Having been "out of the pulpit", at least on a regular, week-by-week basis, for over three years now, I find myself less inclined to return for a number of reasons. Not least of these reasons is the sense of being out of touch with what needs to be said (in the context of serving a local congregation) and out of practice too. I've always seen preaching as having a prophetic element to it, and the role of the prophet has always been something that has sat in the back of my mind as I both prepared and delivered a weekly sermon.
So what is the role of the prophet? It cannot be denied that Biblical prophets spoke about coming events, about the future both near and far. From something imminent, "Go to this town and you will find...", or something more distant, " In the last days". But to reduce the role of the prophet to that of one who talks only about future events is to do the office a disservice.
It seems to me that the role of the prophet has a much more immediate context than the foretelling of future events. As I read the prophetic narratives of the Old Testament I hear the voice of the prophet describing the world as it truly is and not as society sees it. It presents us with a heavenly perspective, the world as God sees it. Humanity is called to account in the present and not some distant future as the prophet speaks out against injustice, selfishness and unrighteousness.
But the prophet doesn't stop there. Having described the world as it, the prophet goes on to describe how it should be, how it could be. In other words, the prophet tells us what's wrong and what needs to happen to put it right. He, or she, shows us the right things to do and how to do things right. There is, in the prophetic voice, a call to action, a call to make a difference, to change something.
All of this comes through the promoting of God's Spirit of course, that goes without saying. Preaching without the Spirt at work is pointless, but preaching without a prophetic edge is probably going to reduce the practice to recycling a teaching programme. I've been around church long enough to hear the constant refrain that what the church needs is more and better teaching. More exposition of the scriptures.
Well let's be honest, we've some pretty good teaching over the last few centuries and I'm guessing many of our churches are pretty well educated. I'm not sure we need more of that. I am sure that we need more experience, more active engagement with God's mission and plan. For that to happen we need to hear a louder, clearer call from the prophet.