This post is part of a series looking at Fivefold Ministry. This post focuses on the modern prophetic ministry of the prophet and considers the role prophets should play in the church. You can find links to the rest of the series at the end of this post.
The prophetic ministry is shown in both testaments in our Bible. We see demonstrations of prophets in both the Old and New Testaments, and they seem to be very different! The Old Testament prophet seems to call down fire from Heaven, speak words of judgement and warning to God’s people and the surrounding nations, have bizarre visions, or even carry out strange prophetic acts such as cooking food over animal dung or marrying a prostitute. Yet there is none of this in the prophetic ministry in the New Testament, which seems to have a very different flavour. Why is this?
The role of the prophetic ministry has changed because we are now living in a new and better covenant. We must interpret the teachings and examples of the old covenant through a new covenant lens. In some cases, this actually overrides certain aspects of the former covenant, with elements of the prophetic ministry being one such case. It seems foolish to live and minister in an Old Testament mentality when we should have a New Testament mindset.
If you are familiar with the overarching story of the Bible, you’ll see a recurring pattern in the Old Testament. Time and again, the people of God enjoy God’s blessing but then become complacent, embracing sin and compromise through idolatry and sexual immorality. God, in His kindness, sends a prophetic voice to them to warn them to repent, but the people (or the representative of the people, such as their king) refuse to listen. The judgement God had warned them about comes about, aimed at bringing them to repentance and therefore back into a healthy relationship with God. The nation turns back to God, and He blesses them. Repeat that a fair few times until the patience of God finally runs out about a thousand or so years after He initially gave the people His Law.
Because the nature of the new covenant is different from the old covenant, it follows that the nature and role of the prophetic ministry must also be different. One of the most striking differences between the covenants is that the old was all about works, but the new is all about grace. In the new covenant, the opportunity for intimacy is given, again and again. This reiterates why the prophetic in this age is to build up, encourage and comfort. New covenant prophecy is less about judgement and more about encouragement. A basis of love, as opposed to accuracy, is the measure of new covenant prophecy. Of course, we want accuracy, but primarily the scriptures show us the purpose of prophecy is love. An unloving prophetic word, according to New Testament standards, is a misnomer. The modern prophetic ministry should look very different from the models we see in the Old Testament.
What is a prophet?
A prophet (Greek prophetes) is a spokesman or interpreter of divine truth. They are someone who reveals the mind and heart of God through word and deed. We can define the prophetic ministry 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. It 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 modern prophetic presents God for who He is, not who we or others think He is.
Through the influence of one or more prophets, a healthy church receives prophetic ministry that creates an atmosphere primed for spiritual encounters with God. People will be hungry to experience the love and power of God for themselves because of what they see, hear and feel God doing within and through others.
How does the prophetic ministry of a prophet serve a church?
A prophet will serve a church broadly in a number of ways:
- Resourcing the church upwards towards the Spirit
- Cultivating an encounter atmosphere
- Developing authentic oracles
- Exhorting spiritual focus
- Discerning times and seasons
- Facilitating spiritual encounters
- Challenging spiritual drift
- Identifying injustice
Prophets develop authentic oracles
Prophets, in line with the mandate of the Ephesians 4 fivefold ministries, identify, develop, and deploy prophetic gifts in others. A prophet will disciple others and help them grow in hearing the voice of God for themselves and others. Of course, not everyone who prophesies is a prophet. I wrote more about this concept of prophetic equipping in my book titled ‘Hearing the Heart of Heaven.’
Prophets exhort spiritual focus
Simply put, the prophet ensures we remain connected to God in our worship and our lifestyle. They minister to make sure the church remembers ‘its first love‘. Worship, prayer and intercession are important to them.
Prophets discern times and seasons
The prophet frequently sees, hears and/or feels and speaks out the heart of God for individuals and for the church at large. These can take the form of prophetic words and revelation, and should always be loving, whether comforting, encouraging or upbuilding, in nature in line with Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians. Because of the nature of a prophet’s prophetic ministry, there will often be greater authority and weight to their revelations. They’ll have a greater insight into the spiritual realm and so prophets will often carry a sense what God is doing, or wanting to do, in the current and/or imminent seasons. This also means they will have an awareness and sensitivity to spiritual warfare.
