Prophets and Pioneers, Preachers and Parishioner

People love causes. They love to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Seth Godin calls them tribes. I believe that every tribe is made up of 4 types of folks. I will use religious terms, but the same type of people exist in every tribe, regardless of their spirituality.

  • Prophets
  • Pioneers
  • Preachers
  • Parishioners

Prophets come first. They see the future – what it can be, what it should be, and at least a general idea of how to get there, and then lead the change. They set down the basic tenants of the cause and have a story and charisma that captures people’s hearts. Most causes have some figure at the creation that stands as a symbol of the movement itself.

Moses – a literal and figurative example – led the major cause of his day. He was led by a vision of freedom, gave his followers laws to live by, had a story that was worthy of Charlton Heston, and led the march through the desert to attain the Promised Land. Beethoven, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, and Adolf Hitler led a change and have become icons of their respective causes.

Pioneers follow prophets. Once a prophet has declared their manifesto, a few early converts will join them. These followers may only be known within the tribe, but are crucial in the building up of a critical mass that makes the idea take on a life bigger than the prophet. The New Testament pioneers – Peter, Paul etc – spent their lives, literally, to spread the Gospel of Christ. They weren’t trying to come up with their own ideas, just spread the ones that Jesus had already taught. Without devoted pioneers, an idea can live and die with its founder.

Preachers come later in the story. After a cause has been established, and people have pledged their allegiance, they like to be reminded of who they are and why they are different. The preacher helps to fill this need. The term “preaching to the choir” should probably be extended to the entire congregation. Having someone eloquently reinforce beliefs you already hold is a validating, satisfying experience. It is also very satisfying to the preacher, even financially rewarding. Bloggers like John Gruber of make a living off of preaching to a congregation of Apple fans.

Usually preachers orate with an understanding that no one but fans will listen. Preachers don’t usually change the group; they reinforce it. It’s hard to get paid when criticize or anger the people you are supposed to be validating.

Parishioners are the boring followers who don’t do much of anything for the group except just belong. They feel good about hanging out at the church, but they do it for the feel good, not for the movement.


Which are you? Probably not a Prophet, maybe a Pioneer, hopefully a Preacher. Or are you just a Parishioner watching someone else be passionate.

3 thoughts on “Prophets and Pioneers, Preachers and Parishioner

  1. Ok, so what category do those who preach less than comforting truths fall into? The best preachers and teachers I know inspire change, even if it may mean angering some of the parishioners. I know this wasn’t exactly your point…but I wondered how they would fit into your descriptions.

  2. They are my definitions, so they mean what I want them to mean :).

    I am not talking so much about preaching “truths” in the eternal sense of the word. I am talking about leading movements. If you need to make people angry to progress the movement, you are probably more of a pioneer. You are leading out in the cause and trying to get other people to be inspired by it. Preachers have to get paid, so they just say what makes people happy. Pioneers can risk it all.

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