Reading Beau’s post yesterday on the differences between evangelistic and apostolic gifting compelled me to offer this post about how prophetic gifts fit into the mix. How, or where, do prophets fit in this conversation about APEST giftings, and in the Church for that matter?
I would argue the prophets are the least understood of the five-fold gifts, and most broadly interpreted in different directions. It’s tempting to think of prophets as either doomsday preachers shouting about the end of the world or strange fortune-tellers predicting the future. While some could fit those stereotypes (and you could give examples from scripture), I think the prophetic gifts manifest in ways that are crucial to the present, and actually unlock and build on the work of the evangelists and apostles out there.
Walter Brueggemann articulates the role of the prophet in his book The Prophetic Imagination:
“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
Often prophets have unique insight that comes from God concerning how things are supposed to be. They call the church to live this out. This could speak to the past, to a time where the people of God were acting and living like the people of God. This could also speak to the future, the prophet seeing a better world, a world where the Kingdom of God is on earth, as it is in Heaven.
The call of a prophet is rooted in Genesis 12, when God told Abraham that he and his people (of which all Christians are adopted into through Christ) were blessed, so that they would be a blessing to all nations. This would be the identity of the people of God throughout all time, blessed by a special relationship with God so that we could be a window for all people to see God through us. A risky plan, no doubt, and one that the Israelites often screwed up, hence the need for prophets throughout the Old Testament. The window often got crusted up by injustice, selfishness, nationalism and exclusion, and sin.
God used, and continues to use his prophets to help shape the life of his followers, so others can see and understand him more fully.
So, as apostles plant new expressions of God, prophets shape what they look like. As evangelists call people into a life following God, prophets help the body truly live that life.
Prophets are often activists, poets, artists. But they are also theologians, leaders, and architects. Sometimes they are farmers…
The Prophetic in My Life
My husband and I live in community with another family, and have been cultivating an urban farm together for the past few years. We have many reasons to choose such a strange life together, but many of them are rooted in the prophetic.
Cultivating our own food speaks to the need to unplug from our industrial food system (riddled with injustice and oppression) and offer our friends and neighbors fresh, healthy food. It also brings beauty to our neighborhood, a somewhat forgotten place in our city.
Living together helps us create inter-dependence in a culture that idolizes independence and isolation. It disciples us into less selfish, more humble people. We get to experience a little of what the early church might have experienced in Acts 2 or 4, sharing things so that there is no need among us.
Starting a church in our neighborhood allows us to offer the life that we’ve chosen to other people, as a window to see God through our unusual lives. Some themes that we hear from neighbors that get to know us, or at-risk youth that join us for dinner are:
- We’re weird. (We’re ok with that.)
- They’ve never seen this kind of Christian before.
We hope and pray that our lives can reveal God to each other, and anyone who comes around us.
Prophets can be weirdos like us, living alternative lifestyles and calling the body of Christ back to simplicity, interdependence, and justice. They can also be prophets like Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole, calling the Western church to look and be different. Prophets are essential in shaping the people of God so that others can see Him more clearly. Because we, like the Israelites, have an amazing ability to screw it up. But we also have the amazing privilege of letting light into the darkness, like a window does as the light of the sun radiates through it.
“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place…” 2 Peter 1:19
where do you see the prophetic at work in the Church today? Please share with us below!