The Prophetic Pastor

The prophet has a stern word, a severe word, a timely and tumultuous word which he speaks into spiritual confusion, moral compromise, and carnal indifference.   The pastor faithfully, systematically, and regularly expounds the timeless truths of the Bible week in and week out to a congregation of wheat and tares.  Are the roles of prophet and pastor mutually exclusive?  The OT says, “No.”

In the OT, the teaching office was the domain of the priests.  They were not only to officiate at the altar, they were also to teach the law of Moses and make its ordinances, statutes, commandments, warnings, penalties, and blessings known.  Consider the following-

 God speaking to Aaron, of his sons –

LEV 10:11  “… teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.”

Speaking of the priests –

DT  3:10  “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You, and whole burnt offerings on Your altar.”

Speaking to the priests –

MAL 2:7  “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”

The priest was to be both teacher and prophet – instructor and warner.  The priest could even receive supernatural direction that was not part of the law of Moses.  The Urim and the Thummim gave the priest access to revelation not included in the Torah.  But when the priest was faithless, he corrupted both his teaching office and prophetic role.

When the priests became corrupt and were no longer faithful to their calling and twisted the law of Moses, God would raise up prophets to do the work that the priests were not doing.  This is why, for the most part, there is always tension and hostility between priest and prophet.  The priest saw the prophet as competition as the prophet took upon himself the teaching office of the priest (but not his sacrificial role).  The prophet had one basic message: ‘return to the law of Moses or else.’  The forthtelling message of the prophet was ‘return to Moses.’  The foretelling message of the prophet was ‘or else.’  They fulfilled the teaching and warning ministry of the priest.

For the most part, whenever you see a prophet in Israel, you can assume one thing – something is wrong.  You can see this in the ministry of Samuel, who was judge/priest/prophet.

So Samuel did what the LORD said, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and said, “Do you come in peace?”1 Sam. 16:4

The elders of Bethlehem saw Samuel coming and thought, “Uh-oh.”   When the priests of Israel became morally corrupt, spiritually collapsed, and doctrinally compromised, in come the prophets.  The prophets were God’s mechanics – they fixed things.

Here’s the thesis I would like to explore with you: the NT pastor combines within his office the roles of both OT priest and prophet.  Obviously, the call to the pastorate is a call to the teaching ministry of the church.  Here, I would also like to suggest that, in addition to the priestly teaching role, there is a prophetic dimension of the pastor’s office.  (Even though there is a separate prophetic office in the NT, this doesn’t obviate the need for the prophetic dimension of the pastorate.  My sense is that the NT prophet doesn’t minister w/ the same regularity as does the pastor.  The NT prophet, as his OT counterpart, ministered occasionally – not w/ the rhythmic regularity of the pastor.)

Though there are significant differences in how the prophet and pastor prepare for ministry, there is sibling DNA in how the two go about ministry.  Contrasts between and comparisons with the prophet and the pastor are worth exploring.

The pastor has time constraints that the prophet didn’t/doesn’t.  The pastor works under the time constraint of Sunday and midweek while it seems the prophet does not have the same regularity of demand.   The pastor speaks a scheduled word while the prophet speaks an occasional word as he waits upon the initiative of God.  Yes, the pastor is to wait on God also, but consider the following –  Jeremiah, in C42 of his prophecy, waited ten days for the Word of the Lord to come to Him.  Elijah stood in the council chamber of the Lord, whereas Elisha received the Word of the Lord when the minstrel played.  Of course, as pastors, we can stand in the council chamber of the Lord and be stirred in our spirits by anointed music, but we can hardly wait ten days for the Lord to speak!

The pastor studies his Bible; the prophet waits on God.  There was no text in front of the prophet except that of the Torah.  Yet his calling wasn’t to systematically expound Torah; he waits for an immediate, unmediated Word.  He has no commentaries in front of him and does not concern himself with word studies.  Yes, he is part of a historical tradition and community, but this supplies him little grist for the mill.  His task isn’t to take the words of others and gain richer insight, follow paths of implication, or give contemporary application.

Even the NT prophet, as I understand this office, does not ‘study’ as the pastor studies.  He listens for the Lord as he discerns the times and discerns the people.  He may minister with regularity, but not in the same place.  Again, my sense is that the ministry of the NT prophet is extra-local.  He can have one message that he then brings in 20 places.  The pastor has a local ministry, he is in one place, and therefore needs to bring forth many messages.

The Word we pastors study is a mediated Word – it has already come through someone else.  Yes, it is the Word of God as much as it was for the prophets, but it is not an immediate Word.  The prophet is given bread; the pastor is given grain to make bread.  The prophet’s bread is the pastor’s grain.  The prophet is given a fully cooked meal; the pastor is given all the ingredients to serve-up a healthy dinner.   The pastor expounds the timeless Word; the prophet proclaims a timely word.  The pastor develops a text and brings an exposition of the information found in the text whereas the prophet seeks the burden of the Lord.

