By Matt Sapp
What if Christians did a better job of standing up to bullies?
Bullies are mean. They pick on people weaker than they in order to feel powerful. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes.
Pastors can be bullies. Politicians can be bullies. Your boss at work can be a bully. The big kid on the playground can be a bully.
We’ve all come across enough bullies in our lives — some of us may have even been bullies ourselves — to know that it takes a lot of courage to stand up to one. And because too few people stand up to bullies, bullying is increasingly becoming an accepted style of leadership in our world and even in our churches.
Bullying, though, is decidedly not a Christ-inspired model of leadership.
THREE MODELS OF Christian LEADERSHIP: PROPHETS, PRIESTS AND KINGS
During the month of November, we’re talking about leadership at Heritage Fellowship Church, and we’ll explore three different Christ-inspired types of leaders—prophets, priests and kings.
This Sunday, we’re starting with prophets, and one of the easiest ways to identify a prophet is to look for someone with the courage to stand up to a bully. Prophets are people who stand up to bullies.
JESUS MODELS PROPHETIC LEADERSHIP
Jesus modeled prophetic leadership in his very first sermon when he spoke out on behalf of the poor, the blind, the imprisoned and the oppressed (Luke 4). And guess what? Before he could even finish speaking, bullies ran him out to the edge of town and tried to kill him.
As it turns out, bullies and prophets have never co-existed very well. In fact, like in Luke 4, prophets drive bullies up the wall. If you want to smoke out a bully, bring in a prophet.
One of the problems with identifying bullies, though, is that bullies don’t call themselves bullies. A lot of times bullies actually seek to fashion themselves as prophets, but they’re just wolves in sheep’s clothing.
BULLIES ARE FALSE PROPHETS
That’s why the Bible refers to bullies as false prophets. If you want to try something fun, start replacing the words “false prophet” in scripture with the word “bully.”
So, how do you spot a bully? The surest way to spot a bully is to notice when someone is using a position of power and privilege to further denigrate and marginalize already oppressed minorities. Or, like Jesus, speak up on behalf of the marginalized and the oppressed and see who protests the most vehemently.
Bullies may claim they are being prophetic, that’s what false prophets do. But don’t be deceived. I can’t find a single place in scripture where God uses prophets to trample on the downtrodden.
Prophets do the exact opposite.
PROPHETS VS. BULLIES
Prophets are the ones on the bottom of the pile shouting up. Bullies are on the top of the pile shouting down.
Prophets speak on behalf of the forgotten, abused or otherwise oppressed. Bullies prey on them.
Prophets find us at our weakest moments and come alongside to lift us up. Bullies find us at our weakest moments and come alongside to take advantage of us.
Prophets seek to point us to the power and goodness of God. Bullies seek to convince us of their own power and goodness.
PROPHETIC LEADERSHIP TODAY
So what does prophetic leadership look like today?
Two prophetic leaders in my own larger community of faith, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), are Stephen Reeves and Steve Wells. They, along with many others in the CBF community, are calling for basic fairness and just protections for Americans who are being taken advantage of by the title pawn and payday lending industry.
You can learn more about the work they’re doing HERE. I’m proud to partner with them and support their work.
Stephen and Steve are doing all the things I’ve described prophets as doing above.
They’re shouting up from the bottom of the pile. They’re seeking to work alongside and lift up some of the most vulnerable Americans. They’re speaking out on behalf of people whom the powerful and privileged have taken advantage of. And they’re doing it all in a way that points to the power and goodness of God.
This week at HERITAGE we’ll talk about several different ways to identify prophetic leaders, and we’ll even think about how we might become prophetic leaders ourselves.
Until then, remember this starting definition of what a prophet is. A prophet is someone who stands up to a bully.