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.

Books referenced:
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


Posted on December 3, 2005, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Bret,
    What a great post. Thanks for reminding us about the difference between the genuine prophetic voice of the church and noise.

  2. Thanks for those wise words. I must confess that I have, in the past, claimed to be the prophectic voice while stroking my own ego. Waiting is difficult and necessary.

  3. Well I’d be a liar if tried to pretend that my own struggle with this issue wasn’t a large prompt for writing! So, I won’t say you’re in good company…but you are in some kind of company!

  4. Bret,

    Funny how I switch from really esoteric, theoretical stuff, to brass-tacks application, but I gotta ask you a real practical question.

    You say “there is a serious drought of truly prophetic ministries”, yet there are tons and tons of “religious right” Churches who will speak out “prophetically” to decry practically every aspect of postmodern society, from homosexual “marriage” to the “emergent” church.

    They make a big business of speaking “prophetically” to such spirits of the age that are “corrupting” our families and our churches. Go into any old-school fundamentalist Church on a Sunday and you will hear a fire-and-brimstone “prophetic” denunciation of everything and everyone that doesn’t look like them, think like them, and act like them.


    How do you tell the difference between real prophecy that is an anointed utterance of the Spirit meant to bring edification and repentance to God’s people, and legalistic preaching that denounces everything that does not fit the mold?

    Furthermore, what are some issues that you think the Church needs to be prophetic about right now?

    May Christ fill your life,

    PS: Does it seem like the string of letters they use for word verification keeps getting longer and longer???

  5. Nate,

    That’s a good question. To answer it I’ll go back to Brueggemann’s definition of “real” prophetic ministries.

    Criticism alone is not prophetic, neither are futuristic claims intended to scare folks into submission. Jesus was pretty hard on religious leaders, but he spoke tender messages of hope and deliverance to those “living in sin”. He didn’t “let them off the hook,” they were called to “go and sin no more,” but neither did he take every opportunity to cast the first stone as he was entitled. Does this characterize the “prophetic voices” you know of today? I hope so, but rarely has it been the case in my limited experience.

    In order for a ministry to be truly prophetic there must be a willingness to invest oneself in the community. Consider the trouble that Jonah faced with Ninevah. God did not intend for him to solely provide a critique, but rather to love with compassion, as God does. The danger/problem/shortfall with extremists on either side (becuase both the far Left and Right have there own versions of unhealthy “prophetic utterances”) is a tendency to take one aspect of prophecy and utilize it to the neglect of the others. Perhaps there is a willingness to become a part of a community, with no real calls of critique or hope. More often however, there is a tendency to be either a Morning Lark of hope or a harbinger of criticism.

    The issues therefore are not as important as the true investment in the community. At least in the Churches of Christ, the real need prophetically is for ministers (paid or not) to become a part of the community of believers where they serve; to love the history of the church and the Church; to encourage a continuance and celebration of those victories won by the saints in that location; to call the Body to more complete discipleship. There are going to be some issues which are common to the Church everywhere and others that are specific to the congregation.

    Often there is no shortcut to “testing the spirit” of a ministry. The community of believers is called upon to surround these ministries in prayer seeking discernment and guidance. Do we trust the Holy Spirit to follow through or would we rather fall back on a human system for direction?

    I’m not talking about setting reason and logic aside; I believe that often the Spirit will guide us through the good sense we’ve been given, if we give our “good sense” over to him.

    Another tool we must return to is the Word of God. A people who are committed to spending much time corporately and individually in prayer and study may not be ones with all knowledge, but they will be a people who know what the voice of the shepherd sounds like and will not follow a stranger.

    I don’t claim to have all the answers for what things need to be addressed, but there are a couple that I believe are important to the Church and appropriate to our context for discussion here.

    First of all, we must address the exodus of teenagers from the Church after graduation. The number of teens that graduate from high school and stop attending church is growing.

    Secondly materialism/consumerism have, in my opinion, reached epidemic levels – at least from what I’ve seen here in North Texas. There are so many otherwise faithful Christians who have bought into the lie of success. Consider the schedules of our teens here in Dallas. School, sports, service clubs, transcript padding activities and organizations are just the beginning. I’ve heard parents complain because their teen is home more than a couple nights a week. I have seen 16 year-olds who keep a daytimer because otherwise they’d never keep all their appointments. I’m not talking about kids with organizational challenges, but rather teens who do not have a single hour in their week that isn’t planned ahead of time.

  6. and yes the process of typing out the word verification paragraphs is getting more tedious!

  7. Nice reply!

    That’s some good stuff to think about!

    I think most, if not all, of the REAL issues we face in our culture right now (I will not speak for other parts of the world) stem from what I broadly call consumerism. Consumerism “divides and conquers” so that our support system, our identity, and our allegiance lies with products and brands, rather than significant relationships and the Church.

