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When I read Jim and Carolyn's teaching 8 on "Prophecy in the Marketplace," (the Prophetic Ministry, Rightly related to the Body of Christ series, MS 12), the Holy Spirit came on me and told me to write some follow-on lessons about effective prophecy in a "traditional" church or in a church that does not have a structure that encourages prophecy during the service.
The goal of my three part series is to teach people how to be effective prophetic ministers in churches that are not "predisposed" towards the prophetic.
What I have to say is a bit lengthly, so I am dividing it into three lessons. The first (part 1) will explore the bible basis for being an effective prophetic minister in "traditional" or "non-prophetic" church. The second (part 2) will give practical suggestions and the third (part 3) will share examples from my personal experience.
New Testament Basis Of Prophecy
1 Corth 12 and 14 are considered by many to be the defining chapters on new-testament prophecy. We get much of our understanding of how God intends for the prophetic to work in a new testament church. Unfortunately, sometimes we inadvertently "read into" what the bible has to say on the matter based on our own experiences. What I want to do is to look again at these verses and possibly bring a new perspective to them.
1 Corth 14:
- Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
- For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.
- But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
- He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
- I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
- Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?
- Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?
- Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?
In this passage, we see three important points. First, we see that it is appropriate for us to want to prophecy. Paul encourages this in the very first verse. It is a good thing to desire and God wants you to learn to hear His voice and to speak His words.
Next, we see that God's goal in prophecy is to build up the church or to build up those believers who comprise the church. Verse 3 speaks of "strengthening", "encouragement" and "comfort". Verse 4 says the goal is to edify the church, as does verse 5. Repetition is God's way of emphasizing a point. Since He repeats twice about prophecy being used to edify the church, we can conclude that this is very important to Him. In other words, the main goal of New Testament prophecy to believers is to build up and encourage, not to tear down and condemn. (Isn't it neat that Daddy God wants to encourage His kiddies!!)
Third, God emphasizes the importance communicating clearly in verses 5-8. We see three examples of this in these verses. The gest of this is that it is only helpful to speak/share when you are communicating to others in a manner where they understand what you are trying to share. In communication circles, this is called "effective communication." God desires we be effective when we speak for Him at His direction. I will go more into this later, but for now, suffice it to say that God does not want to communicate to His people in a manner where no one will understand what He is trying to say! In short, God is more interested in His message being received/understood than He is in any single style of presenting that message.
Verses 9 to 17 go on with more explanation about this, and about how the gift of tongues fits into this. Let us pick it up again at verse 18:
- I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.
- But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Verses 18 and 19 reaffirm what was already said in verses 5-8, God wants us to be understood when we communicate His words. This repetition emphasizes that it is important to God that we communicate His word to others in a manner where they will understand what He is saying. Verse 20 and 21 gently rebuke them for not knowing these basis.
Paul says something very interesting in the latter half of verse 22:
"prophecy, however is for believers, not for unbelievers."
Then he expands in verses 23 to 25 how prophecy, even though it is intended for ministry to believers, becomes a powerful evangelical tool when unbelievers are present in the meeting. Prophecy demonstrates the reality and the power of God. So we see God is able to doubly glorify His name through correct and effective use of the prophetic.
Then, Paul changes his focus and begins to describe and address a problem in the Corinthian church.. their services are seriously out of order... chaotic with everyone wanting to do their own thing and be heard rather than trying to facilitate with God what He is trying to do in the meeting. In verse 29-32, we see Paul explaining how to address prophecy in the context of this problem (which is a wide scope problem including but not limited to misuse of the prophetic in the service):
- Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.
- And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.
- For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
- The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.
- For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints,
Misunderstanding of this passage is where some get into trouble. Some read this passage to say that there must be an opportunity in the main church service for at least 2 or 3 to stand up and prophecy. And some, who attend "non-prophetic" churches, have actually gone to their pastors to demand their "rights" as they interpret them from 1 Corth 14. They demand the service format be changed to allow them to prophecy in the main service. (They do not realize that it grieves God's heart when they display that type of attitude.)
Some interpret those verses as saying that we must have a format for prophetic words in our services. But that is NOT what these verses are really saying. Remember the context.. Paul is speaking specificly to the Corinthian church. They have some specific problems. Their services are unrulely and out of order. Everyone was trying to have their own say, to talk over and interrupt each other and there is great disorder and confusion. This church already has the practice of people getting up and prophesying during the service. Unfortunately, they are not doing a very good job in how they implemented this, so Paul made suggestions to bring their services into better order. Why did he do that? He explained in verse 33 where he said, "God is not a God of disorer, but of peace."
