The Church of Prophets

May 16, 2011

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

–Ephesians 4:11-13

This spring, I’ve been working through what’s often called the fivefold ministries described above — apostle, prophet, etc. — and what they mean for our church community. We’ve developed enough of a core community that we can begin having conversations together about how these roles might be expressed within Austin Mustard Seed.

There was not much emphasis on these roles in my previous church experiences. Most often, they were lumped with some of the other lists of gifts found in 1 Corinthans and Romans. In the structured North American church, there has not been much interest in cultivating these roles, as the church has primarily operated to maintain and improve what was already happening.

In the missional church conversation, there has been a renewed interest in these roles and how they are important for shaping the church as it re-imagines itself for our changing context. Practical missional theologians, like JR Woodward, Alan Hirsch, Mike Breen and Wolfgang Simpson have written about the importance of these roles in helping each local church expression form itself to the context where it lives. It was some of these writings that I returned to, but there is still much thinking to be developed here, and I’m excited that JR has an entire book in the works that will be dedicated to the topic.

(If you’ve not read much about the fivefold ministry, I’d suggest some of the writings JR has made available on his site as a good place to start.)

As I worked through the materials, and took the APEST test available at Alan Hirsch’s site, I identified as Prophet with a secondary role of Teacher. It has been significant to me to see how that Prophet voice has expressed itself at times in my adult life, but I’m also aware how underdeveloped it is. It has left me with a renewed sense of calling to engage what it means to live into that calling, both within our local church community, but also to find ways to develop that voice for the wider church.

It has also helped me to recognize that the very nature of what we are doing as a church is driven by that Prophet impulse. Sensing a need to help the church in North America re-imagine itself, we have moved to the margin of the church culture out of a need to express and demonstrate what that re-imagination might look like.

I’ve had a handful of conversations with people in our core community about the five-fold ministry, and last night we worked through it in our gathering. After introducing the roles, we took a test based on what in Mike Breen’s book Building a Discipling Culture. We only had only a few minutes to debrief as everyone scored their results (thanks to the fidgeting of the younger kids who were ready for bed) but an interesting trend was evident. We are a church of prophets…

Nearly every adult who took the test scored as a prophet in either their primary or their secondary role. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. It might be because people are drawn to others who are like themselves, so people with a prophetic urge are drawn to it as they see it in me, and now each other. Or it might be that because the nature of what we are doing as a church has a prophet bent to it, it attracts individuals with that bent.

Thankfully, we had a fairly even mix of the other four roles, and I’m hopeful we can empower and encourage each of those voices in our community. But, I’m also praying that we can honor this prophetic sense without letting it dominate who we are becoming.

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