    The more segmented they can make us, the more product they can sell us to “medicate” the results of segmentation.

    Thus, marketers follow this strategy:

    1. Create fear: we need product X or else something bad will happen.

    2. Create unreal expectations: Product X will deliver a better life than you can ever imagine.

    3. Create need: Make it seem that someone cannot live a full life without product X. Furthermore, help create consumers who are unhealthy enough to need more products. For instance, have you ever thought of all the money-making opportunities that have been caused by the sexual revolution? On the “positive need” side, they have created whole new industries for physical image and diet, physical enhancement, sexualized clothes, birth control, self-help magazines, porn, internet porn, and such. On the “negative side” think of all the products that have to be sold to mop up the effects of sexual immorality. Medical treatment, medicine for STD’s, a whole market of products for “unwed” or “single” moms, counseling, and legal help are some of the products and industries that gain cash and power from the sexual revolution. From the popularization of one message, “it is OK to do whoever feels good”, they have created a multi-billion dollar business that enslaves “consumers” of the lie for life.

    4. Destroy social cohesion: Divide society so that people no longer rely on each other or on significant commitments (such as Church) to provide guidance and support. After social groups are divided, create fear and distrust between them, and the sense that other social groups “can never understand us”. Then create the idea that social groups MUST buy certain products to set themselves apart from the other groups (think: Christian T-shirts???).

    People who will not look to each other, especially who will not look to “wise elders” or to history, to provide support and guidance, are doomed to believe whatever is marketed to them. Remember: stupid, divided sheep make the best sheep. Ahistorical sheep are even better.

    So, you start with age groups: Divide children from tweens from teens from collegians from young adults from yuppie types from young families from older families from empty-nesters from seniors. Make them all think they have nothing to do with each other, and have to have their own products marketed specifically to them. Especially cut off the old from the young.

    Then you sub-divide each group to have a different set of “group identities” they can mix and match from. For instance, teens can be jocks, loosers, stoners, sluts, preps, good Christian kids, bad Christian kids, Goths, skaters, punks, band kids, geeks, cowboys, or whatever. Each has a custom set of products marketed just at them. Other age groups have similar sub-categories, for instance “Liberal” adults and “Conservative” adults have different clothing, cars, media, talk shows, and lifestyles marketed to just them, so they will not be like the others.

    Then you destroy families. Promote divorce. Promote “his needs, her needs”. Promote the idea that kids cannot be understood by adults and that adults cannot be trusted or obeyed by kids. Create so many freaking activities that no one ever spends any time with each other. Stick a marketing box in the middle of the family room that broadcasts consumer messages non-stop 24-7, hypnotizing and encouraging families to veg-out and not speak to each other, blissfully consuming anything the TV spits out. If possible, put a TV in every room so that no one even sees each other, even at home! Add endless other media vehicles to stop relationships, such as internet, radio, and headphones. The result: people can live absolutely separate, autonomous lives living under the same roof for decades! Their only support is actually the consumer system even though they live with each other!

    Then we even let marketing invade the Church. Just look at the Evangelical sub-divisions: There are James Dobson Moral Majority Evangelicals, Emergent Evangelicals, Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mega-Church Seeker Sensitive Evangelicals, Praise and Worship Evangelicals, and others, all with their own sets of media, books, and music marketed just to them. Furthermore, they have their own sets of polemical literature aimed at the other Evangelical camps. Furthermore, the same book companies have different publishing arms (i.e. Zondervan and Emergent YS; Baker Books and Brazos Press) that publish books for and against all sides, so that they can make money coming and going!

    This does not even count the other types of literature and marketing aimed at other kinds of Christians: Catholics, Orthodox, Liberal, Charismatic, etc. Trust me, it is in the best interest of the consumer system to PREVENT Church unity so they can sell more product!

    With all of this in mind, it is no wonder why so many Evangelical kids leave Church when they leave High School. They are culturally programmed to rebel so that the consumer system can more effectively use them as a revenue stream.

    If we continue to buy into Consumerism, is there really any hope that our kids will stay Christian in college?

  8. The Deep calling unto Deep is a Passionate life style a Hunger that can not be quenched. The level of The prophetic Voice is developed by using it 24/7. But what is Coming is the Govermental Manteled Prophets which are the Sons of Thunder which The Lord brings to Power in due season.

  9. We want heaven to come to earth so we Say let your Kingdom come your will be done so How is it there. In heaven the anciant of Days rules which is a Blessing but today children rule over Mom and mom over dad which is the curse that comes like in this scripture…Isaiah 3:4 And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. 5 And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable. This is the scenario we have now worldwide even a curse and a fullfillment of this…Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
    Malachi 4:6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. We need the Spirit of Elijah to come to turn Hearts back quickly so to brake the curse of Children Ruling over the Parents.

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