In his book The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann defines the nature of prophetic ministry: “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
Prophetic ministry is so much more than a series of random engagements dealing with contemporary social justice causes. Prophetic ministry aims to do no less than cultivate an alternative consciousness, a way of being for the people of God that is embedded in identity prior to any so-called social action. But we often try to sustain activism apart from theological nourishment. Brueggemann notes that in such instances we are like “cut flowers”. What we produce may be nice looking for a time but before long we and our works will wither without any root.
One task of the prophet, therefore, is to give expression to this alternative consciousness so the church’s prophetic ministry may flourish in the world and withstand the variable winds of the world’s philosophies. Prophets give voice to a unifying language in describing God’s work.
As we consider the function of prophets in articulating language for the faith, it is significant to note that the prophets in the Bible were poets. Prophetic leaders of today have great historic artists as their exemplars. As poets, prophetic leaders embody two functions: a critiquing of the status quo and a creative energizing towards a preferable future. They embody both of these functions through dramatic, artistic and linguistic means.
May we continue to embody today the great historic tradition of authentic prophetic ministry.