OK – so what?

The Prophetic Pastor

The prophetic pastor will develop the Biblical text and seek the burden of the heart of God.  The prophetic pastor will labor to bring forth the timeless truth of the Bible and proclaim the timely word of the Lord.  The prophetic pastor will exegete the Bible and exegete the people and the times in which he lives.  The prophetic pastor will bring forth a stern word, a severe word, a timely and tumultuous word which he speaks into spiritual confusion, moral compromise, and carnal indifference.  The prophetic pastor faithfully, systematically, and regularly expounds the timeless truths of the Bible week in and week out to a congregation of wheat and tares.

Many pastors avoid bringing forth a stern word for fear of being condemning.  Many pastors avoid bringing forth a severe word for fear of hitting a note of harshness that could be interpreted as undermining grace. Discipline for sin, the destructive consequences of irresponsible decisions, the anger of God at the sin of individuals and the sin of the church, etc. are not common or popular themes in today’s pulpits.  Because the prophetic dimension of the pastorate is at low ebb, many pastors, in the systematic and regular teaching of the Bible, rise no higher than giving theological lectures.  The click and paste method of sermon preparation has hobbled the pulpit and turned it into a lectern.  The sermon has lost its prophetic edge and has become an information dump.  Cultural/linguistic/historic/theological background fills the sermon, leaving no ground for the voice of the living God.  Biblical information is a means to an end – the revelation of God.  The sermon, as the exposition of Biblical information, is meant to translate into the spiritual revelation of God in the heart of the hearer.  The prophetic pastor will seek the burden of the Lord as he labors in his study of the cultural/linguistic/historic/theological background of the text for that week.  I want the people not only to know what the Bible says, I want them to encounter the living God!

(I am not making the neo-orthodox claim that Biblical information becomes spiritual revelation in an existential moment.  I am not saying that the Bible is not revelation, but contains revelation.  I am not saying that Biblical information is not revelation in and of itself.  I am not talking about the Bible – I am talking about the pulpit and the man who stands in it.  I am talking about sermons and what they are meant to accomplish.  The Bible is always revelatory – some sermons aren’t.)

Let me hasten to add that I have driven home many Sundays stinging in my spirit because I had failed to deliver the severe word, the stern word, because I thought it wasn’t the loving pastoral thing to do.  I have also been guilty of using the pulpit as an information dump.  I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit continues to use my poor attempts at preaching to reveal Himself to the people.  I am amazed.

OK – that’s enough.  This article was painted in broad brush strokes.  If I painted outside the lines you are comfortable with, please let me know how you understand the roles, callings, ministries, and offices touched upon in this article.  What is the role of the NT prophet?  Do you know of any?  What does their ministry look like?  Has too much information made the sermon anemic?

16 replies
  1. Daniel Fusco
    Daniel Fusco says:

    This is a great article Tim.
    Really thought provoking and well written.

    The roll of the prophet in the NT is to speak into the the disconnect between position and experience. When I think of a modern day prophet, Graham Cooke comes to mind. He is very well known in charismatic circles, not at all known outside. His books on the role of the prophetic in the modern church are very good.

    I think the issue we have today is the afterglow of the 5 fold ministry in Ephesians 4 being contained in one individual (the pastor/CEO/teacher). It’s true that some people have all 5 at once but that is rare. Plus there is little time in the modern American church service for other gifts other than singing and preaching. Our services are not designed for other gifts operating.

    Just some thoughts to thrown on the fire for kindling

    • Tim Brown
      Tim Brown says:

      Daniel, you raise a point that needs some fresh thinking. Leaving aside the prophetic pastor, there is the office of the NT prophet. What access do we give the NT prophet to our pulpits? I know some churches alternate teaching elders every Sunday – and so a team of four will fill a month. But this is the same gift exercised by different men. Sometimes, I’ll have a guest speaker – but he is a pastor or a missionary. Is there a place for the NT prophet in our pulpits and, if so, what is his message, his role? Does someone of the likes of Barna play prophet with statistics, trends, and trajectories? Are the legion who parse generational uniquenesses playing the part of prophet? I’ve heard K.P. Yohannan thunder – is he a prophet?

      If a NT prophet thundered from our pulpits would the tension that we see between priest and prophet in the OT develop between the NT prophet and pastor?

  2. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    I love this article, Tim. On the sever word concept, God sent prophets to say some pretty bold and convicting things to the people precisely BECAUSE He loved them. A timely rebuke is, while often hard to receive, sometimes the best form of God’s love I need. That’s true for the rest of the body of Christ which we serve as well.

