Religious Leaders As Prophets
[THE SECOND POST IN A BLOG SERIES ON RELIGION & GOVERNMENT BY BOB ROBERTS]
We need really good prophets who are religious leaders today. Nathan, whom David loves and listens to, stands before him and calls him out for sleeping with Bathsheba and having Uriah, her husband, killed. He says that famous line to David, “Thou art the man.” Jeremiah is thrown into a muddy cistern for prophesying against the King of Israel and warning of impending judgment. Jeremiah also had to stand up to false prophets like Hananiah when they said only what the King wanted to hear. There are manhy prophets in the Old Testament, but few really speak for God. Most are enamored by access, power, authority, and privilege. It’s the same today. 1 Kings 18 is a powerful chapter where Obadiah is hiding 100 prophets from King Ahab for challenging him. It’s here, when Elijah is going to meet King Ahab, that Ahab’s responds, “It is you, you troubler of Israel.” 1 Kings 22 is rather funny – when Ahab is seeking a word about going to war, his 400 prophets say do it and you will win. He’s asked by King Jehosaphat of Judah if there are any other prophets who have anything else to say. King Ahab says, “There is yet one man . . Micaiah. . . but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” Ahab should have listened to Micaiah.
The prophetic isn’t limited to the Old Testament. Though not exactly the same, it is actually a ministry and gift of the church. Stephen spoke prophetically at his martyrdom to Jews who had become hard-hearted. In Acts 21 Agabus prophesies Paul will be imprisoned to which Paul’s response was “let the Lord’s will be done.” Church history is so filled with prophetic ministry. Look at St. Francis of Assisi challenging the church and kings of the day against war and the crusades. Look at Martin Luther challenging the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope. Look at Roger Williams challenging England and the early American Colonies on religious freedom. Look at Wilberforce and Livingstone challenging slavery. Look at Charles Finney challenging the government in the 1800’s on child labor laws. Look at Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenging Hitler, Germany and the Nazi’s. Look at Mother Teresa challenging Bill Clinton on abortion at the National Prayer Breakfast. THESE are the stories that lead to biographies that people devour. These are the examples that people long to emulate, not hob-nobbers and pundits and would-be prophets who are soon forgotten as kings rise and fall. These are the prophets that change the world – the ones who fear God more than the King.
I hear the prophets all around us today – do you? Beth Moore, Kevin Kelly, Derwin Gray, David Brooks, Mary Demuth, John Jenkins, Jim Mather, Chris Seiple, Tim Scott, Lecrae, Rich Nathan, Leonard Sweet, Brian Zahnd, Eddie Leo, Gabe Lyons, Ed Stetzer, Eugene Cho, Oscar Muriu, David Devonish . . . and I could go on and on and on and on. They are with us. No one really wants to be a prophet, at least not a real one. You go through a lot of trials. Your own tribe judges you harshly. It’s not going to make you popular, if anything just the opposite. The majority of the prophetic ministry is aimed not outside your tribe but inside it! A prophet lives for eternity and truth. A prophet isn’t looking for reward or recognition in this life. A prophet has to have incredible strength and endurance and resilience when they get knocked down and trashed by others. Prophets aren’t necessarily mean and harsh, they are just used to getting hit a lot! We should all strive to be “happy” prophets.
Prophets speak about truth and injustice and how nations are treating others. They see the big picture. It’s always been fascinating to me that Matthew 25 is the judgment of NATIONS! People are gathered as and by nations. This is profound. God loves nations. God has established nations. Nations are not done away with throughout eternity. God wants his will on earth to be done today and here are a few metrics he will hold all nations and all people accountable for. Nations will be judged by God, and notice, according to Jesus, what they are judged on . . feeding, giving water, refugees, clothing, how we treat prisoners, health, how you treat “the least.” These are the literal words of Jesus. We can’t ignore them, soften them, spin them, side step them. Morality and character and integrity have always been things that prophets have spoken to but now Jesus shows the fruit of real character, integrity, and morality. These things cannot be ignored. People can be very moral externally but unloving. You are going to care about these things because you radically love all people just like Jesus. Therefore, as faith leaders, if we would practice prophetic ministry and spare our nations God’s judgement, then these are the issues that we must be speaking to. Thus today, as faith leaders have in the past, we must have a prophetic ministry.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I teach our young pastors that there are two reasons you stand before a King or leader. The first reason is that you know someone. The second is that you have earned credibility from your work and service to others and the King wants to see you. Those are two very, very different meetings. The first is a hand shake, a picture, a few statements of niceness. The second, is a conversation filled with questions and a search for understanding. I’ve learned it’s better to not meet a King at all than meet a King with a pundit. You will forever be labeled by that King by how you met them. Not only the King, but the company you are with before the King labels you by others as well.
The goal of the prophet is not to win the favor of the King but to speak on behalf of God and truth. Obviously there is no point in being antagonistic to a king. When God opens the door, challenge them – but not in a mean and hateful way – rather, in an affirming and hopeful way. Smile a lot. Use laugher and self-deprication. It goes a long way and may help you keep your head a little longer! Pray for them, know all you can about them, be respectful and never underestimate why God might have you in front of a King. I’ve been in situations where I wound up talking about my faith and what it means to follow Jesus that NOT IN A MILLION YEARS would I ever have expected. I remember the first time someone labeled by the world as “significant” began to ask me about Jesus, what I believed about him, and what the cross was such a big deal. I’ll never forget another leader asking me, “Why do you evangelicals believe we are the anti-Christ.” Oohhh, the stupid, stupid, things we say that hinders the gospel. That one took me a couple of hours.
When I’ve stood before leaders, and I have young leaders with me – which I often do because I’m always mentoring – I have to talk to them about how to enter a room. When to speak and when to be silent. I tell them we aren’t tourist so don’t ask for pictures. If they want a picture we will oblige, but don’t ask. I tell them when we eat a meal with a leader, it’s not about the meal – don’t focus on the food, focus on the leader and listen to what is said and what is not said and how it’s said. I could go on and on and on. I’ve become friends with leaders by keeping confidences, saying little, challenging privately – and sometimes only when absolutely necessary, publicly.
Prophetic leadership challenges wrongs and promotes right. The danger of being too public with a public figure is when they do wrong, and you remain silent – you loose your own credibility. The quieter you are publicly about your relationships, the more you will have, as well as far more latitude to operate in. No leader wants to be a sermon illustration, a photo opp, or news story. Kings and Presidents come and go, truth remains and God is eternal.
By the way, these principles are not just good for Kings & President but for how you treat everyone, and also how you want to be treated.
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.