The exercise of the Prophetic in the Church

A while back, I wrote about prophetic speaking.

I wanted to add a little more to that, in how sometimes we have exercised this gift within the Church and where we have further to go.

Often, the Church has operated the gift of prophecy as a personal word, encouraging in nature. There is nothing wrong with that of course, however I would submit that it is insufficient.

In my experience, the Church often does not have the wider practice of, or the infrastructure to discern, prophetic word/s that are directive or corrective in nature or intended for a wider audience.

Prophecy can be understood as a mixture of foretelling and forthtelling. The former gets the headlines in popular culture, but the latter is usually the actual meat. When I forthtell, it is often about bringing matters to people that they already know at some level, but don’t want to hear. That’s part of the story – though typically any prophetic corrective word gets married with the heart of love the Lord has for His people. This is a cadence in the prophets that I have come to know well.

The prophet is the trouble-shooter, the burr under the saddle, the awkward voice that is out of sync and often saying uncomfortable things. Accordingly, they are not often very popular! The prophet can be pastor, bringing comfort; equally the prophet can bring challenge, stirring things up and bringing the metaphorical sword. Sometimes, and often, it is both. Whatever is brought, the true heart is to bring holiness – to bring the church in line and in step with the Holy Spirit, to be the true bride of Christ. The heart is love, even if the medicine is often unpalatable (and, to be fair, often spurned).

The wider Church (at least the more institutional churches) often has a skewed practice and use of the 5 ‘offices’ – Apostle, Prophet, Teacher, Evangelist and Shepherd; emphasising some much more than others. I think we are coming into a season where a more balanced use of all offices are going to be necessary to sustain and grow the Church. We are in dire need of being ready to endure – and to be a light that will attract those God is calling.

For Prophecy, it would be helpful for Churches to develop an infrastructure to allow the ‘harder’ words to be properly considered. To make a mistake giving a personal encouraging word has little downside. To err in giving a directive / corrective word to the wider congregation/church/nation has significantly more downside! The Church should be open to those kind of words, but also have a process in place where they can be prayerfully considered by wise, mature Christians, who would then provide direction in if/how to respond.

For me, the heart and burden that I have carried for years is best be explained in the vision of a church fully following in the steps of her Lord. Jesus footsteps took him to Calvary, and to the cross. The true Church will follow Him there.

This is the paradox of the Christian walk – it costs us nothing, and it costs us everything.

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