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The Pastor as Prophet

I'm at the Bishop's Convocation in Greater New Jersey right now, and I'll have comments to share about that later in the week.

But for right now, I've been thinking a lot about the pastor as prophet. Are pastors prophets? Two comments to consider:

In Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “I am not surprised that most prophets are itinerants . . . I think the real clue to the tameness of a preacher is the difficulty one finds in telling unpleasant truths to people who one has learned to love . . . Once personal contact is established you are very prone to temper your wind to the shorn sheep. It is certainly difficult to be human and honest at the same time. I’m not surprised that most budding prophets are tamed in time to become harmless parish priests.”

In contrast (of sorts), Rev. Grace Imathiu, preaching at the 2007 Festival of Homiletics on Ezekiel’s call, asked, “How does a priest function when they are stripped of traditions, robes, when being a priest is more than just keeping the status quo? A priest in exile is a priest without safety of liturgy, office, family, class. That priest is Ezekiel. Whenever there is a crisis in the life of a priest, there is the opportunity for God to break in and the priest to be transformed into a prophet.”

Sometimes, I deeply resonate with Niebuhr's comments. I set out answering my call thinking I could be a prophet, but fear many days that what I am is a harmless parish priest. And indeed, feeling bound to my congregation does make it hard to be as blunt as I'd sometimes like to be about where God is calling us....

On the other hand - not opposing, perhaps, but from a different perspective, is this beautiful piece from Grace Imathiu's sermon: Perhaps there is still hope for God to break into my life and make a prophet of me.

Pastors, are you a prophet? How so, or how not?

Lay people - Do you see your pastor as a prophet? Are you open to your pastor speaking prophetically? What would that mean to you?


Matt Akins said…
Speaking as a lay person (indeed the lay leader and chairperson of the leadership council for my congregation) I look to the pastors to provide spiritual guidance and scriptural relevance, and not just in their sermons. We need to be challenged and prodded lest we become comfortable and complacent sitting in our pews.
Eric Helms said…
As a pastor, I do think of myself as a prophet. As I prepare sermons, I find myself looking for what God has to say to us, and it is often something that we need to change. So far, my experience resonates with Matt's comment. I think many people desire to be respectfully challenged. However, on the flip side of this, I have recently been challenging myself to remember and embrace that the words of a prophet should not always be unpleasant. Christ brought good news, and I am trying to be sure that is what I share--even when I offer a challenging sermon I want to check to see that I do so in a way that points to the grace that empowers us to respond faithfully.
Teri said…
I feel myself called more to prophet than to "harmless priest" but also am constantly reminding myself that prophets need to figure out how to say things in a way people can hear, which isn't always (or even usually) how I would prefer to say them. I find that to be the hard part. I would prefer to be more direct and sometimes harsh, but that's not what people are going to hear and not what's going to open them to God's Spirit moving--instead they'll often end up defensive and angry. As would I, frankly...yes, a challenge indeed.
greg milinovich said…

this has nothing to do with being a prophet, but i just wanted you to know that i've spent the last 30 minutes or so browsing your blog and i really like it! i particularly loved the honesty of your post from december 10 called 'things i keep meaning to do' or something like that. i will be checking back in regularly to see what's new, and i have linked to your website from my blog, too.

grace and peace,
Clix said…
Ephesians 4:15 refers to "speaking the truth in love." Prophets are often - not always, but often - called to challenge and/or warn those to whom they are sent. But just as it's important for pastors to be able to preach those challenging truths (as you've mentioned), it's also important for prophets to be able to care for the people to whom they are called.

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