The Prophets and Mission
Posted on July 6, 2013
“The prophets saw themselves as God’s gift to God’s people.” -Arthur Glasser
I’ve always thought the role of a prophet was a heartbreaking role. All I have to do is read the first three chapters of Ezekiel to see what a devastatingly sad lot in life he had.
I’ve been taking a class on missions, and as a woman who has been serving as a missionary since her early 20’s, the class has felt relevant to me. What’s been most significant has been to see God as a missionary God through the whole Old Testament as well as the New. Reading the entirety of Scripture through the lens of “Missio Dei” has helped give me eyes to see that the Lord has always been a God for all nations and people.
But one key question it surfaced for me was then what role did the prophets play in God’s mission? I always thought of the prophets as people that God sent to call the Israelites to repentance for idolatry and immorality. I’m learning that there was more to their purpose than just that.
Like, if I look at Ezekiel 34, I read about how God was also intimately concerned with how people with power were treating those with less in his kingdom. Shepherds of Israel were being called out for feeding themselves instead of caring for their sheep. The imagery used of God having to take his sheep out of the very mouths of the shepherds is horrifying. God cared not only about the inward drift of the heart of his chosen people but also for the way they were mistreating one another.
While all that’s bad in and of itself, when I look at it through the grid of missions, I see how the reason God cared so much for how his people were acting was because he had called Israel to be a light to the nations. They were to be a peculiar people that pointed others to the only true God and his promised seed who would one day come to rescue all of humanity.
Glasser, in his book Announcing the Kingdom, talks about how God wanted Israel to be a reflection of his kingdom to all nations and people so that they might all come to know him.
So, if this was God’s intent and the very people he had called to this were exploiting one another, he obviously had a problem. That’s where I see the role of the prophets. God was giving his people warning of coming destruction if they didn’t start acting like they truly were his people before the nations that he was wanting them to be a witness to. From this perspective, the prophets were right in viewing themselves as “God’s gift to God’s people”. They were a gift in that they were inviting Israel back into the larger kingdom story they had been chosen for — to bring hope to all people through following their true king and showing the world what that new kingdom was supposed to look like.
So what implications does this have for me as a part of a large missions organization?
For one, it has made me more convinced that pivotal to missions is not only the message being proclaimed to the world, but also the way the message is being embodied in the people who are proclaiming it. How are we relating to one another and treating one another as we seek to advance the gospel? Because to prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah, it mattered greatly how the people of God were relating to one another.
It has made me more convinced that pivotal to missions is not only the message being proclaimed to the world, but also the way the message is being embodied in the people who are proclaiming it.
This comes up most for me in relation to majority/minority dynamics and power relations in our ministry. Does the way we treat one another in our different ethnicities and different positions of power matter in the mission? If I view all of Scripture as mission then, according to the prophets, these two things are one in the same. How we treat one another as we fulfill God’s mission IS the mission too.
As an ethnic minority, I’ve noticed sometimes that when we talk about things like ethnicity, racial reconciliation, and power, some view it as a move away from the important work of fulfilling the Great Commission. But, in reality, the two are intimately related. If I’m out sharing the gospel with every Latino student on campus yet the ministry I’m a part of persistently shows a lack of awareness in the area of culture and power, am I really living out the mission? Am I really reflecting through my relationships in the ministry the good news that God is reconciling all things to himself in his Son?
Another implication this surfaces for me is in how we treat prophetic voices in our missions organizations as well.
If God cared so deeply about his mission that he sent the prophets, do our missions organizations care as deeply about mission that we view the prophetic voices among us as gifts? Do we see them as valuable people that God is sending to us to keep us aligned to His purpose of being his sent ones? Or do we treat them as people seeking to slow down the mission — not people that are trying to move it forward with integrity? I think these are important questions to ask ourselves as we seek to be a community that announces his coming kingdom to this generation. May we be people that do so holistically leaving nothing out in God’s reconciling work.
photo courtesy: Alice