How Mature Prophets Shape the Culture Around Them

Part 1

We all have a sphere of influence. As Christians we each have the ability to bring a Christ-like influence to wherever God has placed us. One helpful way to reflect on this is to use the framework of the fivefold ministries in Ephesians 4.

Each of the fivefold roles has the potential to shape culture in a unique way, whether that is the culture of our household, our church, our team or our workplace. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers all have a particular way of inspiring and challenging the people around them. Each of the five roles has the potential to build a special type of intelligence, consciousness and ethic in whatever group they are part of. If we are at all interested in the church’s ability to become healthy, united and mature; if we long to see our neighbourhoods impacted for the kingdom, then we would do well to consider how best to release this culture-shaping potential.

So how do fivefold prophets shape culture?

I love working with prophets and helping them navigate a path towards a mature, Jesus-shaped expression of the role. There is so much potential for good contained within this particular aspect of the fivefold ministry. But far too many churches have struggled with their prophets over the years and failed to welcome their influence. And let’s be honest – prophets don’t always have a great reputation for being easy to work with. Their tendencies to

• see everything in black and white,
• call out sin and compromise when they see it,
• love the prayer closet more than the party,
• question everything,
• and be a little weird at times

…don’t win them many popularity contests.

But we really need them. Prophets bring something unique and vital to the church and the world, something we can’t get anywhere else. We need their wisdom, experience, unique perspective and their passion.

In considering how mature prophets shape the culture around them, we can look at two areas of life:

Church – There is much more to being a prophet than just bringing prophecies. Mature prophets are very good at shaping the culture of the church by:

• Keeping everyone’s attention on God.
• Helping to maintain the spiritual health of the body.
• Speaking covenant identity into people’s lives.
• Strengthening a culture of worship and prayer.
• Developing a growing community awareness of God’s presence and voice.
• Listening to God on behalf of the community so that we can all keep aligned with God’s heart and purposes.
• Making sure that the downtrodden are protected.
• Protecting the community from encroaching evil.
• Cultivating an alternative consciousness.
• Preparing the church for what God is about to do.

Most of us will know individuals in our local churches who are passionate about prayer and worship, those who are most likely to bring the subject of a conversation back to God, those who have a tendency to challenge a lack of holy desire for more of God. It’s these people who are likely to be fivefold prophets, even if they would not describe themselves as such, and we need to be welcoming their influence.

Workplace – Prophetic consciousness and influence are equally relevant in the corporate world as they are in the church, and understanding how the prophetic function contributes to the health and productivity of the non-church organisation will enable us to properly support our fivefold prophets in their place of work.

Mature prophets will shape the culture of any workplace by:
• Prioritising values and integrity, ensuring that things are done right and in line with the vision of the organisation.
• Questioning policy and decisions when they become self-protective or oppressive.
• Bringing strategic and critical insight that enables people to understand their current reality.
• Being creative, forward-looking visionaries, pointing people to future possibilities.
• Questioning the status quo in a way that enables the organisation to reform, grow and develop.
• Advocating for the less-heard and marginalised members of the organisation.
• Standing up for truth and justice.

Many of us will know people in our workplaces who are prepared to speak truth to power and bring necessary critique, who provoke for change when it is needed, and who are able to bring creative solutions to problems. This is the prophetic wiring being expressed.

Mature prophets shape the culture around them, both inside and outside the church. We can watch how they provide vision, nurture hope, bring discernment, and prioritise authentic spirituality to create a culture that is ethical, radical and prefigurative.

The next step is to work out the how: how to enable our prophets to do this well. That’s what we’ll look at in the next blog.

Enjoying God Audaciously

God is so much better, and so much closer, than we can think or imagine. We may assume that we’ve got a handle on his remarkable goodness, kindness, and all round glory, we may think we understand his radical mercy and forgiveness, that we can perceive his expansive beauty, but there is always so much more to discover. Our limited human brains struggle to comprehend it all. The extent to which he loves us is mind-blowingly preposterous when we really stop and think about it: he’s abounding in love! We may run out of words to describe him but there is never any end or limit to his goodness and love. Indeed he went to the Cross because he loves us so much.

The Psalmists do their best to express in mere words the full extent of divine love:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103:11-12)

John puts it like this in his letters:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  (1 John 3:1)

His name is Immanuel – God with us. And this Glorious One, the God of the incarnation, has promised to be with us forever. Right now he’s closer to you than you can possibly imagine. Regardless of how you are feeling, regardless of whether or not you can sense his presence, even in the middle of a really crap day (and in the midst of a global pandemic), he’s next to you and his eyes are shining with pure love.

Many of us have a hard time enjoying God. Which is strange, considering how spectacularly good he is. But we get bogged down in all those “shoulds” and “oughts” and we end up being so busy trying to please God that we forget that we’re actually created to enjoy him.

The Westminster Catechism gets it about right when it states that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And I believe that a key element of how we glorify God is by enjoying him. In the face of just how staggeringly glorious he is, if we’re not enjoying him then we are somehow denying or playing down the reality of his nature.

One of the fundamental prophetic tasks of the church is to carry the revelation of the goodness and nearness of the Lord: to proclaim and demonstrate to a broken world that there is a perfect Father who loves them passionately and is within easy reach of every single person on the earth.

If that’s our prophetic message then we need to fully live into it: to be a people who truly, deeply enjoy God.

Now, this is not about being happy-clappy, head-in-the-sand Christians who refuse to engage with any kind of negativity. Scripture is clear that grief and lament are part of our walk with God. Indeed the prophetic church absolutely must occupy that place of tension where it is able to fully lament the brokenness and pain at the same time as being energized by radical hope and joy.

And so, in this strangest of all seasons, we sit and mourn with those who are weeping. We face the agony of the mounting global death toll and the desperate poverty that many are experiencing due to lockdown. But we can still enjoy God. In fact we choose to audaciously enjoy God in the midst of the storm. Because no matter what is going on, he is good and he is here to be enjoyed.

This is so important that Paul makes a point of repeating his exhortation:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

So, friends, my encouragement to you today is to pause a moment and ask yourself whether you are enjoying the pleasure of God’s company. You are already in his presence. He’s closer than you think. Whether it’s through quiet contemplative prayer or passionate praise and worship God is to be thoroughly enjoyed. And by choosing to enjoy him in days like these the church is being radically prophetic, because to enjoy God is to prophesy his goodness and nearness to all who need it.