Thursday, April 20, 2006

Prophets and Priests and Kings...And Shepherds?

In the Bible, all three of these leadership roles (prophet, priest and king) come together in one word-picture that encompasses all three dimensions of biblical leadership: Shepherd.

A shepherd feeds sheep -- that's the role of a prophet, to feed the people of God a healthy diet of the Word of God.

A shepherd seeks sheep -- that's the role of a priest, to find sheep who have wandered off or are injured.

A shepherd leads sheep -- that's the role of a king, to give direction and protection to the flock.

So, when God talks about shepherds, he's speaking about all three dimensions of leadership together -- revealing, reconciling and ruling; preaching, pastoring and leading -- everything that is involved in leadership among the people of God. He is probably not thinking of one person filling all three roles. Few people in history have ever been able to fill more than one at any given time (Moses, Deborah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah -- anyone else in the Old Testament?).

The shepherds of Israel would have included some who were prophets, some who were priests and some who were kings. Together they provided leadership for God's people. And, as we shall see tomorrow, they did a pretty lousy job of it.

For today, let's think about these three distinct roles and try to apply them to our churches. Most churches expect one person to fill all three roles at once (even though they'll only pay him for one role at a time). Or they want one person to fill the first two roles while a group of men fills that third role and act as if they are "above the law". If the "kings" of a local church don't like what the "prophet" has been saying (or how well he has balanced his prophetic duties with his priestly ones), they fire him and get someone else who is foolish enough to sign up for two jobs' worth of responsibility with no job's worth of authority.

Hmmm...I've stared at that last paragraph now for about five minutes trying to figure out whether that's appropriate for publishing or not. I think that is an unfortunately accurate assessment of many churches I've encountered. I know there are churches out there who have a healthy balance of all three roles in place. Thank God for those churches. But the majority of churches I know are struggling with this. So, I'm going to keep that paragraph as is, and I eagerly await the avalanche of email I'll get about this one.

Understanding these three roles, and the balance they provide, allows a church to ask itself some helpful diagnostic questions:

Is there a good, healthy diet of teaching here? Does some of the teaching we hear make us uncomfortable? Does it merely re-affirm what we already believe or tickle our ears with what we want to hear? Does it make sense biblically? Does it help us live more Christlike lives? Are people being spoken to on behalf of God?

Is there a place where people can bring their needs and have them lifted up to God? Are lost people being sought? Are wounded people being helped and healed? Is prayer a vital part of our church's life? Is God being spoken to on behalf of people?

Is there clarity of purpose? Are things well-structured and organized and administrated? Is our church practicing good stewardship? Are people being protected and guarded? Is the whole church pursuing the purposes of God?