This post is part of a series on building an apostolic and prophetic foundation. Links to other posts in this series can be found at the end of this article. The phrase ‘prophetic’ church’ can trigger many people. The area of the prophetic has a great deal of misunderstanding about it. A combination of ignorance and abuse has led to unhelpful stereotypes lodged in peoples minds. Some reject the concept of prophetic ministry or teaching entirely, arguing that the gift has ceased and is now irrelevant because we’ve got the ‘perfect’ Bible – ironically, sometimes using awful exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13:10, which neither refers to the Bible nor prophecy, to support their case. Others are nervous about the prophetic because they have had painful encounters with ‘prophets’ who have pretty much verbally abused them ‘in Jesus name’, presenting the God of Love as one who loves to shout and condemn people for sin and judgement.
Unfortunately, prophetic ministry and teaching has received a bad rap. I felt strongly enough about it to write a book called ‘Hearing the Heart of Heaven’ that shows biblically and practically the importance of the prophetic gifts, ministry and teaching, why we should grow and develop them, and how we can do that. (I’m giving away a free chapter so you can see what you think.)
One of the Ephesians 4 ‘fivefold‘ ministries is the ministry of the prophet. Elsewhere I argue that all five-fold ministries are key in shaping the culture of every local church. So a prophetic church, really, is a biblical church, one with the influence of prophetic ministry and teaching flowing into and out of it. That moves us on to prophets. What are they!? It’s a loaded word because of some of the cultural (mis)understandings I mentioned, but it’s important we understand Bible words biblically, and not culturally.
‘Prophet’ comes from the Greek ‘prophetes’. It is a word derived from the combination of two other Greek words – ‘pro’ (before, as in either earlier before or in front of) and ‘phemi’ (say). The idea is someone who stands before someone and speaks, like a messenger. It was used to apply to messengers of the gods or God, who would be those who bring inspired speech. There is this sense, then, that prophets both forthtell and foretell. Forthtelling involves saying what is unknown in the present – revealing the heart of God right now – and foretelling involves saying what is unknown about the future – revealing the heart of God for tomorrow.
Simply put, prophets share the heart and mind of God. They flow in prophetic teaching and ministry. I look more fully at prophets here.
This definition holds scripturally. Christ came into the world and presented the heart and mind of God, through his words, his works and his wonders. He perfectly demonstrated what God was like and left people in no doubt about what was important to God, and what actually wasn’t. Yes, Jesus foretold the future, but he also ‘forth-told’ the present, sharing and displaying his feelings when confronted with the lost, the lonely, the sick and the broken.
A prophet, then, is not purely about pronouncing judgement or revealing sin in people. Jesus did that, but it was most definitely a minority focus of his prophetic ministry. Interestingly, the majority of those occasions seem directed towards those with religious attitudes who consider themselves acceptable before God and look down on others!
Prophets are not meant to be obsessed with obscure doctrines and teachings, or have single-track minds on so-called ‘higher revelations’. Again, Jesus didn’t demonstrate that prophetic ministry style to us. The prophetes is a man or woman who speaks for God, whilst demonstrating God’s heart. Talking about God’s love in a way that isn’t loving is nonsensical in New Testament thinking.
Not everyone who prophesies is a prophet, as I’ve written about elsewhere. There are a number of indicators of a true prophet. A key one is that anyone a prophet leads and influences should be prophetic. They should be growing in how they can hear from God, speak for God and show the heart of God. This is healthy prophetic teaching and ministry. This leads us to define what a prophetic church is.
1. A prophetic church is shaped by a prophet or prophets
Prophetic churches are shaped by a prophet or prophets. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the leader is a prophet. In fact, it can be very dangerous if a leader announces that they are a prophet when they evidently aren’t. Prophetic influence into a church means that there is the influence of a prophet in the church, probably via relational links with the leadership. Whether the prophet(s) are located in the church or are external to the church, visiting and inputting periodically, they should shape the church and help develop prophetic culture.
2. A prophetic church pursues encounters and experiences with God
The very essence of the prophetic ministry is built around encounter – encountering God and leading others to encounter Him. The prophetic, to express the heart of heaven, must be shaped by the heart of heaven first. Words like ‘encounter’ and ‘experience’ might seem like buzzwords or emotional terms, but it is clear through scripture that God loves to interact with His people. The God who called Abraham ‘friend’ is the same God who wrestled Jacob in the dirt, and who let little children sit with Him in first-century Israel.