What Paul is saying, in essence, is that we are not to insist on doing whatever we desire in the service. Instead, we must exercise self control (verse 32) and conduct ourselves in a manner that facilitates God's agenda for the service. At times God wants us to simply listen and prayerfully evaluate, rather than getting up and sharing. Paul looked at the style or format of their service, and then made adjustments to it so that it is "in order" instead of "in chaos". If I were to loosely paraphrase his intent of verses 29-31, it is "find the way to share God's revelations in a manner that is consistent with the format of your church service." Or paraphrased once again, "Find a way to minister propheticly that fits in with the style of your church and does not disrupt the service."
Main Points Of 1 Corth 14
To summarize, the main points of 1 Corth 14 are:
And we really cannot discuss 1 Corth 14 without looking back at the previous chapter. This chapter is known as the "love chapter" because it talks about how our motivation for any sort of ministry needs to be right.. it needs to be based in our love for the Lord and in our love and respect for our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, 1 Corth 13:2 says explicitly "If I have the gift of prophecy and can phantom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."
If our motivation is to build up and encourage in love, we will be able to find ways to minister the word of God that fit in with the style of the church that God has placed us in.
Understanding the Pastor's Perspective
Most pastors are not in it for the money.. because there is not much money in pastoring. Most pastors are not in it for glory or honor or recognition. That is a good thing, because there is very little glory, honor or recognition in pastoring. Most pastors do what they do because they love God and because they genuinely care about the body of believers that God has entrusted into their care. They desire to do what God wants and they do their very best to accomplish that, based on the resources and understanding they have at their disposal.
Some pastors may hold a theology that the gift of prophecy is not for today (e.g, be dispensationalists). But these same pastors usually believe in and encourage the spiritual gift of exhortation (or "edification and encouragements"). Some pastors may object to a member of their congregation claiming to speak "for God." But very few will object to someone caring and praying for a brother/sister and sharing what they believe God has put on their hearts for the person they were praying for.
You do not have to say "Thus sayeth the Lord..." so speak God's words of encouragement strengthening and comfort. If that offends the pastor or the people in your church, don't do it that way. Don't let them get so hung up on whether or not you can speak for God that they cannot hear the message God wants to communicate. Instead you can "share what you believe God put on your heart." Remember point 3, God wants His words to go forth in a manner that can be understood/received. Be creative and be flexible.. find ways to minister God's words that fit in with how your church conducts itself.
Remember that point 4 is to find a way to minister that works with the current structure and facilitates what God is trying to do there. In other words, work with your pastor and build into the work He is building. Be a faithful and sincere supporter, always there to speak God's words of encouragement and life in a manner that helps those in the church be "all that they can be" in Christ. Never tear down. Never fight for "your own style". Open your eyes and look at how things are done in your church.. determine how to fit in with them and facilitate what God is already doing there.
If you can't prophecy into a microphone for the whole service to hear, look for opportunities to get a word of encouragement and share it privately with someone. Perhaps your church has a ministry team and would appreciate helpers with that. If so, get on the ministry team and look to the Holy Spirit to show you how to best facilitate with Him what He wants to minister to the given person at the given ministry session. God may give you an insight or an encouragement that helps them immensely.
Or perhaps the church needs someone to telephone visitors and welcome them to the church.. think how effective you could be in that if God gave you little prophetic encouragements, casually spoken, that brightened their day or gave them a breakthrough. That type of thing demonstrates the love and power of God and makes them want to come back to the Church for more.
Remember, the pastor is looking for workers that he (or she) can trust.. he is looking for people who are motivated to build up the work God is doing in the church and to edify and encourage the people who comprise the congregation. This fits in so perfectly what what God desires to accomplish through New Testament prophecy.. so you have a perfect fit. Don't get caught up in theology debates or style preferences. Instead, demonstrate a heart and desire and ability to encourage and build up. Look for ways to facilitate what God is already doing there and how to work effectively in the existing system.. the Holy Spirit will help you figure out how to do that if your heart is right. And if the anointing of God rests on you, the gifting will make a way for you providing you don't sabotage yourself by fighting the existing system.
Pastors tend to welcome faithful and gifted workers who build up and strengthen the body and who speak encouragement and life. Pastors tend to welcome those who work with them to facilitate what God is doing in their church.
It is amazing how much you can move in the prophetic in a traditionally non-prophetic church if your heart and attitude are right and if you work with the existing structure instead of against it.
I will share more on how to do this in our next lesson.