In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I’ve been asked by many, “How should the church and Christians in general respond to all of this?”
While the circumstances are unique, the desire for a response to the tragedy and pain is not. It’s a question that pastors and other leaders hear all the time. It’s a question that others may have posed to you in recent days.
How do we as people who have placed our faith in Jesus respond?
What I would suggest to you is that as Christians we all have to balance our calling to be pastors AND prophets in a broken and hurting world.
You might wonder,
What do you mean by our calling to be pastors?
I thought that was your job. What does that look like in my life?
A pastor is to be one who claims responsibility for another.
A pastor is a shepherd. A shepherd is one who dedicates themselves to the care and nurturing of the sheep. Shepherds don’t clock in and out. It’s a 24/7 kind of job because it isn’t about completing a list of tasks but taking ownership for the livelihood of the sheep.
If you are a parent, you are a pastor.
If you live in committed relationships, you are a pastor.
You’ve claimed a responsibility for another.
You have given yourself to a sacred covenant.
And here is the really important idea here.
Don’t miss this.
The covenant isn’t between you and the other person in the relationship. It is a covenant that you make with God.
The people I serve as a pastor in my local church cannot release me from that responsibility. Only God can do that.
The same is true for you. Sheep may sometimes bite, but the Shepherd responsibility remains.
The prophetical side of our calling to follow Christ is an equally important component of this same covenant.
It is also about claiming a sense of ownership and responsibility. It establishes our allegiance in ways similar to the pastoral side of the life of faith.
But a prophet’s allegiance is not to a person or a relationship, but to truth.
Followers of Christ make a commitment to both living and working for those ideals which most clearly represents, “God’s kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.”
In our covenant with God we have made a commitment to be both pastors and prophets; those who claim responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of others AND those whose highest loyalty and allegiance is to the life and ideals of God’s Kingdom.
Perhaps you already see the tension.
A pastor speaks and shares out of an ongoing relationship and commitment that she or he has to a person…
But a prophet speaks and shares out of an ongoing allegiance to the truth of God’s Kingdom.
In my life, I have learned a lot about this balancing act by getting it wrong.
I can think of many instances when my balance was off and in seeking to fulfill my prophetic calling, I forgot about being a pastor. I hurt the people I love the most. In my recklessness I only caused anger or stirred resentment. Even more importantly, I missed the chance to increase my own understanding or the understanding of another. Thinking about those instances always reminds me of what I heard one pastor say.
“It doesn’t require any skill to make people mad.”
Maybe you can think of occasions in your own life where something similar may have occurred.
But of course there is another side here.
There is another temptation we face that can be equally devastating.
It is the temptation to focus so heavily on our desire to pastor well that we neglect the moment that demands the prophetic word.
In his blog post titled, Charlottesville Has Revealed Our Moral Crisis, Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, shared this.
There can be no moral ambiguity which creates any kind of equivalency between a neo-Nazi and a young woman who was exercising her freedom of speech. Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, KKK, and associated groups espouse beliefs which are repugnant and obnoxious to the American cultural fabric. As Christians, we must also state that ideas espoused by neo-Nazi, KKK, and White Supremacists are ultimately an attack on God the Father as creator, who created all men and women, of every ethnicity, in his image, and all are equal bearers of his providence and mercy. It is an attack on God the Son who died for every person, of every race. It is also an attack on the Holy Spirit who indwells men and women with his divine presence and empowers us to participate with him as His ambassadors to a world in pain.
In Acts 13,
we find the Apostle Paul sharing a prophetic rebuke with Elymas, a man described as a Jewish Sorcerer and a false prophet.
Verse 9 and 10 says this.
Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?
It’s a strong and perhaps shocking response. In his commentary work on Acts 13, Bishop NT Wright shares this reflection.
Many Christians in the Western world today simply can’t bear to think of confrontation. There really isn’t such a thing as serious wickedness, so they think, or if there is it’s confined to a small number of truly evil people, while everyone else just gets on and should be accepted and affirmed as they stand…
We would much prefer the story to be one of gentle persuasion rather than confrontation. We would have liked it better if Paul had gone about telling people the simple message of Jesus and finding that many people were happy to accept it and live by it. But life is seldom that straightforward, and people who try to pretend it is often end up simply pulling the wool over their own eyes.
Perhaps what we find most disturbing about this past week is how strongly we have been reminded that there is a force still at work in our world that stands opposed to the prayer we pray for “God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done.”
We are still the desperate who need a Savior, and we are still the people that our Lord sends out into a dangerous world to be pastors AND prophets, committed to loving and serving others and committed to truth.
Here is what is true.
Racism is an attack on God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Those who espouse those beliefs stand opposed to the very Gospel we seek to advance.
It has no place in the church, and it can find no welcome in the heart that is surrendered to Jesus as Savior and Lord.