  3. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    One of the ways I see the prophetic gift operating within pastoral ministry is vision. Not the technicolor, trance-type (but if that happens, great!). But the simple sense of vision God gives a pastor for shepherding the flock of God entrusted to him. Vision extends beyond the practicalities of shepherding, which include preaching and teaching. Vision, in my own view, is simply seeing beyond what others may see, as the Lord gives the pastor a specific vision for the church—a direction given by God to be pursued in faith.

    This vision may consist of several elements or be very concise, but it becomes a guiding factor in how the pastor leads the church forward, as led by the Holy Spirit. Where does it come from? God, hopefully. How does it come? By waiting on the Lord apart from the normal responsibilities of pastoring. Often times I’ve experienced a sort of “starter vision” to get me moving in a direction, which is later expanded or developed as I move forward by faith in the general direction of the initial vision.

    I often wonder if the vision some pastors are operating with (if any) is simply their own ambition or mimicking what they’ve seen from others. In Proverbs 29:18, the word for vision can also be translated as revelation. Either way, it is something from God, not imagination, nor ambition. People need to know it, and the shepherd is responsible to articulate it, exhort them with it, as well as instruct them with it. When the church body begins to become apathetic or in some way long for “Egypt” again, the vision will often be the basis for the exhortation to get them back on track. This would be the severe message. Personally, I’ve found it coming out in my preaching, teaching, or within exhortations in between more formal expressions.

    I long for the days when there will once again be prophetic words and visions brought forth for the church, as there has been in various waves of repentance and revival, or other movements of God’s Spirit (re: Joel 2/ Acts 2). Until then, we proceed with the simple vision God gives us as pastors (or other missional leaders). We are to share it clearly and often. It should permeate our preaching and teaching, and hopefully be expressed in extemporaneous guidance along the way.

    Again, this just my own perspective and thoughts, but hopefully it fits in.

    • Tim Brown
      Tim Brown says:

      Hi, Trip – thanks for expanding the role of the prophetic pastor. In one way, I heartily amen your thoughts. But here’s where I struggle – I have been powerfully imprinted by Pastor Chuck. Whenever I hear Pastor Chuck speak on these things he is quick to say that Calvary Chapel’s growth was a complete surprise to him. We could ask, “Hey, Pastor Chuck, what is your vision for CCCM?” I think Chuck would probably respond, “Whatever God wants to do.” He wasn’t praying for this, preaching for this, or visioning for this. His vision is to ‘simply teach the Word simply.’

      Here’s my question: is this a vision or a mission statement? Does that distinction matter? And then, a more important question for me, is that an adequate vision statement? What is your specific vision for the church you serve? Outside of Afghanistan and refugee camps in Pakistan, Fremont has the largest population of Muslims in the world. We have a TV program targeting Muslims and are somewhat intentional about targeting them as a people group. Yet I don’t feel that the whole church is, or even should be, galvanized around this vision. Can you help me think through this? Are there NT pointers indicating that the pastor needs to ‘see beyond’ what others see and set a vision for the church? Thanks.

      • Miles DeBenedictis
        Miles DeBenedictis says:


        I’ve listened to hundreds of messages by Chuck over the years. I think that he very often – especially in the early days – reiterated a vision of “Simply Teaching the Word of God Simply.” If you examine Chuck’s ministry, I think he’s completely stuck to this for, what, 50 years?

        • Kellen Criswell
          Kellen Criswell says:

          I agree. I think there’s something to what I’ve heard my non-Calvary homies say (yeah, I said homies). Many of my friends think that Chuck has tons of vision and mission that he communicates, but that he does so without exactly saying “Here’s our mission and vision!” It’s kind of like the fact that Calvary is one of the strongest church-planting movements ever, but we’ve never said, “We’re going to plant 220 churches by 2020!” Maybe we should do that. 😉 It seems like the elements of vision casting and mission have always been there, but they’ve just not been overtly talked about in such a way. Then again, if the booklet “The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel” and the final chapter of Harvest which casts vision for everything from teaching the Bible to organizing the ministry of the local church isn’t casting vision for an entire movement of churches, what is it? There’s my young, not so smart as I think I am perspective. 😉

          • Tim Brown
            Tim Brown says:

            Kellen, I think you have surfaced something that has a real substance. You write: “It seems like the elements of vision casting and mission have always been there, but they’ve just not been overtly talked about in such a way.” I like that.

            I think PChuck didn’t want to walk around saying, “We’re going to do this and we’re going to do that and then we’re going to do the other.” He walked around exclaiming, “Look what God has done and is doing and wants to do!” The Spirit is the Spirit of vision and the Spirit of mission.

