Sunday, June 04, 2006

19. Prophetic

"The main task of prophetic thinking is to bring the world into divine focus." The Prophets by Abraham J. Heschel. Because of the transformation of words and the baggage they acquire through time, also referred to as etymology, discussing Biblical terminology often requires "redefining" words to align them with their original intent. The word "Prophecy" falls into this category. It is one of those words that has been infused with mystical, often magical connotations, conjuring up images of a psychic.
However, from a biblical point of view, Prophecy is more than merely telling the future. It goes deeper than just forecasting who is going to win the Superbowl. Prophecy has more to do with shaping the present. In the Israelite tradition, the prophet would be "caught up" into the heavenly council of God where he would receive visions of both the future and the present. Viewing the present from God's point of view created within the prophet an intimate connection with God. It fostered a compassion for God's heart for the people. The prophet would experience the world form God's angle and in a small fashion, enter into what scholars call the pathos, or, the suffering of God. He would receive insight into what God felt, his emotions and disappointment. In short, he would empathize with God.
In contrast to experiencing the present from God's standpoint, he would also gaze upon the future. He would be exposed to either the impending judgment or eschatological hope of the community of God. This combination of viewing both the present depravity of the people and their possible future judgment or deliverance would instill within the prophet an intense burden to represent God's heart to the people. He would "descend" back into his context with a burning passion to proclaim to the people what God had so clearly impressed upon his heart. Far from being a commercial about the future, prophecy is a calculated exposure of the status quo followed by a scathing rebuke.
As Abraham J. Heschel put it, "Prophecy, then, may be described as exegesis of existence from a divine perspective." It is an act of divine commentary on our situations. When a prophetic word comes into our lives, it manifests so much powerful because it lays us bare and exposes our true condition. It critiques our present state with such candid images and blunt language that we stand naked before God with no defense. It brings such a rare epiphane and clarity that it shocks us into attention. A prophetic word from God will often wound before it heals.
This brings me to the gift of prophecy mentioned in Ephesians 4. Those with the gift of prophecy are not modern day psychics handing out mysterious pieces of information for our paranormal amusement. They function as mouth pieces for God. And just as in the days of old, their messages are not primarily warm fuzzies. In fact, a prophet is often annoying. They are agitators and are often borderline negative. They critique the status quo and call for the people of God to live by a different standard. They expose the shallow and superficialness of our spirituality and rebuke our conformity to the surrounding culture.
Quite honestly, we do not want prophets around. The prophets were not the most popular people on the block. You did not crave one on one time with them. There were no lunch appointments with a prophet. Why? They are not your average social butterflies. Bottom line is.....they are a nag and tend to be critical. They are idealist on steroids. With their zeal for the Holiness and Justice of God they have a tendency to mess up our rhythm and shatter our fragile egos. And what gives them this courage? Quite simply, they are passionate about God and not our feelings. Their heart for God supercedes their desire for approval.
But the brutal fact is, as annoying as prophets are, we need them. We desperately need this gift to operate in the body of Christ today. Most of the paid staff members of church can not function in this role. Their job security does not allow it. Yet without the prophets, our vision of the world and our own condition is in danger of being blurred by our fleshly desires and thwarted values. Without prophets we can not see God or our situations with clarity. We drift into mediocre, sub normal lives, never noticing our gradual descent into lukewarmness.
The church not only needs to embrace this shunned gift, but it also needs to develop the discipline of thinking prophetically. We do not need to be afraid of being self critical. Examining ourselves under the microscope of God's message is a prophetic task for the church to adopt.
The challenge? If you are a prophet, use your gift! If you are wanting to lead the church, think prophetically. I leave you with this quote from Mr. Heschel.
"The main task of prophetic thinking is to bring the world into divine focus."

18. Apostolic

This is one of those words I always associated with the holiness movement. You know, those signs in front of churches that have 14 words to the title of the church. Apostolic is just not in my vocabulary.
Recently, I just finished a book called The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. One of the many insights they have in their book is into the role of the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4. They call it APEPT Leadership. (abbreviations for the 5 gifts mentioned there.) Aside from their deliberate focus upon discovering your gifts, they analyzed what role these 5 gifts play in the life cycle of a church or movement. Implementing the bell curve, they identified Apostles as the initiators of movements. This places them at the beginning of the curve. At the top of the curve are the pastors and teachers.
In case you are wondering, apostles are the people who have a hard time staying in one place for a along time. They are trail blazers, innovators, pioneers, borderline revolutionists. Those with the gift of apostleship have the unique ability to begin new works for God in uncharted territories. In fact, they are down right miserable if they are tied down to one project or assignment too long. They need the wide open fields of opportunity and adventure. Some people are born with roots, and some people are born with wings. Apostles would be the latter. They thrive on new beginnings, new projects, new challenges and opportunities.
In the church, unfortunately, this gift is often marginalized and discounted. It is superseded by the more "valuable" gifts such a pastoring or teaching. This is due in part to our structure as an institutional church. As a result, it has led our seminaries and our ministry training centers to glorify and centralize the gifts of teaching and pastoring. Missions is what we do over in the other countries. And quite honestly, it is left to those who do not "fit the mold" of the glorified pastor.
Ironically enough, there are a lot of apostles who are unfortunatley forced into the role of pastors. Here's how it goes down. Apostles are passionate, visionary people who have a tendency to show up with shock and awe in job interviews at churches. The leadership of an established church is normally impressed and enthralled with their apostolic dynamic and say to themselves in closed meetings, this is exactly what we need here at our church right now. Unfortunately, that is as far as the wisdom reaches. What ends up happening is the apostle is hired for their apostlic dynamic but is immediatley placed in a pastoral position with pastoral responsibilities and expectations. This makes for a highly frustrated apostle, not to mention a confused leadership, who, at first is enamored with the apostolic impact, but secretly wants a pastor to "run the church." The end result is a square peg being forced into a round hole. Either the apostle buckles down and plays the role of a pastor, or they leave. Or the other option is, they get fired for not running the machine correctly. In the institutional church, there is literally not a place for apostles.
Because of this imbalance, our churches are deprived of the vitality and fresh energy that comes from an apostolic movement. The church desperately needs to embrace this gift and create space for it to flourish. The beginning of the life cycle in the Kingdom begins with Apostles. Just look at the book of Acts. Without the apostolic movement within the early days of the church, there would be little to write about in church history.
This is not to discount the gifts of pastoring and teaching. They are critical to the health of the body. However, it seems that these two gifts have been elevated to the point of exclusion of the other gifts. In most cases, when this happens, the church experiences a plateau. It drifts into a self-centered, inward focused atmosphere.
Now, it takes a prophet to point all of this out to the church, but after the prophetic word arrives, those with the gift of apostleship must emerge.
This is where it gets sort of complex. In order for the apostles to emerge, there must be leadership structures in place that can nurture, train and release those with apostolic gifts into their callings. This means that ministry should not be bottle necked to the pastors and teachers. It means that church planting and Kingdom agendas need to take center stage in our vision casting, teaching and ministry efforts.
We need to be revitalized. This will truly take place when the church allows the body to freely express itself through its divinely appointed ways. Operating in our gifts to the glory of God.
Lord, raise up workers for the harvest.