Prophecy as a Gift to the Local Church
A few years ago, I attended a prophetic conference where a guest minister was preaching and prophesying. It was an amazing confernce and God used this man to minister in a profound way through the gift of prophecy. However, what stuck out to me was not the prophecies given, but a particular conversation I had with an acquaintance.
Before starting the service, this quaintancean said to me, “I hope I get my destiny tonight.” When he said this, I was startled. I remember looking at him completely confused. I asked him if he would repeat what he had just said. “I hope I get my destiny tonight,” he replied. I tried to help him understand that the purpose of prophecy is not to give you your marching orders or “destiny” but to encourage the work that God is already performing in your life. Sadly, my conversation was to no avail. Sure enough, the conference came and went, and he never received a prophetic word about his “destiny.” To this day, that man is still sitting on the sidelines (i.e., in the church pews) waiting for his marching orders.
I share this story because many believers spend their lives longing for what they think is destiny, all the while not realizing that they are looking for an escape from ordinary life circumstances. This is not the purpose of the gift of prophecy!
Prophecy is a gift to the church as it pursues its mission on the earth. It is not for individuals who desire to pursue their glory. That is fortune-telling. We must keep in mind that when Paul the apostle wrote about prophecy, his recipients were members of local churches. This is essential to remember, particularly in our culture that so strongly emphasizes independence and individuality.
There are to be no lone rangers in the kingdom of God. The scripture calls us into community and interdependence, where every person is an essential member of the body of Christ. This is the framework that Paul had in mind when he wrote to the church in Corinth concerning the gifts of the Spirit.
He begins by addressing the nature of spiritual gifts and then quickly follows up with an exhortation to use these gifts to encourage the body of Christ:
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ (1 Cor. 12:7-12).
Essentially, Paul teaches that to isolate oneself from the local church is to separate oneself from the gifts of the Spirit. With this in mind, I want us to explore a few practical ways to give the gift of prophecy a proper place to flourish (i.e., in the life of a local church).
1. Give Prophecy a Place of Honor, Not Stardom
Although it may be exciting to think that certain people have access to infallible two-way communication with God, the truth is that no one does. We are all cut from the same cloth. God knows and hears every prayer we pray, but we should not pretend that we are always perfect in hearing or perceiving his voice at all times. This is not to say that God cannot use the gift of prophecy in powerful and unusual ways, but no prophet or prophecy is to replace our dependence on Jesus and the scriptures in our lives. Prophets and people used in prophetic ministry are just as subject to failures and defeat as everyone else (ex. 1 Kings 19).
2. Provide a Safe Environment and Clear Prophetic Protocol
As we covered previously, 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 commands us that we are to test prophecies. Instead of testing them retroactively, perhaps we should test them proactively before they are given. In many churches, the only process available for giving a prophetic word is to yell out at the top of your lungs during a pause in the worship music. This is both unhelpful and very impractical. Just as a mechanic tests a car before he approves it to be on the road, we should set up a process where believers can share what they feel they are sensing and discern if it is for the corporate body.
In many churches today, there is little room for the gift of prophecy to operate. Because of this, people feel the need to cry out during a lull in the worship music. While the gift of prophecy may be at work in that expression, that particular display is more a cultural preference than a biblical precedent. The New Testament gives us no indication that the gift of prophecy was an uncontrollable ecstatic expression. It shows the very opposite:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:29-33).
Paul goes so far as to tell the Corinthians that prophecy is both spontaneous (“if a revelation is made to another sitting”) and controllable (“you can all prophesy one by one”). As leaders, we must ask the question, how can we give each believer the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to use them in the gift of prophecy, not just those willing to shout out in the middle of service?
I believe the solution to this problem is quite simple. Designate a pastor, elder, or church leader to hold a
“prophecy microphone” where believers can come and share their prophetic word with a leader. This appointed leader can then test the word to see if it is a timely exhortation to share with the corporate church body.
This may sound restrictive, but the opposite is true. First, not everyone gifted in prophetic ministry is an extrovert or has the vocal strength to shout out in the middle of a worship service. Second, the person delivering the word can proactively test the prophetic word before they begin to cry “wolf”‘ and put their credibility on the line. Third, this provides an opportunity for the church’s leadership to affirm the gift of prophecy—to affirm that the person sharing the prophetic word is a person of integrity and in right standing with the church. Lastly, a “prophecy microphone” gives the church the ability to record the prophetic word. This allows the church to pray and steward the leading of the Holy Spirit faithfully.
3. Offer Practical Training (Equip Prayer Teams)
If we desire to see the gift of prophecy operate in our church, we must make intentional space to see it flourish. Just as the gift of healing operates when people learn to pray for the sick, prophecy operates when believers learn to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in their lives. While it is vital to teach on spiritual gifts on Sunday mornings, this is only one of many subjects that must be covered to bring the church to maturity. Thus, it is best to offer special training for people interested in learning and growing in the prophetic ministry. It is also essential to train your prayer teams to be open to the gift of prophecy. This is the most practical way to introduce the gift of prophecy into a local church’s life without it becoming a distraction. With proper training, make specific times available during services to allow people to receive prayer and be ministered to as the Holy Spirit leads.
4. Empower Every Believer
The word empower means “to give someone the authority or power to do something.” In the context of the gifts of the Spirit, we know that we do not have the power or authority to make someone prophesy. However, as church leaders, we undoubtedly can restrict people from functioning in the gifts of the Spirit. To avoid undue restriction, Paul warned Timothy and the leaders at Corinth in this way:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies (1 Tim. 5:19-20).
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39).
A Leaders’ responsibility is to foster an environment where every church member has the ability to be used by the Holy Spirit should he desire to move through them. In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul paints a picture of a church service that exhibits harmonious order and beautiful freedom where every believer can be used spontaneously by God. We should settle for nothing less than every Christian, realizing that God can use them both inside and outside the church. Leaders are called to train and equip every member to realize that they are a part of the royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9). Why? Because the “great commission” will never be fulfilled from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.
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