Some individuals may have mystical and unusual experiences with God, but this is a scriptural principle so should not be dismissed out of hand because they do not fit our own grid. Whether the experience is like one in the Bible or something unlike anything scripturally, we judge and assess by the fruit just as Jesus advised us to. That’s true for all things of the Spirit. Corporately, a prophetic church shows its hunger for encounter with a passion for worship.
3. A prophetic church is passionate about prayer
Prayer and intercession is the lifeblood of a church. The book of Acts shows us that when God’s people gather together to pray, things happen. There is a unique transaction that happens when a corporate body prays – as they share their heart with God, He shares His heart with them. In effect, this is what the ministry of intercession is – prophetic prayer in line with the heart of God for the world around them. God reveals His will to us, and we pray in line with His will. This is part of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus modelled for his disciples when they asked Him to teach them to pray. A praying church, touches, moves and is moved by the heart of God. There is no more intimate thing.
4. A prophetic church embraces all the gifts of the Spirit
The Corinthian church had all the gifts but didn’t minister them in a way that was honouring to God or to each other. Paul counsels them in his letters to them to bring some structure and format to the sharing of revelation. This principle is enlightening; if it is true that prophetic gifts need to be focused to get the best of them, then could it be true for other gifts? Gifting is a peculiar mixture of the work of God and work of man, meaning we need to apply skill and development to maximise what God has put in us.
Corporately, this means that if we favour some gifts over others (prophecy, or healing, or teaching, for example) we actually downplay others. The church needs hospitality, works of service, and administration just as much as it does miracles and tongues. The expressions and manifestations may look different, but a prophetic church understands that all gifts showcase aspects of the heart of heaven. Therefore, they promote, develop and steward all.
5. A prophetic church promotes a deeper inner life
One of the great dangers of Christianity is that it becomes about something other than Christ. If it becomes about church leadership, or prophecy, or healings, or evangelism, or doctrine, or whatever other than Christ, then we have to ask the question “what are we abiding in?” Prophetic churches, because of their heart for authentic spiritual communion with God, pursue healthy inner lives for their people. This means there will be teaching and resources on subjects like identity, inner healing, deliverance, spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. Without this focus, the church runs the risk of becoming a place where the external and internal as in disparity. Activity can trump attitude. When this happens, the church can become a place of moralism, intellectualism or activism, without any real or authentic spirituality.
6. A prophetic church prioritises personal and social righteousness
In the Old Testament, the prophets were God’s spokesmen. They functioned like his covenant enforcers, telling the people – and kings – how God saw their side of keeping covenant with Him. Irrespective of the prophet or manner of communicating, three issues recurred throughout their ministries – idolatry, immorality and injustice. The prophets warned the people when they followed false gods (idolatry), embraced sinful lifestyles (immorality), and mistreated the widows, orphans and strangers amongst them (injustice). God cared a lot about these three issues then, and He still does now.
The heart of heaven hasn’t changed, and so the prophetic role still will involve speaking out about modern-day idolatry, immorality and injustice in individual lives, in the church, and in society at large. The prophetic church both ‘speaks out’ and ‘speaks to’, meaning the church should care about injustice when it happens, and seek to see an increase of righteousness and holiness when it addresses issues. A church that is failing to speak, or act, about injustice on its watch is one that is not representing the heart of God well.
Ultimately, we can define prophetic ministry and teaching as ‘connecting people to the Presence of God so they see, hear and feel Him for themselves’. It reveals the heart of God through words and actions. Prophetic teaching and ministry is not just about judgment because God is a God of Love. It is also about his kindness – which leads us to repentance – and His mercy, grace, and goodness. The prophetic presents God for who He is, not who we or others think He is. This is how the church should live in the world, not known for being apathetic or against things, but being for people and caring passionately about righteous causes.
These signs of a prophetic church are not exclusive – there may well be more. But I’d argue that these are essential. If any one is lacking, the church isn’t functioning wholly prophetically. As I’ve said before, I believe all churches should be prophetic – it shouldn’t be a unique thing!
What should be unique is the individual church’s prophetic vision. This is derived from what God has been speaking prophetically to the church and its leaders historically. This vision sets out the destination; the prophetic culture in the church helps generate energy to move forward towards it.
This post is part of a series looking at building an apostolic and prophetic foundation. The posts are:
- Building An Apostolic and Prophetic Foundation
- Defining an Apostolic Church
- Defining a Prophetic Church
To learn more about how I help churches like yours build an apostolic and prophetic foundation, click here. You can also take one of my free church health assessments to learn how healthy your apostolic and prophetic foundations are.
You can also learn about my book on prophetic culture by clicking HERE.