Old Testament prophets, like Jeremiah and Amos, along with New Testament prophets like John the Baptist are frequently lauded as the biblical standard for prophetic ministry. Often misunderstood, these divinely called servants delivered unpopular messages to unconvinced crowds.
How do we know if our ministries are prophetic today? We are not wearing camel hair clothing, eating locusts and wild honey, and living “off the grid.” We are leading congregations, buying groceries, loving our families, being neighbors and siblings, and caring for aging parents. What does prophetic ministry look like now?
If you asked your staff or leadership teams to give you a definition of prophetic ministry, what do you think they might say? Would they use words like “confrontational,” “bold,” “risky” and “suffering”? If so, you can see why pastors and congregations are not running to sign up for prophetic ministry. John the Baptist was the epitome of confrontational ministry — but being prophetic is not just about proclaiming destruction of the wicked. According to professor Ellen F. Davis, prophetic ministry also entails declaring radical hope in God, especially when it looks like all hope is lost.
This week’s resources call us to see prophetic ministry as a tapestry made of interwoven strands of hope, truth-telling and unlikely partnerships. For example, in his article on prophetic honesty, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove describes what happens when an organization starts telling hard truths to itself. He writes about a church-founded nonprofit that was reasonably successful in its mission, but ineffective in its operations. Being honest led to a deeper awareness of how the organization could do ministry with people and not just for people.
We know we need to speak truth to those in power. We also need to speak the truth to ourselves, too.
By Ellen F. Davis
By Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
By Isaac S. Villegas
Before you go…
Throughout this week’s resources, we see two truths. First, prophetic ministry remains relevant today. We need to be truth-tellers to the world and to our congregations. Second, prophetic ministry will look different in different contexts. There’s no formula for being faithful to your prophetic call. However, no matter what we do, the prophetic call is at the heart of following Jesus Christ. Today’s headlines speak to the economic, environmental, social and political injustices that polarize our congregations and communities more and more each day. Will you discern where God is leading and boldly go forward in courageous faith with radical hope?
You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next week, keep leading!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity