More and more I am noticing that there is a slew of ministers who want to take up the role of prophet…that is, speak words of rebuke and correction to those they minister to. Too often today through social media and on blogs we get a front row seat to ministers complaining about things, complaining about the church or the worship or a perceived lack of relevance or people who just won’t listen or respect their authority. As I read through Paul’s salutation and opening prayer in Philippians 1 I don’t get any of that. It isn’t because the Philippians were perfect and it isn’t because Paul’s list of things to call them on the carpet on was empty. It was because first and foremost, before any of the exhortations, admonitions and calls for change Paul plays the role of the pastor (doing the pastoral work of loving and encouraging them) and tells them how much he loves them.
There is a real push in today’s world for every preacher to be a prophet. Change is a lot more exciting than being stuck in neutral. Drama is more entertaining than status quo. It is tempting to be the person who gets to call people out, tell it like it is and seem like the only person who has a vision or direction for something. That gets you a lot of attention and you will find that when you do that on social media a lot of commiseration takes place among fellow frustrated ministers.That is unfortunate.
In contrast to all of that, take note of how Paul starts his letter to the Philippian Christians,
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
Those are words of grace and truth. Those are words of genuine care and concern. I am afraid that today we have some ministers who are bitter. Some who in the guise of being bold are really just demonstrating their own insecurities. The truth is, if you have been a part of a congregation for more than 5 years and the culture is terrible, then maybe it is time to take a solid look at your own ministry, your own attitude and your own voice to see if you might just be contributing to the very culture you feel called to rebuke.
Before you have the right to be the prophet you have to be the pastor. What I mean by that is this, until you have walked with people through the difficult times, demonstrated patience when things weren’t going well, and developed enough respect and mutual affection with the congregation, you really don’t have room to speak in the voice of the prophet. Never forget, there is a big difference between true prophet speech and just airing your own frustration. The first is something said because you believe God genuinely put it on your heart to say. The second is selfish and often does a lot of unintended damage.
If you are frustrated, the best course of action is not to air it out with those who will agree with how terrible things are. You really need to talk with someone who can pray with you and help you navigate the tension and frustration you are feeling. The last thing you want to go through is burnout…there is too much at stake and too many casualties to fall out along the way. Often, there are more casualties from a disgruntled minister who hangs on than one who knows it is time for a change and makes the shift.