Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 1st, 2015 by Joel Watts

Pastor as…CEO…Public Theologian… but as prophet?

 For sometime now, there has been an interest in redefining — maybe, reformulating? — the role of pastor. As the mainline churches moved into moral therapeutic deism, pastors became counselors. Now, as churches become overly top heavy, with quotas and diagrams and attendance measures, pastors are told to become something like CEOs. But, in a time of theological and ecclesiastical decay in the West, perhaps we should expect our pastors to become something different.

We overuse the word “prophetic,” insisting that this term is applied to the straight white male fighting perceived oppression — although we bristle if it is used to describe a racial or sexual “minority” fighting for traditional Christian teaching. We insist this term is used for those fighting the patriarchal empire, capitalism, or any other host of liberal and pseudo-liberal causes deemed worthy by pontificating progressivism. This is not the actual meaning of the term, but as with many ersatz intellectuals, words matter little, only the fostered meaning, usually applied in an agenda driven tango to the irrelevant bottom.

With this in mind, I want to suggest that the pastor — along with being the public theologian, or maybe as an aspect of this role — should take the role of prophet. We have to remember that “prophet” doesn’t mean activist, but rather, revealer. Without quoting on and on, we find this need expressed in the Reformers — notably Zwingli and Calvin — when the notion of the Protestant pastor truly appeared. I have no problem with the manifold ministry of the Priest, but I’m not speaking specifically to that.

Pastors should act as priests and prophets, in my opinion.

No doubt, the pastor must lead the congregation against Empire, against oppression — and sin, and towards Christ. Again, this doesn’t mean activist, but Teacher. Revealer. Seerer. What would a pastoral prophet or a prophetic pastor look like? I imagine them as one who could and would call the congregation to pray, fast, and stand together against a cause the Spirit has led the pastor to call attention to. Granted, for those pastors bound by covenant, they must first deal with the vows they took — and if anything, Scripture is clear on vow breakers. And yes, you can be prophetic and obey your vows.

prophet pastor

Could a congregation, especially a mainline congregation, stand a pastor saying, “The Spirit has told me…” or worse, “I am convicted of God that we have drifted away from Christian teaching.” What would your congregation think if your mainline pastor stood up and said, “I feel led by God to…” — and heaven forbid, if it was inline with traditional Christian teaching?

What if the mainline pastor preached the Book of Amos but in a modern paraphrase?

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This type of pastor is likely the theologian as well, since prophecy and theology goes together like a hand and a glove. After all, engrained in the Creeds is the early baptismal formula calling us to the Lordship of Christ, freeing us from Caesar. This is theological. This is prophetic. Suddenly, what is revealed to us in this formula — and in the Creed — is the great cosmic struggle against the principality of sin. Jesus is Lord; Caesar is not. Without theology, and without prophecy, you cannot know what this fully means.

So, what do you think? Should pastors be more prophetic? How would that look?

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

8 Responses to “Pastor as…CEO…Public Theologian… but as prophet?”
  1. Speaking as an Episcopalian here.

    We have priests (presbyters, to use the correct term). Some priests are pastors. Some priests are teachers, Some priests are administrators. And, yes, some priests are prophets.

    There are different orders of ministry: bishop (ἐπίσκοπος), priest (πρεσβύτερος), deacons (διάκονος), and the laity (λαός). Those titles are not job descriptions, such as “pastor.” Within each of those orders, you will see individuals practicing the different “job descriptions,” such as pastor, teacher, prophet, healer, and administrator. Of course, you will find some of the orders relying more on some gifts or roles than others.

    The situation you are describing here is when you emphasize one role–pastor–in the ordained ministry. To be honest, I think we probably want the head of a congregation to be a pastor, to some degree. Someone needs to keep the sheep safe. But the other job descriptions are important.

  2. I very much appreciate these thoughts. Personally, I support some of the movements toward Pastor as Public Theologian, but when I read more about that, I too often read, “Be a rich church with lots of staff so that all your pastor has to do is be a teacher of the Bible and theology.” Pastor as prophet, in the way you describe, seems to allow for a broader range of experiences for a pastor while still predominantly emphasizing proclamation of the Word as its primary mission.

  3. good post, and yes, they should be prophetic though I think more in the teacher mode than in the prophet mode. they are shepherds – they lead through proclamation of the prophetic word (preaching) and spiritual direction. IMO .

  4. My only objection is using the Book of Amos as a model.

    “Should pastors be more prophetic? How would that look?”

    The audience would be split into to groups, as demonstrated by the Life of Brian video.

    http://youtu.be/9czBBKof7Yo

    One group would question everything related to “doom and gloom” evil, out to get you; and the consequences (per Amos).

    One group would follow every word of the “new” prophet. And start worshiping him.

    Best advice for “new” prophets, from Amos 5:13 “Therefore he that is prudent shall keep silence in such a time; for it is an evil time.”

    Better counselor in private than prophet in public.

    • A pastor is not a prophet. This is why I think some churches outside those that follow the historic and Traditional (note capital “T”) ordained offices (bishop, presbyter, deacon) showed look at their practice. It is unfair and unwise to expect someone who is truly a pastor to exercise gifts that are not in their toolkit.

      How a small congregation that can only afford one ordained person has a problem. They get their pastor (required), but what about provisions for the other gifts. Even churches using the Traditional ordained offices have this problem.

  5. Check out Hirsch on this. Churches can be led by teams including all of the ministry gifts in one form or another.

  6. Prophecy as a spiritual gift might be an interesting place to start. As you say, the Spirit seems to be leading… Do we have room for God to speak to us through prophets whether they are pastors or not? It is interesting that the gifts we exalt are teachers/pastors. prophets, apostles and evangelists not so much…

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