I've heard Tony Campolo speak enough to know you're in trouble when he takes off his glasses and squints his eyes so tight they disappear into his skull. At that moment his brain is loading a spiritual bombshell into his mouth and preparing it for delivery. Campolo's bombs found their target on Wednesday night at the National Pastors Convention is San Diego.
He formed his talk around a sociological study (Campolo is a sociologist by training) conducted with people over the age of 95. The survey asked them, if you could do life over again what would you do differently? Most responses fell into three categories:
1. Reflect more
2. Risk more
3. Do more that will live on after I'm gone
While each of his points were powerful, I was especially impacted by Campolo's exhortation that church leaders take up their prophetical calling to be the opinion shapers of the culture - a calling that always involves risk.
Campolo spoke about the Old Testament roles of priest and prophet. The priests cared for the people, comforted them, and blessed them. The prophets, on the other hand, lived in the hills, came down to make everyone angry, and then went back to the hills. They were the troublemakers.
But we pastors have a problem. We are called to be both priests and prophets. That means, says Campolo, that we are called to "comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable." Although this appears to be a contradiction, Campolo was insistent that we can and must do both. He says "it's the work of the pastor that legitimates the work of the prophet." By caring and loving our people we win the right to speak the hard truth into their lives.
What is the hard truth we need to be prophetically declaring? Campolo (glasses removed and squinted eyes buried in his skull) rebuked evangelical church leaders for being silent on issues like poverty, education, war, government sponsored torture, and economic injustice.
Referring to John 6 where Jesus alienated thousands of his followers through his challenging teaching, Campolo called us to "risk more;" to not be afraid of alienating people by declaring unpopular truth; to be like Christ who only had twelve followers remain (and that was only because they had no where else to go).
For some time I've been wondering why there are so few prophetic voices in our churches. We have many prophets in evangelical America, many willing to say difficult things into a comfortable culture. But most of these voices are not pastors. We seem to push the prophets out of our pulpits and into academia, the conference circuit, or publishing. Where are the "in the pulpit" pastors who are confronting and shaping the church with their prophetic imaginations?
Campolo says that many passionate young people enter ministry with a prophetic calling, but loose the fire in their belly because they become scared. Fear is clearly a significant reason the pulpit has lost it's influence. But are there other reasons as well? Are we training pastors to be prophets in our seminaries and schools? Or, are we training them to be managers of religious institutions? Do pastors still believe they have the capacity to actually change our world and culture? Or, has the once influential function of the clergy been neutered by secularization?
Yes, I know I am overstating things (this is a blog, ya know). I am aware that there are some prophetic pastors out there, but as Campolo reminded us they are a rare and endangered species.