Am I a Prophet, Priest, or King? A Hidden All-Male Leadership Typology Many Church Planters Are Bringing to Boston

This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled, “Band of Brothers: A Case Study of Church Planting in Boston.”

Previous Articles:

“Why Women Don’t Plant Churches?”

“Godless Land or Revival City? It Depends on Your Theology of Gender”

“Band of Brothers”: The Very Young, Very Male Face of Boston’s Church Planting Movement

Also, see here for an introduction to the series and here for more on Missio Alliance’s commitment to women in ministry.

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

~ 1 Peter 2:5-9

Like many, I find myself infatuated by Pope Francis. I love his refreshingly simple humanity and his daring gestures to eschew so many of the trappings of status and privilege that accompany his position.

Having spent most of my religious journey in evangelical churches—the “priesthood of all believers” formed the ground floor of my spiritual journey. So, I have never been able to stomach much pomp and circumstance and titles separating clergy from ordinary folks like me.

Life is funny. While the pope is eschewing many of the royal trappings of his office and is walking around and king thumbnailtalking a lot like a Protestant, all these young guys starting church plants across my city, Boston, and across the country are using an imperial-sounding leadership schema. These young church planters are encouraged to describe themselves using one of three Old Testament “offices”:  prophet, priest, or king.  The pope eschews royal trappings, young guys call themselves 'prophets, priests, kings.' Click To Tweet

As three church planting voices describe:

If you’re a leader in the church, here’s a helpful chart to think through strengths and inclinations using the grid of prophet-priest-king.
~ Justin Taylor, Triperspectival Leadership: Prophets, Priests, Kings, The Gospel Coalition

We like to talk about basically three categories of gifts or abilities or ways that people are hardwired. We talk about prophets, priests, and kings…
~ Mark Driscoll, Acts 29 Church Planting Network

Is there a test that will tell me if I’m more of a prophet, a priest, or a king? I’ve gotten this question a lot lately, and to my knowledge, no such assessment exists.

~ James Munson, with Acts 29 and author of Prophet/Priest/King church planting leadership materials including Triperspectivalism: Prophet, Priest, King – Leadership Teams Built Around Jesus


New Church Planting Vernacular

Although this term “triperspectivalism” (I finally have learned how to spell it!) may sound foreign, debating whether one is a “prophet, priest, or king” has become a popular new parlance across much of the church planting subculture. Yet as church planter Luke Cirillo describes in a 2015 article in Christianity Today, Pastors, We are Not Kings:

“I remember the first time I heard the idea. I was out with some friends at a coffee shop in Portland. We were surrounded by old burlap coffee sacks from places like Ethiopia, sitting on worn leather couches and discussing, as we often did, church ministry. One of my friends was explaining that every person fits into one of three broad categories for ministry: prophet, priest, or king. From pastor to lay person to barista, all people (whether they knew it or not) can identify their ministerial role through one of those lenses.”

While the word “people” is occasionally used in this prophet/priest/king leadership schema, if you google “church planting” “prophet-priest-king” “leadership” and peruse what you find, you will quickly see a lot of young guys talking this prophet/priest/king typology. There are no “queens” in this taxonomy!

If you are new to this new church speak, you might be thinking “What century are we in?” Is this for real? We may still be enamored by the British royal family and all, and a lot of us got into the song Royal, but didn’t we leave monarchy in another century? And as Protestants, didn’t we a few centuries ago shift away from a theology that viewed some people as a priestly caste with a divine right to rule? What about the “priesthood of all believers?” When did protestants adopt divine right of kings? And wait, no queens? Click To Tweet

Is This Mormonism?

I first stumbled upon this “band of brothers” “prophet-priest-king” leadership construct when looking for materials for a mother-daughter weekend with my then 11-year old daughter. I was stunned to find many Christian para-church ministries that have been part of my own religious journey, such as Cru’s Family Life Today, advocating this “male-is-prophet/priest/king” gender construct for parenting girls and boys.

Needless to say, I said no thank you, to all these lovely resources advocating girls not develop independence and wait to be led by a patriarch. I’ll stick with the American Girl curriculum and raise my daughter to be an empowered human to grow into her own native God-given agency.

When describing this to a friend, he poignantly asked “Are you sure they’re not Mormons?” He was joking, but there are in fact many parallels. In the Mormon Church, 11-year-old boys are anointed and welcomed into “the Aaronic priesthood.” It doesn’t seem that much different that grooming young guys barely out of seminary to type themselves as a prophet, priest, or king.

In Mormonism and this new church planting subculture, this young male priesthood keeps spiritually mature, adult women at the margins of church life.

A Better Script

Triperspectivalism seems to be a new evangelical script that many organizations and networks are cross-pollinating into leadership tools and strategies. These tools are used to train church planters, specifically planting churches geared toward millennials. In these circles this language has become as common as the familiar Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

This imperial leadership construct is not readily seen on most church plants’ homepages, but is in fact a cross-cutting core theme across many of the organizations and networks that make up the vast church planting ecosystem here in Boston and across the country.

The better church planting/growth script we need today in the 21st c. is an ancient approach we see right at the outset of Scripture but sadly has eluded the church for too long: we are all a royal priesthood made in God’s image to share with our Creator in the “dominion” of the earth. A script that reclaims the essence of the Biblical Story to proclaim that the gifts of the Spirit are given to all of God’s children, sons and daughters alike.

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy…

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

~Acts 2:17–18

To drill down and read more firsthand sources of what Triperspectivalism is and what it looks like within the church planting movement, click here