Prophetic Aspect of Youth Ministry
We often think of prophecy as a supernatural event where someone learns about the future by direct revelation. But there is another understanding of prophecy that is perhaps more applicable and even needed in our own ministries. Walter Brueggemann’s definition of prophecy regards our ability to imagine how our community would look if it truly trusted and obeyed God’s commands.
Several things must be present for a ministry to be truly prophetic. First there must be an insider relationship. Prophecy does not come from the outside – that’s just criticism. In his book, Authentic Faith, Gary Thomas discusses the spiritual discipline of waiting which I believe to be a vital piece of any ministry which seeks to be prophetic. We must have the patience to wait for the right time to speak out. A calling to prophetic ministry does not give one an excuse to impatiently complain without regard to the readiness of the audience. Thomas says about impatience that it “disguises itself as zeal when, in reality, it is nothing more than a Trojan horse for pride” (pg 48).
This is especially important for young ministers and those who are new to a particular congregation. We must take seriously Christ’s command to Peter to feed his sheep. There are indeed those who speak a lot about the truth being hard to hear and claiming that they simply, “tell it like it is.” Yet I believe that there is much to be said for choosing our words carefully. What we purport to be “truth telling” may often be a scarcely concealed stroke to our own ego. We must be prepared to wait, to listen and to develop an appreciation for the spiritual victories won by the family.
Criticism though, when it comes from someone who is vested, is another piece of the prophetic ministry. However it is a piece which has intentionality about it. Disorienting a church or a group in order to feel in control is not only irresponsible it is ungodly. While there is sometimes a need for prophetic statements which may be disorienting, I am bothered by the assumption that to be prophetic or to make prophetic statements, one must necessarily set out to disorient the group. We can together imagine what our congregation would look like if we more fully trusted God, and we can even point out the areas in which we need to grow, without setting out to “tear down” the ministry or congregation. Criticism, in order to be faithful and truly prophetic, must be followed by the next aspect – hope.
The language of hope and emergence is an important part of the prophetic ministry that will be lost on the impatient and prideful. It points out both the hope that we have in Christ, as well as celebrating the ways in which we are already living faithfully. Again, this is not possible from an outside perspective, we must be willing to learn and love the history of the congregation or group. Not only is it legitimate to reinforce, orient and encourage an individual or group, but I would venture to say that it is very difficult indeed for ministries to exist faithfully without the substantial presence of such messages. Even the prophets of unfaithful Israel included glimpses of hope.
In short, while I cannot promise that God’s word will always be easy for us to hear and obey, I am convinced that the Lord is continually teaching me to love and have compassion just as he has been compassionate and gentle in my own life. Any desire for change, confrontation or challenge must be preceded by willingness to love, a readiness to listen and commitment of both to daily practice. This spiritual discipline of waiting is something that is missing from so many ministries, especially youth ministries. There is a serious drought of truly prophetic ministires. Before this can be remedied, Youth Ministers must become more dedicated to investing long term in a ministry or congregation, and in turn that congregation must commit to investing long term in the youth minister. I pray that the Lord will bless me with the ability and opportunity to love a congregation in this way.
1) Walter Brueggemann. The Prophetic Imagination, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001.
2) Gary Thomas. Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire Tested Life, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002