As you know, I make no claim to be a real, true prophet. But I do believe the church needs to hear the other side of the story. This list from John Goldingay rings true for me.
Prophets are different from kings, priests, judges and experts, different from pastors, teachers, apostles and evangelists, different from worship ministers, youth pastors, counselors and spiritual directors, and different from social activists. I assume that we shouldn’t be surprised if God sends prophets to the church, though neither should we be surprised if it is a rare thing. Not all the ten points that follow will then be true of every prophet, but to judge from the OT, in general a prophet is someone who
- Shares God’s nightmares and dreams. Prophets are not social reformers or political commentators. They see calamity hanging over God’s people and they tell them about it, and about why it is so. They also know what is God’s dream for his people and they tell them that dream. They know the dream because they know the story of God’s involvement with Israel and know God’s promises and God’s expectations, and they want to get Israel to live in light of the story, the promises and the expectations.
- Speaks like a poet and behaves like an actor. Prophets describe things not prosaically and literally but poetically and figuratively, partly because of the depth and mystery of which they speak. Prophets use pictures. They also picture what God intends by acting it out.
- Is not afraid to be offensive. Prophets have the capacity to be outrageous. People thought that they were offensive and crazy.
- Confronts the confident with rebuke and the downcast with hope. The calling of prophets is to get their own people to live in light of the reality of what God is going to do. God’s people do not need prophets to confirm what they already think. They need prophets to disagree with them.
- Mostly brings this rebuke and encouragement to the people of God. Prophets speak about other nations, so that God’s people understand what God is doing and so that they shape their lives and attitudes accordingly, but they do not speak to other nations. Within their own nation, they are not social reformers. They do not give concrete practical directives to the people. They minister to the broader world indirectly by encouraging the people of God to become something more like an alternative community that will then commend itself to the broader society.
- Is independent of the institutional pressures of church and state. It’s virtually impossible to be a prophet if you are on the nation’s payroll or the church’s payroll. People such as pastors who are on the church’s payroll have to encourage other people to be prophets. But they will have to remember that the OT prophets tended to be people who did not expect to be prophets (e.g., a foreigner or a priest or a kid) and whom other people did not expect to be prophets
- Is a scary person who mediates the activity of a scary God. Like the OT, the NT makes clear that God is both loving and capable of doing frightening things. Prophets bring home to us the fact that you can’t mess with God.
- Intercedes with boldness and praises with freedom. As well as mediating God’s word to us on the basis of knowing what God intends for us, prophets pray for us and tell us how to pray. They also articulate praise for what God does in fulfillment of their words.
- Ministers in a way that reflects his or her personality and time. Paradoxically, the people who especially speak directly from God are also people whose message shows the influence of their own person, which God is using. And prophets are people who know what time it is, who know what needs to be said concretely now.
- Is almost certain to fail, one way or another. Prophets make mistakes. In addition, they are usually rejected and persecuted because of the fact that their message characteristically confronts what the people of God think. Only a fool wants to be a prophet. Sensible people run away. But they may not get away.
John Goldingay, An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches and Issues (London: SPCK, 2016), 262–263.