The funny thing is, I have no aversion to digging out a commentary and poring over a lexicon to determine what Ezekiel and Zechariah were saying in their sometimes-enigmatic prophecies.
Now, I would never suggest that the words of modern-day prophets should be handled with the same reverence as the oracles of biblical prophets that have found a place in the canon.
But, any time God speaks--or we think He may be speaking--we should listen up, discern and apply what we hear ... whether He chooses to speak through the pages of Scripture, the lips of a prophet or the mouth of an ornery donkey.
Why? Because when the God of the universe speaks to His creation through prophecy, it is an act of great mercy--especially since He has already spoken in Scripture.
Some may say that God has said all He ever needed to say in His written Word. They're right. But more than bringing new revelation, prophecy is often most valuable when it reminds God's people of what He has already said. Consider the warnings and judgments of the major and minor prophets, which ultimately have their foundation in the covenant stipulations of Deuteronomy.
The two most prolific authors of Scripture, Moses and Paul, both lamented not the abundance of prophecy but its dearth.
Several Israelites came to Moses complaining about the spontaneous outbursts of unexpected prophets Eldad and Medad, and Moses replied, "'I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!'" (Num. 11:29, NIV).
Paul echoed Moses' sentiments when he said, "I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:5).
This enthusiasm for the prophetic was not born out of inexperience. Both Moses and Paul were aware of the controversy that prophecy would bring the people of God. But they were more concerned about the spiritual famine Amos speaks of--"a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (see Amos 8:11).
Sure, God doesn't have to send us prophets, but isn't it just like Him to give us a second chance to listen and obey?
As you read this issue of Ministries Today, I pray that you'll be challenged to embrace prophetic ministry. Fraudulent prophets will always be with us, as will sneaky evangelists, abusive pastors, heretical teachers and power-hungry apostles.
But, if we allow our fear of the counterfeit to shake our faith in the authentic, we may miss out on hearing God speak.
I've worked with pastors whose skills and professionalism could have landed them high-paying jobs in the business world, and I've served others whose gifts were better suited for the Teamsters' union. Tommy Barnett, whom I had the privilege of interviewing for this issue (see "Dream Weaver," page 38), belongs in the first group.
Pastors of large churches like Phoenix First Assembly aren't entrusted with their burgeoning flocks just because of an ability to manage programs and invent new church- growth schemes. God has seen fit to bless their ministries because He has created them with gifts tailor-made for their unique situations.
From my brief time with Pastor Barnett, here are a few observations of the types of people that God often calls to fulfill the ministry of the shepherd:
Simplicity: While the world may extol the virtues of a complex person able to weigh options, calculate risk and analyze potential, a good pastor keeps it simple: "Preach the Word, and love people," my father--himself a pastor--once advised me.
It's not that a pastor is disengaged from the complexities of life, but he or she has the ability to immediately sift through challenging enigmas, separating the eternal from the temporary. It's no wonder that the effective ministry of a pastor surrounds the three things that are anything but temporary: God, His Word and people.
Focus: Successful pastors like Tommy Barnett have the uncanny ability to focus--not just on the lofty goals that keep them in the prayer closet and the board room, but also on the individuals who sit in their offices seeking counsel.
When you're in a room talking with Pastor Barnett, you and he are the only ones there. Not that this comes naturally. If anything, the gift of focus is one that must be honed and practiced, as one's ministry grows and one's sphere of influence broadens.
Dependency: Once again, this is not a sought-after quality, but without it a pastor will become a smoldering wick in a matter of years. Leaders like Tommy Barnett constantly extol the value of those whom they lead, recognizing that their effectiveness is contingent on the partnership of those who share their visions. They have learned to depend on God--and others.
Good pastors revel in the productive service of those whom they lead--even when it has the potential of eclipsing their own ministries. Unthreatened, they recognize this for what it truly is: an indication of their own fruitfulness.
May God raise up more pastors like Tommy Barnett--simply engaged with the things that matter, focused on God and His people and willing to take the risk of dependence.