I am absolutely convinced that there has never been a genuine missional movement—the kind that has both exponential growth as well as transformational impact across a wide domain—that does not have APEST ministry. APEST, which stands for Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher, comes from Ephesians 4, and I strongly believe movements need all five APEST functions active and engaged in order to make any lasting impact for the cause of Jesus. Below is a description of the Prophet component of the APEST model.
The disturber, questioner, advocate, intercessor
The Church is called to be a prophetic community by its very life and witness. We can say that the prophetic calling and function is absolutely crucial to the unique purpose of God’s people in the world. As His people, we are to be the one place where God, and everything He stands for, is revered, cherished and obeyed.
The prophetic function is identified by the following:
• God-orientation. The prophet tends to cultivate a culture of God centeredness through worship. They highlight the need for listening prayer and for responsible and responsive obedience to God.
• Pathos. God feels things deeply. He is passionate, and His holy passion involves complex dynamics between His unshakable love, His compassion for His creation, His jealous protectiveness, as well as His profound wrath against sin and injustice in society and unfaithfulness in the church. Engaging God’s pathos means feeling what God feels.
• Encountering God. Some of the key bodily metaphors used in the Bible describe the prophetic. For example:
• Ear. The prophet is described as an “ear”—the primary organ of human receptivity, attentiveness and obedience.
• Eye. The “eye” highlights the prophetic capacity for spiritual insight. Instead of simply trying to see God, the prophetic is an attempt to see as God sees.
• Mouth. The prophet as the “mouth” highlights the prophetic call to proclaim, and speak on God’s behalf. Because of the immediate association with God, prophetic speech and action will tend to be passionate, motivational, ethical and often corrective.
• Heart. A particularly important function of prophecy involves being willing to feel what God feels—to experience things from God’s perspective. The prophetic is not afraid to experience what we might call ‘the heart of God.’ The prophetic also guards the collective heart of God’s people.
• Covenant obligations. A covenant is a two-way relationship and is not morally or spiritually neutral. The prophetic function highlights the unrelentingly existential, moral and ethical nature of that responsibility that arises from any authentic encounter with the living God.
• Covenant love. Prophetic ministry is a constant reminder of God’s abiding love and His covenant grace.
• Repentance. The prophetic function embeds in the Church a constant willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn. In a rebellious world this inevitably includes a focus on ongoing repentance.
• Speaking truth to power. One of the key functions of the prophetic is to constantly expose the pretentions of human power and its abuses. The prophetic is particularly harsh on hypocrisy.
• Spiritual warfare. The prophetic function involves an acute sensitivity to spiritual warfare.
• Identifying idolatry. The prophetic function is strongly iconoclastic in relation to all distorted values and false forms of worship.
• Justice. One cannot worship vertically if one is living unjustly (see, e.g., Isaiah 58; Amos 5:1-27). The prophetic prioritizes consistent ethical action and deeds of goodness.
• Holiness. The covenantal relationship requires a requisite holiness in God’s people: “You shall be holy for I, Yahweh your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
• Communicate urgency. The sure sign of prophetic ministry is that it creates a sense of urgency around core ideas.
• Prefigurative community. The prophetic form of community is what we can call prefigurative in that it lives in a radical way that provides a compelling picture of what can be.
• Develop learning through questioning. The prophetic function creates the conditions of holy discontent, which leads to a pursuit of methods and practices that are more consistent with who God is.
The Role of the Prophetic Person
Those graced with the prophetic calling will do all they can to listen to God, see what He sees, feel what He feels, speak and act on His behalf and call people to faithfulness and obedience.
Prophets are often agitators for change. In the name of a greater faithfulness, they will tend to ask pointed questions that highlight God’s call, the gap between our obedience and His will and our responsibility to act accordingly. They are the God-oriented mystics who call all people to attend to the voice of God, wherever and however it reveals itself. The prophetic vocation is likely the most difficult of all the APEST callings, partly because of the personal vulnerability involved but also because the prophetic word, like the Word of God that the prophet seeks to represent, is often rejected by people who prefer their own ways.
The prophet is likely the loneliest of all the vocations and the one most open to misunderstanding. I think this is why Jesus calls us to especially respect the prophets in our midst (Matthew 10:40-42). Because of the close association of the prophet and the unfolding of the heart of God, along with the innate subjectivity of this message, prophets can potentially be volatile and divisive people—especially when their gifting is immature and undeveloped.
What is needed are mature prophets who follow in the way of the Suffering Servant—the subversive and hidden agent of God. But, prophetic people following in the Way of Jesus cannot be moralistic and grouchy religious naysayers. Like Jesus, they are also harbingers of eschatological joy and hope, heroes of the faith, declarers of God’s abiding love for His people no matter what, people who find their primary comfort in God himself. The intimacy of the prophet’s connection to God is its own reward.
This blog originally appeared at the Send Network. Used with permission of the author. The content is an excerpt from Hirsch’s book, 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ. Order the book to learn more about the APEST model.
Learn more about APEST Intelligence with Alan Hirsch and Rich Robinson
Join Alan Hirsch and Rich Robinson to explore God’s DNA for the church, as revealed explicitly in Ephesians 4, and implicitly through scripture and embodied in Jesus. Beginning with an overview to get a grounding in key terms (apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher), you will then consider the person and praxis of Jesus as he embodies APEST as a model for us, and then move to explore the implications of APEST for individuals, the Church, and society at large. APEST will help you engage on a transformative journey that will involve deepening your own discipleship, strengthening your leadership, as well developing the capacities of your church or organization. This course, and the other training available, aims to create a process where theological imagination and innovative practice in discipleship, leadership and mission can be engaged & activated in you as a learner, and throughout the Body of Christ.