This week we are excited to have a Guest Blogger continuing on with our series focusing in on unpacking each of the five APEST capacities. This week and next, Tim Catchim, co-author of The Permanent Revolution and The Permanent Revolution Playbook, expands the prophetic paradigm. If you’re not caught up, here are the Teacher, the Shepherd and the Evangelist.
What does prophetic ministry look like? This is a really good question, and to be honest, it’s is quite challenging to answer. In my opinion, prophetic ministry is actually the most complex form of ministry within APEST. That being said, I want to suggest four features of prophetic ministry, and then show how those features can come together to form various expressions of prophetic ministry.
Prophetic Tones: Criticize and Energize
Prophets have a tendency to recognize and reveal the space that exists between us and God. They drawing attention to the “gap” between God’s reality and our own. This does give prophetic ministry a somewhat critical feature. But it’s short-sighted to say this is the only feature of prophetic ministry. For example, Walter Bruegemann characterizes the role of the prophet as one who both criticizes and energizes. These two categories suggest a continuum upon which prophetic ministry can be located.
If the role of the critic is to “expose the gap,” then the role of the energizer is to inspire us to “stand in the gap.” Now, to be clear, a healthy expression of prophetic ministry will include both a criticizing and energizing focus. But experience would tell us that some prophets will tend to gravitate towards one over the other. We see this very thing taking place in Jeremiah’s prophetic call in Jeremiah 1. God tells him that he will root out, pull down, destroy and throw down (Jeremiah 1:9). That’s the criticizing feature of his prophetic ministry. But he’s also given the task of building and planting – two things that definitely lend themselves to the energizing features of ministry. If you do the math, Jeremiah’s ministry adds up to being 2/3 de-constructive and only 1/3 constructive.
Now compare this with the prophet Isaiah who, while bringing significant accusations against the people of God, also brought visions of messianic restoration and renewal. Jeremiah and Isiah were both prophets but their ministries fall on different places in the criticizing and energizing continuum. The important thing to recognize, though, is that genuine prophetic ministry will always include both. Some who are called to function prophetically may have a more energizing effect to their ministry, while others may operate in a more critical fashion.
Prophetic Tactics: Verbalize and Visualize
Communicating God’s reality in the face of false realities sometimes requires extreme tactics so that a compelling contrast can be made. As such, prophetic ministry can sometimes express itself in sensation-al forms of speech and action. It’s what Patton and Woods calls “shock therapy.” Taking their cue from the Old Testament prophets, they rightly observe that “…the Hebrew prophets prodded their audiences toward reconciliation with God through graphic images, R-rated monologues, and outrageous street theatre. Yet the prophets were not exhibitionists who shocked for shocks sake; rather, they were faithful truth tellers whose communication unapologetically demonstrated the depths of Israel’s own disregard for peace and justice.”
Prophets shock the church out of its sleep walking hypnosis and confront the people with the reality of God’s presence, power, and purpose for the world.
How does a prophet bring us into contact with God’s reality? The literal definition of the word prophet means “the first to speak,” but don’t be fooled into thinking that prophetic ministry is limited to speech. Verbalizing the message is a definite means by which prophets mediate an alternative reality. Yet we all know that communication involves more than just words. Actions can equally, if not more powerfully, communicate as well. Prophetic ministry also visualizes the message in creative, imaginative ways. That is, prophets sometimes use theatrical, artistic, visual forms of communication to get their message across.
Some prophets verbalize their message, and some prophets visualize their message. We see this visualizing method taking place through Isaiah who preached naked, Hosea who married a prostitute, or Ezekiel who lay on his side for 430 days.
Some prophets communicate through visual means – they symbolically en-act their message. Clothes, fashion, choice of housing, music, art, dance… anything that can potentially signify and or magnify meaning is a potential vehicle for prophetic messaging. In fact, most artistic people likely have a significant dose of prophetic sensibilities.
So at one end, prophetic ministry can show up in predominately verbalized form through speeches, questions, storytelling and other forms of rhetoric. At the other end of the continuum are the more visual, theatrical, dramatized forms of communication that choose provocative, sometimes bizarre (even repulsive), actions and activities to deliver the message in symbolic, demonstrative ways.
We see this same continuum within the prophetic tradition. In fact, there were some who would slide back and forth between the two as the situation required. The point is that not all prophetic ministry is verbal, some of it finds expression through visual means as well.
These two sets of continuums, criticize-energize, verbalize-visualize, give rise to four types of prophets.
While this matrix is not exhaustive, it does help us broaden our view of prophetic ministry, while at the same time pointing us to a more diverse understanding of how prophets can function within the body.
Next week, we will wrap up this post and take a quick look at four ways to look at the prophet. Thanks for reading! How have you experienced the ministry of the verbal-visual, critic-energizing prophet? Let us know in the comments.