Prophets facilitate spiritual encounters
Prophets generate and develop prophetic culture that lends itself to spiritual encounters. This is a mindset of priorities and practices in the church thinking that results in an atmosphere and an expectancy that is tangible when the church gathers. The heart of God is revealed and manifested in such a way that people naturally encounter Him in new and fresh ways, whether they are believers or non-believers. People are able to connect to God in such a way that they see, hear and feel Him for themselves. In a prophetic culture, believers and non-believers will consistently and frequently encounter God themselves and be shaped and changed. The modern prophetic ministry should shape every aspect of the church.
Prophets challenge spiritual drift
Prophets are passionate about connection with God, meaning they will care about areas of idolatry or immorality. They’ll challenge anything that shows spiritual backsliding, drift or stagnancy, whether that is individually or corporately. Hypocrisy will not be tolerated. Prophets will also frequently and regularly remind people of the covenant love and commitment of God, and stir the church to respond in kind with faithfulness and holiness – via repentance, if necessary.
Prophets identify injustice
Prophets are passionate about righteousness and holiness, which means they rail against unrighteousness, especially injustice. Prophets will speak out and give voice to causes and concerns that grieve the heart of God, whilst prepared to speak truth to power. This can be regarding issues on a societal level, or on a church level or personal level. They can be political, religious or economic injustices. Irrespective, prophets ‘feel’ the heart of God and often carry the same burdens and cares as he does, due to their unique connection.
The Office of Prophet amongst the Fivefold
We’ve seen how prophets work within a local church, but how do they impact other fivefold cultures?
- A prophet partners with an apostle by revealing the heart of heaven and ensuring it is voiced and heard in the midst of God’s mission. This prevents the apostolic from becoming driven, which could result in a program or performance-orientated leadership.
- A prophet partners with evangelists by equipping and empowering them for the supernatural, ensuring the sharing of the Kingdom and the preaching of the Gospel is not just words or through social action, but accompanied by demonstrations of love and power.
- A prophet partners with pastors by sharing the heart of the Father, which prevents any therapy or counselling culture by reconnecting the hurting, discouraged, despairing, wounded or broken-hearted with a God whose love brings breakthrough and transformation.
- A prophet partners with teachers by showing the supernatural is a part of spiritual experience as well as the preaching of the scriptures, ensuring the saints mature through a Scripture-shaped and Spirit-led life.
Without healthy prophetic influence that brings in a supernatural and experiential aspect focused on intimacy with God, a church can over-focus on supernatural ministry and ‘chase signs and wonders’, becoming experience-driven and shallow. Alternatively, if the overall modern prophetic culture is weak or lacking, the church can become a place of moralism, legalism, intellectualism or activism, all without any deep and authentic spirituality.
Prophets and The Modern Prophetic Ministry: Summary
The office of the prophet exists to ensure the church remains experientially connected to God’s love and power. Without it, the church could be missional without power, educated without experience, or pastored without transformation.
Jesus was recognised as a prophet by those he interacted with. He was passionate about what it was to live in connection with God, and he was equally adamant in opposition to anything that interfered with that relationship, whether religious or licentious. He opposed injustice, and ministered in love, power and truth. God is a Father, and a God of love and of power. He speaks, and things change. He acts, and situations are transformed. He is passionate about His people and seeks to minister to them, so they can minister to the world in His name and in His strength. These traits are embodied by the ministry of the prophet in the modern prophetic age.
You can read fuller descriptions about each fivefold ministry definition, and resulting cultures they create, in the following posts:
- Fivefold ministry: what it is and why it matters
- What are the signs that help us recognise a fivefold minister?
- What about apostles?
- What about prophets?
- What about evangelists?
- What about pastors?
- What about teachers?
- Fivefold ministry and church government
- Cultivating APEST Leadership
Each fivefold ministry is essential for any healthy, mature church. Do you know how strong your church in each of them? Are you strong in some, and weak in others? Do you know why? How did you test to see? To help churches like yours answer these questions and discover their fivefold health, I designed a FREE Fivefold ministry test for churches.
To find out more, and take the Fivefold Ministry test, click HERE.