Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Any Prophetic Voice?

Three different people have talked with me over the last week about a sadness in their institution and denomination. It has to do with the intollerance of the prophetic voice. Basically all three (who need to remain nameless) voiced a word of critique to people in positions of institutional power. The response was uniformly the same: they were shot down. Oh, they were not handled rudely or with force, but they were told that their type of critique was neither wanted nor valued. The signal my three friends received was that the larger governing body wanted voices of affirmation, validation, support and team-spirit. Anything less was deemed disloyal, kind of like filtering who is allowed in to major political gatherings (only those with loyalty tickets).
When I pursued this with a friend who was in town with me, he said that his organization lost its last prophetic voice. When I asked his what that voice did, he answered that while they did not always like it when this guy spoke out, they valued his integrity and people in power would listen and sometimes even yield.
I have felt kind of badly over the past year about a good friend from the emerging church who walked away from the Covenant denomination. He was a bit bristly and ornery. He did not play by all the rules and could be disruptive. But he had an important word for today's church, but it came in too rough of a package.
How much dissent do we tolerate? That's a question that I need to ask right here in the church I serve, even within my own home. Do I value the oppostional voice as much as the validating voice? Do I see the gift in the "no" as much as in the "yes?" When someone disagrees with me, does that doom them to "the list" of those who will never serve? Who will not be asked to participate? Do we really want a genuine dialogue, or a nice monologue?
I would really encourage readers to go to a new, disruptive and even disturbing website called www.sutpidchurchpeople.com It contains the sounds we don't like, but really need to hear...the prophetic sounds.


At 8:44 PM , Blogger Brad Boydston said...

My experience has been that the "prophetic voices" often take the ball and go home because things don't change in exactly the way they want them to. And they have some very specific ideas about how things have to be and strong personalities to back them up.

I'm familiar with one "emerging" pastor who left our fellowship after the institution had bent over backwards to welcome him and even accommodated his quirks -- personality and theology -- even threw all kinds of money at him to help him launch some important ministries. But when attempts to implement very minimal accountability were made he had no patience for these people who didn't understand the new way of doing church.

A lot of the "prophetic voices" are arrogant and myopic -- with narrow agendas that put them at the center of the universe.

At 7:55 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Brad; I agree with much of what you say, that prohetic voices are not always comfortable to have around and can be overbearing to the point of arrogance. But, the point of my blog is to raise the question about our ability to critique ourselves when we get too comfortable, too familiar and friendly with each other, when personal loyalty overshadows the rigorous pursuit of truth. An unfortunate experience with one individual should not be the basis for making a trend-line. But I have had several other conversations both within and without the denomination. It's really not so much about the Covenant denomination as it is about institutional myopia.

At 10:31 AM , Anonymous kent said...

A prophetic voice by its nature is uncomfortable. It calls into question the practices and behaviors of a group. Often these are vested programs and practices and the leadership is not looking for anything but support and cooperation. This also calls into question the function of a denomination, is it for leadership and direction or is for resourcing? What view you have on that also determines how the prophetic voice is heard.

At 1:28 PM , Anonymous Garry said...

God speaks to each of us differently. He may be speaking thru that prophetic voice for us to hear. In churches, leaders tend to reach a "God inspired" conclusion, then look for support. Kind of like going directly to the 'answer' then working backwards to the question. When voices question or rather want to discuss or debate the merits they can be labeled disruptive. I think this is what you are getting at. Now, all this to say that good debate is healthy in the church. What happens then is the leaders haul out the unity arguement. This kills debate and discussion and the issue proceeds on its merry way to often a disastrous result. I know, I have seen and been the one labeled. Leaders need to remember unity does not mean uniformity or unanimity. This brings me back to my original statement that God speaks to each person differently, and as long as the debate and discussion is kept on issues it needs to be honored and respected.

At 5:57 AM , Blogger Brad Boydston said...

My point is about institutions in general. Yes, sometimes they run off the prophets or dis them. But from my perspective more often than not the instituions embrace prophets (often reluctantly) but prophets have less patience with the institution than the instituion has for them. I've been an advocate for both sides on this one.

At 7:47 AM , Blogger Gary Means said...

A friend of mine wrote a paper in seminary entitled, "The Iron Rule of Oligarchy", wherein he stated that most human organizations are started by someone with a vision. Others join them because they are inspired by the prophetic vision of the leader. The group grows through various trials, until it becomes an organization. Sometimes before the leader dies, but always after he or she passes, the passion diminishes as the focus shifts to dealing with the day-to-day realities of managing an organization, and securing the resources to provide for its continued existence. When that shift happens, human nature exerts itself and politics alter the process. You start with a vision and you move to a beauracracy.

My friend was young and foolish, so he used his own denomination (not the Covenant) as an example. He is no longer a pastor.

I have seen the destructive nature of power-politics in the Covenant both at the congregational and conference level. I have seen pastors deeply wounded and congregations die as a result. But I have also seen God work through those same flawed institutions and individuals.

At 6:44 AM , Blogger tim said...

Interesting discussion. I agree with bits and pieces. Something that I think is important to keep in mind is the distinction between a prophetic word (i.e., specific to an issue, time, and place) and a prophetic voice/person (a life called out to this role, such as Elijah, Jeremiah or, more modern, MLK Jr.)

Sometimes people who are given a prophetic word and then, as so many are prone to do, write a prophetic book too quickly draw a solid line to viewing themselves, promoting themselves, or having others market them as a prophetic person. We all know how that devolves: they become "hip," hit the speaking circuit, somehow require increased speaking fees, and produce one catchily titled book after another. I believe that some of our "prophetic voices" need reminders to take their cue from Elijah - wait in a cave for another encounter that still small voice instead of generating yet another book.

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