Tip #7: Be a Prophet, Not a Parrot

[for context, see the original post Ten Tips for Becoming a Better Pastor]

The wise pastor/mentor Tommy Nelson used to challenge young leaders by saying: “You’re either a prophet or a parrot.” Prophets speak fire and life. Parrots repeat what someone else has said.

In our day of celebrity pastors, it’s easy to be a parrot. Good sound bites abound. Chances are, that other guy said it better than you can. You could just quote him. Better yet, with some intelligent tweaking, you could make his words your own without anyone ever knowing.

But that guy’s called to shepherd his people, not yours. He doesn’t know your context. He’s not current with the unbelief in your heart. Now, what he’s saying may still be true, like the Mosaic law is true. But when the people of Judah are acting like Sodom and Gomorrah, they don’t just need truth. They need Isaiah. And if Isaiah parrots Elijah, he’ll be preaching to the wrong country.

Being a prophet requires three things: study, prayer, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

  • Study. God’s word through you must first be God’s word to you. There’s no substitute for knowing it well. Prophets don’t just quote Scripture; they allude to Scripture. They ooze the language of Scripture. Its lexicon has become theirs. They know it like a bicycle courier knows the city – which is different than the way GPS “knows” the city.
  • Prayer. Prophets get their fire and angst from time on their knees. It’s one thing to know what God has said in his Word. It’s another thing to know what God wants to say to His church today through that Word. Parrots assume that whatever that preacher said in Baltimore will also apply to their own context. And by God’s grace, that’s actually true. All truth is God’s truth. But every age and every city and every church has its own characteristic sins. Prophets pray long and hard to discern how to work God’s truth into the contours of their congregation.
  • The Holy Spirit. What makes prophets’ words so prophetic? The grace of the Holy Spirit. It’s what the old theologians called “unction” – a word that means the same thing as “anointing,” before that word got co-opted by the weirdos. Prophets wait on the Spirit. They expect the Spirit. They know the difference between praying, preaching, leading in the flesh and doing the same in the Spirit. One preacher I know refuses to step on stage or into the pulpit until he viscerally feels the filling of the Spirit. Which makes for some awkwardly long pauses while he sits in the front row. But he ain’t no parrot.

Be a prophet. Not a parrot.

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