out Ephesians 4 if you’re thinking I’m making all of this up. Much love, friends.