There is a discussion that has been going on through out Christian history, about how each of the roles of prophet, priest, and king works in Christ. There is little doubt that Christ fulfills each of these roles in His life, ministry, sacrifice, resurrection, and eternal life. A further question that often surrounds the prophet, priest, and king conversation, comes to those of us who are called to minister to others in the body of Christ. Theologians, church administration teachers, and others discuss such roles in the life of a minister from time to time. I have often seen where each plays its role, but I was reminded in my thoughts today of just how important this question is to our ministry to others. I put forth a disclaimer here that I use these terms prophet, priest, and king from the traditional discussion with use of the biblical text; however, it applies to any and all pastoral leader male or female. I think that any leader no matter of gender must come to understand our responsibility in leading well.
Our church recently went through the book of Job, where we meet a man fully dedicated to God. He seems to have been a respected leader, as well as a priest, and of course it could be argued that he tried to pass those things of God he knew to others. Many historical theologians place Job near the time of Abraham, and we see in Abraham a similar situation. In this time era it seems that the clan leader fulfilled the role of leader (king), priest, and prophet (proclaimer). We also see that in some respects Moses’ father-in-law Jethero fulfilled similar roles.
I want to consider now what are these three roles, and how did they originate in conjunction to God’s people. The role of priest is found through out Scripture as one who conducts worship and intercedes with God on behalf of themselves and others. This role was to be fulfilled in various levels: fathers and heads of household, leaders of whole clans such as Jacob, and finally those appointed officially by God. This final category comes about after the Exodus, when The Law is given, and before the full establishment of the nation. The Levites were appointed to be the ones responsible to carry out the rituals of worship, the sacrifices of the people, intercession for the people, listen for God’s responses, and passing on God’s Word in the Law. They were the central leaders under God that united the nation of Israel together.
This system worked for a time, but by the time of Eli’s son’s corruption began to come into the priesthood. God brought Samuel up to be the first of many prophets who would speak to God’s people. The priest remained vital to uniting the people in worship, ritual, tradition, and even God’s Word. The prophets came the proclaim God’s instructions of truth, need, change, and direction. Still God remained at the center of this process. Yet, even under this first of many prophets, the people demanded to be like the rest of the world. They wanted to have an earthly king to unite and lead them. God gave the people their wish, but told them that that king would make demands of the people and exploit them. What were the common roles of the kings of that time? They had several roles in a community: uniting the people, protecting the people, mediating problems of the community, and negotiating with other kings for safety and commerce. Most kings become a bit focused on their own agenda over responsibility to the care of the community. They get focused on the size of their kingdom and go to war to expand it.
We return now to the point of our discussion at hand, the role of those of us in ministry with regard to the roles of prophet, priest, or king. We can see by my short definitions of each of these roles in history that ministers do often have to step into any and all of these roles. We are called on to administer the rituals of worship, to teach and pass on the traditions. To both proclaim and teach God’s Word. We are responsible to help the church community facing both internal and external problems that may arise. We also have to work with the other leaders in administering the business of the church, and uniting the church community. In all of this we see that we are prophets (proclaiming God’s Word), priests (praying and worshipping with people), and king (leading the church).
In pondering this today I began to think about how we often get so caught up today in the kingly side of our role. Remember I pointed out that historically kings/leader often let power corrupt them, and soon the size of the kingdom is what is most important. While we continue to make effort to carry on the other two roles, it never ceases to amaze me that when ministers get together the conversation is always on size or health (often the new term for growth) of our church in comparison to the other ministries in the room. Are we any better than the kings of old? These kings often held great parades to show off their armies, fortunes, conquests, and wares for any and all visiting dignitaries.
We often receive pressure from friendly pastors instead of supporting one another freely with the role God has given us. The pressures also come from leaders who are over us, some who have not ventured out of the palaces to the smaller communities where we may be called to be. There may even be pressure from those whom we are leading, who have their own visions of grandeur and what that means. We feel the pressure to succeed in these areas, which is where the numbers and reports seem to fall far too often.
I return to the biblical callings put upon people. In God’s plan He set up priests to maintain His Laws, worship, prayer, and intercession. God also called and appointed prophets to proclaim truth and teaching to His people. While kings came to be appointed by God, it does not appear that this role was central or in the original plans. The reason for this is that God was originally the king of His people. The Laws given in the Torah were similar to agreements drawn up by the kings of that time. God set forth a plan with His people, and they latter rejected God, in Samuel’s time, for a human king.
With regard to those of us now living in the Christian faith, we see Paul even reminds us that in the church Christ it the head (Eph. 5:23 & 1 Co. 12). He also shows that we are all vitally important to the Body of Christ, and as members we work together in Christ. The issues of unity, the body, and working together seem to come out in a lot of the New Testament writings. This reminds me both of how important it is to keep these things right, and how easy it is to miss the mark. If it were not so, I don’t think there would be need to write so much on these issues.
To often in our world we see pastors seeming to worry more about building their kingdom, instead of simply living alongside of their brothers and sisters and the churches nearby. The American church of competition seems to drive us far from where we should be. We need to return our hearts to be more like Abraham, who welcomed neighboring leaders with hospitality and openness, instead of competition. We need to worry more about the Kingdom of God, which we all serve, over our little places of responsibility.
I hope we can all learn to keep balance in our ministries. I pray that we do not let our little kingdoms take precedent over The Kingdom of God, which we are a part. May God bless us with the ability to better serve the role of prophet and priest, so the Kingdom of God will be blessed. When we must, and times will be such, be the leader, may we lead with humility and care above all. May the need of the small out way any desire of greatness. May God be glorified in our mere service in His plans.
- DGS 3/1/12