Developing a Prophetic Voice

"Why is that Christianity seems so impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and national origin?" 
- Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, 1949

Immigration. BlackLivesMatter. Legalization of gay marriage. Our nation and our world are rapidly changing and the ramifications for college campuses and its places of faith are startling.

How do we respond to these issues?

How are they to be included in how we disciple students and the people we lead?

These issues are a part of and influence our lives, whether directly and indirectly. To ignore them is to ignore the context in which students live, and our words can quite easily become “word sown along the path” as it doesn’t translate to practical life.

One resource that I believe will prove to be invaluable in the days ahead is Toward a Prophetic Youth Ministry by Fernando Arzola. First, he walks through three common ministry models, where the focuses are on either the spiritual, emotional, or social needs of people. Then he suggests a fourth, a “prophetic” model, which suggests not the separation but the amalgamation of these issues—a discipleship that is not only epistemological but ethical, one that ministers to the total person. The book deals primarily with youth ministry in urban youth in church ministries, but it is highly transferable to ministry within InterVarsity and other campus contexts.


Arzola’s 4 Models of Ministry

I encourage you to reflect on your own leadership style, where there’s room to grow, and what catches you by surprise. I encourage you to look at the list as a self-reflection exercise and not as an explanation of “what’s wrong with that other group.”

1. Traditional Ministry

A traditional ministry focuses primarily on the spiritual needs of students. It focuses on discipleship and engages programs like bible study, evangelism, and outreaches (like New Student Outreach). It’s rooted in Jesus’ teaching, but is concerned only with winning souls, and omits the social issues of the world. Conflict is often avoided for maintaining peace, and Arzola suggests this model is more like the Pharisees (believed in being separate from non-Jewish neighbors, committed to moral purity, and leaned toward legalism). The Jesus preached here is Savior and Lord, but never has anything to say about what happens outside the four walls of a ministry.

2. Liberal Ministry

A liberal ministry focuses on the personal and emotional needs of students. (I know some of us steer clear of these areas, but that doesn’t mean they will go away on their own or that they don’t need to be submitted to the authority of Jesus.) It focuses on personal growth engages programs like mentoring, and trips (either vacation for inner city kids or community service). It’s rooted in addressing personal needs of people and typically emphasizes Jesus’ humanity over divinity. Conflict is seen as a part of evolution/change and Arzola suggests this model is more like the Sadducees (highly educated, didn’t believe in the spiritual life/resurrection of Jesus). Jesus preached here is a good friend, but He isn’t Savior or Lord.

How can students be transformed holistically: spiritually, personally and socially?

3. Activist Ministry

An activist ministry focuses on the social needs of students. It focuses on social action, justice, food drives, economic empowerment, job training, and ethnic-celebrations [at the expense of marginalizing other ethnic groups]. It’s rooted in addressing systemic injustice and social sin. It is overly concerned with fighting systems rather than growing in Christ. Conflict is expected as social issues are confronted and this group at times creates conflict in order for change to occur. Arzola suggests this model is more like the Zealots (engaged and supported overthrowing the Roman government; they wanted a revolutionary messiah). Jesus preached here is an activist, but again, isn’t Savior and Lord.

4. Prophetic Ministry

A prophetic ministry focuses on transformation—how can students be transformed holistically (spiritually, personally, and socially)? It has integrated models that combine programs from all three previously mentioned models—again, with emphasis on caring for the whole person. Ministry from this model is concerned about the salvation of a person’s soul, the increasing Lordship of Christ over that person’s decisions, the ethnic/economic/historical context in which the person lives, and the invading kingdom of God to demolish and transform any systems of injustice that led to the marginalization and/or oppression of the community from which this person came. Conflict is seen as at times as constructive dissonance that fosters communal health and maturity. Arzola suggests this ministry model is the prophets (they called for spiritual, personal, and societal repentance).


Becoming a Prophetic Ministry

The biblical basis he offers for a prophetic ministry is from Luke 10:27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Taking those six categories (heart, mind, strength, mind, neighbor, and self), Arzola gives both ministry examples and practical questions for engaging in whole life discipleship:


Jesus Cares About to the Total Person

While each of the four ministry models are impactful, only prophetic ministry seeks to minister to the total person, just as Jesus did in the Scriptures. When Jesus cured the man with a skin problem, leprosy, he did not simply heal his visible wounds. Jesus brought physical, societal, emotional, and spiritual health.

It is not enough to save the soul and never address the context in which that soul will dwell on earth.

It is not enough to save the soul and never address the context in which that soul will dwell on earth. Prophetic ministry seeks to save the soul, transform the heart, change the mind, and renew broken communities—in essence, “to make all things new” (Rev.  21:5).

#BlackLivesMatter. It’s just about everywhere in the United States, and even some parts of the world. Whether people understand, agree, or disagree with the movement, the fact remains we have different options on ethnicity and culture in the United States. These differences are not limited to Ferguson, CNN, or Facebook, they are also in our ministries and in our churches.

We want to have relevant ministries. We must raise our awareness of how to intersect the spiritual life, the personal life, and the social (or societal) life of students, as these issues must be engaged in our discipleship with students. If they are not addressed, our students will grow up to become adults who are unaware of how to address discipleship and social justice, Samaria and Ferguson. To avoid them is to not contextualize the gospel to today and we leave incomplete the great commission.


The App (Making It Practical)

Buy Towards a Prophetic Youth Ministry and read it with your community. Wrestle with the questions he raises in your own ministry models. What are the questions he raises?

Here are some ideas for application questions:

  • Where do you see Arzola’s 4 models of ministry reflected in your community?
  • Using the above chart, what aspects of a prophetic ministry does your community do well? In what aspects is your community lacking?
  • What current issues is God leading your community to holistically engage in? Raise awareness, take action, become an advocate and invite others to join you on the journey.
  • Raise your awareness of the issues, take action on a particular issue, and become an advocate where you invite other people to join you on the journey or being a world-changer.

About the Author

Sean currently serves as Ministry in Digital Spaces Associate Director. He is an InterVarsity alum and currently serves to produce discipleship and evangelistic materials to students through various social media platforms. He is pursuing his Masters of Divinity at Fuller Seminary. Sean is a big comic book and sci-fi fan and enjoys working out, cooking, movies, and practicing Tai Chi.

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