“But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not also a prophet of the LORD here? We should ask him the same question.” The king of Israel replied to Jehoshaphat, “There is one more man who could consult the LORD for us, but I hate him. He never prophesies anything but trouble for me! His name is Micaiah son of Imlah.” Jehoshaphat replied, “That’s not the way a king should talk! Let’s hear what he has to say.” So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Quick! Bring Micaiah son of Imlah.” – 1 Kings 22:7-9
There’s an excessive amount of literature on the subject of leadership. Pastors, professors, corporate executives, statesman have all weighed in on the subject and have highlighted and synthesized what they’ve learned about leadership in their distinguish careers. I’ve read quite a bit of literature on the topic and am thankful for the different voices and stories that I’ve come across.
My daily Bible reading plan took me through 1 Kings 22 a couple of days ago. The passage above highlights this dynamic exchange between the prophet Michaiah and the Kings of Israel and Judah. I was struck by the king’s reliance on the prophet concerning battle strategy. I started to think of other instances in the Old Testament where kings and prophets had this dynamic interplay. A quick survey of Scripture elucidated several fascinating accounts that portrayed an interesting tension and friction between prophets and kings. I realized that the prophetic tradition has a powerful voice when it comes to leadership in the Old Testament.
I don’t want to use this blog as an overview on the role of the prophet. I want to focus on the key traits from the prophetic tradition that can inform our leadership. First, it would be prudent to start with a definition of leadership. I have always appreciated Nan Keohane’s (Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University) definition in her magisterial book, “Thinking About Leadership.” She defines leadership as, “providing solutions to common problems or offering ideas about how to accomplish collective purposes, and mobilizing the energies of others to follow these courses of action.” Her definition reminds me that leadership is essentially communal and is reliant upon marshaling the resources and energy of other people to achieve certain outcomes.
Will Willimon, former Dean of Duke Chapel and Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School writes, “Leadership requires energy and therefore inspiration. No grand vision is achieved without a burst of energy. Managers put people through mechanisms of oversight and control. Leaders inspire people by energetically playing to people’s basic need for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition by others, and the power to live up to their highest ideals.”
So what can we learn from the prophetic tradition when it comes to inspiring people and challenging them to live up to high ideals? Where can we find the energy to get traction in our organizations instead of aimlessly spinning our wheels? How do we move beyond dreams and ideas and to action and results?
Let’s first examine the definition of a prophet. John Goldingay in, “Old Testament Theology” writes that defining prophets can be complex because of the many personalities that occupied the office. These men and women spoke out on a variety of different subjects. “They can be seen as social critics (Amos), political critics (Isaiah), moral critics (Jeremiah) and religious critics (Ezekiel)….A prophet shares God’s nightmares and dreams, speaks like a poet and behaves like an actor, is not afraid to be offensive, confronts the confident with rebuke and downcast with hope, mostly speaks to the people of God, is independent of the institutional pressures of church and state, is a scary person mediating the activity of a scary God, intercedes with boldness and praises with freedom, ministers in a way that reflects his or her personality and time.”
Throughout the Bible prophets proclaim truth and the word of God, usually to groups who strayed from God. There may not be a one-size-fits-all definition of the prophet, but I believe that a survey of both Major and Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures give very lucid principles for effective leadership.
In both speech and deed the prophets were kingdom cultural. The prophet was a man or woman who was enthralled with Yahweh’s dominion and primacy. This captivation with God and His Kingdom informed nearly every decision of the prophet. Culture represents the way things are done in any given institution. It’s a set of values that are simultaneously intrinsic and thunderously broadcasted in a community. For the prophets, the value that was most imperative was the glory and activity of Yahweh.
This kingdom cultural mentality compelled the prophets to speak truth to both the powerful and the common. They were not afraid to challenge the temporal kingdoms of their day to mirror the reality of the kingdom of heaven. They were wholly concerned with the reign of God advancing in their world. That is what they valued. What does this mean for your life group? What does this mean for your ministry? It is fairly easy to overlook and neglect values from the kingdom of heaven for the expediency of growth in attendance and relevance to secular culture. The prophets were clear on their values. Are you? They were kingdom focused. Are you? It is entirely possible for the values of our secular culture to seep into the philosophy and methodology of the church’s activities.
Does your life group have a kingdom focus? Is it an apparatus that encompasses a set of cultural conditions that cultivates Biblically faithful and reproducing disciples? Or has it been relegated to a mere weekly social gathering where you discuss issues that are only affecting you? Do you come to your life group full of expectation for the Spirit of God to move mightily in the hearts and minds of the people or do you just show up and try to get through another chapter in a Jen Hatmaker book?
What about your discipleship appointments? Have you become a glorified counselor? Do you simply sit back, listen, and therapeutically massage out people’s issues? Kingdom cultural prophets listen (because they’re bound to community…more on that later), but they also dare to speak of another realm, of an otherworldly love that takes hold and transforms individual. This message can be full of justice and/or hope, but it compels the individual to fidelity and fervency for God.
The Old Testament Prophetic tradition demonstrates for contemporary Christian leaders how important it is to not just go against the grain of culture, but to be FOR the Kingdom of God; to be a fanatical proponent of the authority of Jesus in our lives and our spheres of influence. Their hearts were set a blaze for God. They were consumed with His mission. We must have that! We must posess that fiery conviction for the kingdom of God.
If we want to be more effective as leaders; if we want to mobilize the energies of others and inspire them to be faithful to God WE must be kingdom cultural. We need to be able to articulate and live out with radicality what God values. He values fidelity, obedience, and desire. If culture is about patterns and themes of a community then I have to ask myself how I am advancing the Kingdom of God in my language, finances, friendships, parenting, daily routine, etc.
I’ve never done a series of blogs before, but there’s a first time for everything. Look out for part two next week.
I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading.