Many ministers of my generation were raised on a spicy diet of fire-and-brimstone preaching. Years ago, some preachers could describe hell so fearsomely, that people in the pews would begin to tremble, then burst out to repent at the altar right during the preaching. Congregations simply expected their pastor to preach like a prophet from time to time. They expected evangelists to do it all of the time.
Over the years, of course, we renamed the preacher, “pastor” and quit scaring people into the kingdom. We replaced such preaching with the gentler more conversational approach so popular today. Now we give encouraging, helpful, uplifting, instructive talks. A few months ago a leading pastor summed up the shift by saying to me, “Whatever happens in this morning’s service, I want to make sure that above all, this audience goes out of here feeling good.”
A prophetic ministry won’t make people feel good. It makes them feel bad. Guilty. Rebuked. Corrected. Prophetic preaching is an awful assignment. Perhaps that is why most of the Old Testament prophets were such unwilling messengers. (Maybe a person who enjoys this kind of preaching shouldn’t do it.) I know that when God compels me to do it, I hate it. When God lays one of those “heavy” sermons on my heart I approach the pulpit thinking, “This is going to hurt me a lot more than it will hurt you.” It does. I die all night the night before, all during the sermon, and kick myself all the way home. When I preach a normal sermon they say “Great!” To a prophetic one they say “ouch.” Or, more likely, the say nothing at all, slipping out a side exit, nodding quietly my way if they happen to see them. People don’t like to be scolded. Even when you are speaking for God.
Who wants to be a prophet today? Do you? Not most of us. We’d rather be leaders. That is what we’ve been taught. Manage. Lead. Be the CEO. Who wants to be a Chief Prophetic Officer ? Who would attend a seminar on prophetic preaching? It would go over about like a business seminar on “How to anger and alienate your customer base.” We love the stuff of leading: Capturing a vision. Setting goals. Developing plans. Devising strategy. Making PERT charts. Recruiting people. Training workers. Deploying personnel. Being in charge. This is leader work.
The call to leadership is exhilarating. “God wants me to be in front.” It fits us well. We like to be in the front of the parade. But prophetic ministry is usually done from the side, not from the front. Prophetic ministry stands beside God’s people, speaking for God, giving His words of warning, correction, judgment and rebuke. Prophets don’t take a poll before they preach. They get a *message* from God which they deliver to His people. Leaders calls people forward. Prophets call them back. Back to the Gospel. Back to holy living. Back from idolatry. Back to repentance. Back to the basics. Back to God.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that Leadership and a prophetic ministry are mutually exclusive. They’re not. Prophets sometimes become great leaders. And leaders who do not exercise a prophetic ministry are not really leaders at all — but merely a politicians dressed up like leaders.
My point is all ministers are called to some prophetic ministry. Probably less so when the church is in wonderful shape spiritually. And God calls up more prophetic ministry when the church needs shaping up. I’ll leave it to you to decide which description fits your church.
The question to think about is this: Is God calling YOU to add more prophetic preaching to your pulpit mix? He seems to be calling many this way these days. So be ready. Listen. He may give you some hard words for your people. Not harsh words, mind you, but hard words. You may have to pass this message on to your people. They might not listen. They may not *feel good* after hearing it. You may not feel good either. But, like all the true prophets before, you will have one major consolation – you will know you have spoken for God.
Shouldn’t that be enough?
© Keith Drury. You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.