Not Word-Perfect: Understanding How Prophetic Ministry Works in the Church Today

Jigsaw puzzle pieceWhen we begin to develop our prophetic gift, it can be very daunting to step out for the first time.

We want to speak God’s message and share His heart and plans with people. However, we are faced with the certain fact that no matter how hard we pray, learn or try, we are never going to know or express God’s revelations completely (1 Cor 13:9,12).

It is true that the prophetic gift does sharpen and become more accurate with experience and Christian maturity. However, even mature, seasoned prophets in the church today are not infallible and do not get prophetic words 100% ‘word perfect’ all the time.

To understand the Biblical basis for this, let’s take a quick look at the difference between prophetic ministry in the Old and New Testaments.

Spiritual Gifts in the Church

‘For we know in part and we prophesy in part.’ (1 Cor 13:9)

In the Old Testament, prophets were expected to speak the perfectly inspired word of God. Many of the Old Testament scriptures were either prophetic in nature or written by prophets (Heb 1:1). If prophets did not speak a word that proved true, they were condemned as ‘false prophets’ (Jer 14:14-16).

However the New Testament portrays prophetic ministry in the church very differently to this. Like other spiritual gifts, prophecy is not meant to be a stand-alone ministry in the church. It is incomplete without the added value of other gifts in the church body (1 Cor 12:12), and is subject to being tested and weighed up (1 Cor 14:29, 1 Thess 5:20-21).

Imagine what it would be like if a prophet prophesied perfectly all of the time, or if a particular teacher taught 100% perfect doctrine, or if someone with a gift of healing was able to heal every sick person they laid their hands on! We would be tempted to revere and rely on the gifted person, instead of depending upon God.

Instead, God in His wisdom has ordained that we use His spiritual gifts by faith (Rom 12:6), and in interdependence upon each other.

The person prophesying needs those who have gifts of discernment, leadership and wisdom to complete their contribution to the church. He or she also depends upon other prophets to supply more ‘pieces of the puzzle’ of God’s revelation (1 Cor 14:29-33). Prophetic ministry needs an environment of humility, cooperation and grace to operate as Jesus intended it to.

Some Truths about New Testament Prophetic Ministry:

1. In the New Testament, the Lord has placed prophetic ministry within the reach of every believer.

It is on the heart of God that we be a prophetic people.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said,

‘This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 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)

Every Spirit-filled believer has the ability to prophesy. This scripture also tells us something about the prophetic language of the Holy Spirit: prophecies, dreams and visions. If this is the language of the Holy Spirit, then we need to know how to listen to and understand what He is saying.

2. In the New Testament, we see that there are different functions, or levels of prophecy in the church

Examples of these are:

  • The ability to prophesy available to every Spirit-filled believer (Acts 2:17-18)
  • A spiritual gift of prophecy. Note that Paul encourages all believers in the church to desire this gift (See 1 Cor 14:1,5,31)
  • The office of the prophet in the context of the five-fold ministries (Eph 4:11)

Even within these ministries there is variation in strengths and styles of gifting. As you seek to grow your prophetic gifts, you will discover that God has a unique expression and arena for your ministry.

3. The New Testament reveals that there are many different arenas in which the gift of prophecy can be used.

Some of these are:

  • Prophetic evangelism (John 1:47-51)
  • Prophetic ministry in the church (1 Cor 14)
  • Prophetic ministry to a church movement or across many churches (Acts 15:30-32)
  • Prophetic ministry to a group, region or nation (Acts 11:28)

4. Our church is the environment that God has ordained for us to develop and share our gifts.

No matter what the arena or level of prophetic ministry you and I are called to, it is important that we be accountable to our church and church leaders and sent out from a local church (1 Cor 14, Acts 15:30-33). The basic guidelines applied in the Bible to New Testament prophetic ministry apply to us today.

As a prayer leader in a church, my desire is to provide a safe place to nurture and grow prophetic people in their ministry every step of the way.

This means putting guidelines and protocols into place—not for the purpose of having a set of rules, but to provide a safe environment for:
•    those who are prophesying,
•    recipients of prophecy, and
•    church leadership

I also believe it is helpful, in growing a prophetic community, to provide a designated leader to give feedback on prophecies or to check prophetic words, before they are delivered.

In our church, we provide a place where individuals who are growing in their prophetic gift can have a go, sometimes get it wrong, and try again. As my team pastors and equips people with prophetic gifts, we watch in wonder, as the miraculous message from God transforms the lives of both giver and receiver alike. For New Testament prophetic ministry is not a work of perfection, but of grace in community.


Would you like to develop your prophetic gift?
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Check out our e-books page for more e-books related to prophetic and prayer ministry.


See also:

Differences Between Old And New Testament Prophecy

 Prophetic Ministry in the Church: Why Have Guidelines?

Signs that you have a Prophetic Gift

How to Develop Your Prophetic Gift


© Helen Calder   Enliven Blog

3 thoughts on “Not Word-Perfect: Understanding How Prophetic Ministry Works in the Church Today

  1. Ray Keefe

    Hi Helen,

    another excellent post.

    I personally find this to be one of the most frustrating things about the prophetic. The Old Testament prophets act so sure of their word, even when they are completely wrong.

    One good example is the story of Micaiah: 1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18.

    Here we see 400 prophets all speaking the same prophetic word in complete unity and with complete confidence. And all wrong. Only Micaiah knows the truth and the second passage explains what that truth is.

    Yet Jehoshaphat knows something is up. Notics how he asks if there is a prophet “Of The Lord” available. I wonder how the other 400 felt about that?

    The priniple for today seems to be the one you refer to in 1 Corinthians 14:32 where the “The Spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets”. Here we are called to work together in good order and with respect and mutual interdependence. Jointed and knitted together.

    So the truth is revealed to the body through the body and it takes multiple members to hear, weigh, synthesise and distil this truth. No more one-man-bands like in the Old Testament. The New Testament is about a Community Of Faith. My faith is part of our faith. My gift part of our gifts, my hearing part of our hearing.

    Ray Keefe
    http://www.successful.com.au

  2. Helen Calder Post author

    Yes, I love the concept of prophetic teams, which is brought out a lot in the New Testament. I also recognise that most mature prophetic ministries in the world today have great teams around them assisting in the ministry.
    There are so many advantages to working in a prophetic team–no one person gets the glory, a team working in combination will get more revelation than just one person, it is also a safe and accountable way to prophesy.
    In the New Testament you see less of the individual prophet and more of prophetic teams – e.g. Acts 15:32, Acts 13:1, Acts 11:27, 1 Cor 14:29, 31-32…
    fuel for another blog post!

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