          • Tim Brown
            Tim Brown says:

            Let me also add that you couldn’t be at CC Costa Mesa and not feel the riptide of vision and mission. There were currents at play which, if even not mentioned from the pulpit, were catching up different people and taking them to different places and emphases of ministry. I long for this in my ministry.

  4. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    HI Tim,
    Really blessed to hear about the connection/outreach to the Afghans! That is very encouraging to me.

    As I remember the early days at Calvary (what can I say, I’m old) there was a simple vision—reaching out to the lost young people of the day. NOT a lot of churches were doing that, which garnered the “cult” tag even as late as the tent days.

    For me, vision is the spiritual essence of what mission becomes. The vision might be the specific call, let’s say, and the mission is the implementation of that vision, the working it out in real life. I tend to be pretty basic & practical when it comes to these things, and not so good at how to express it in correct terms.

    Sometimes I think the worldly concepts of vision & mission have kind of hijacked the terms for us in the kingdom. I don’t know if that’s much clearer, but I agree with you that Chuck never had in mind what has taken place. Only God foresaw that, well & maybe Kay who had the heart for the young people & saw beyond the hair & clothes (or lack there of).

    The NT pointers are mostly in Acts, I would think, as far as vision. Some of these were the technicolor kind of vision, that is supernatural, but I think what Paul tries to impart to Timothy & Titus qualifies, especially his warnings of what would come.

    When I think of vision I think of Paul heading off in one direction only to be redirected by the Spirit through closed doors, then seeing the Macedonian Man (Ac 16) calling for help. The reality is, it was Lydia that he met, not a man. [This was before transgender surgery, so I think we’re pretty safe on that call 😉 ]. Now true, he had a more stereotypical vision, but it illustrates the idea of starting out with a vision & it morphing or expanding along the way. Actually, I would say it goes back to his original calling & prophetic word through Ananias (who got the vision) to Paul (Ac 9). Hopefully I made what I’m trying to say a little clearer. Thanks…

  5. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:


    Love what you’ve written. Very thought provoking. I love your honesty and transparency in wrestling with these issues.

    Here’s how I define vision: It’s mental picture in a person’s mind of what could and should be, that is the result of a God-given discontentedness with the way things are and a conviction that God will bring that mental picture into reality. In my perspective, vision is prophetic, (a God-given discontent and response to what Dan says is the disconnect between position and experience). A pastor WILL be prophetic at times and will take on the role of the prophet. In a few of the churches I’ve spoken at in the last year or so, I’ve been labeled as speaking like a prophet….and thanked for doing so. But I don’t consider myself a prophet.

    The difference between a mission statement and a vision statement is disputed by a ton of different guys. From my perspective, a vision statement expresses what should become a reality that isn’t now. A mission statement is a summary expression of how that vision will become a reality.

    And, I am convinced God uses specific vision, the expression of them, and the invitation for others to “catch” the vision and find their place in helping it to become a reality.

  6. Tommy O'Keefe
    Tommy O'Keefe says:

    Tim – Thought Provoking post.

    I was thinking about some of the things Walter Breuggemann says in his book “The Prophetic Imagination” while reading you post. Much of what you are hitting on here would be a pretty solid representation of 1 of 2 key aspects he identifies in the role of the prophet as seen in Moses, the OT Prophet, Jesus and then the NT Church.

    Put in my own words, the first part to the role of the prophet that he identifies is a strong jarring wake up call, a cry to recognize the danger of the situation people find themselves in. This is not criticism for criticism sake, but as you and others pointed out, it is coming from a place of love, a love that can’t stand idly by and ignore the plight of God’s people. Breuggemann (this is from memory, so I might get some terminology skewed here) talks about this as the stirring of pathos, the awaking people to see and understand the nature of what is currently enslaving them. This involves the apocalyptic statements about judgment and wrath, the enacted demonstrations of God’s judgment and the specific calls to repent.

    The second role he points out comes on the heals of this. I people who have been awakened aren’t left with a message of doom,but one of hope. Breuggemann refers to this as an energizing message, one that stirs hope in the promised coming kingdom and lays out a framework for “imagining” how things ought to be over and against how they currently are. This provides the people of God with an opportunity to begin living lives that exist as already embodying that kingdom, providing a preview of what God is doing/will do for the watching world.

    I think both of these aspects of the prophetic voice are needed desperately in the Body of Christ today. We are a slumbering church… we need to be both shocked into a state of wakefulness and energized with a word of hope that reminds us that another kingdom is coming (and to an extent is now here)!

    • Tim Brown
      Tim Brown says:

      “We are a slumbering church… we need to be both shocked into a state of wakefulness and energized with a word of hope that reminds us that another kingdom is coming (and to an extent is now here)!”

      Well put – we are a slumbering church. It may well be that it’s not the pastor, but the prophet that will awake the body of Christ.

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