The overly confident prophetic guest insisted that the offering be counted so they could celebrate. When it was reported that the offering from approximately 500 people was roughly $34,000, the prophet berated the people for their unfaithfulness to the Lord and their failure to hear and obey Him. The hosts, grateful for what they thought was a generous offering, were horrified yet unwilling to embarrass their guest by stopping him.
The man preached at the people a few more minutes and then offered them another chance to "obey the Lord." He insisted that another offering be received. When only an additional $6,000 was received, the nationally known speaker sat down with disgust.
Following the event, the hosts were overwhelmed with calls from pastors to businesspeople upset by the prophet's arrogant behavior. They forwarded some of the complaints for the prophet to answer—he did not. The hosts wrote him for an explanation and instruction on how they should handle the matter. He didn't acknowledge their concern, answer their correspondence or apologize to them. He ignored all.
From the failed Y2K disaster prophecies to "Jesus is coming back on Sept. 20" to "God told me He's going to heal everyone here tonight with back trouble," congregations and individuals are often left feeling betrayed and dishonored by the prophetic. Countless pastors have been burned by an itinerate minister rolling into town, dishing out grand prophecies and then heedlessly leaving them to deal with the messy aftermath. Their natural instinct is often to remain wounded, bitter and closed to further involvement with the prophetic—at least for a period of time. Yet the prophetic gifts, when used correctly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can usher in the blessings of God. Even the apostle Paul says for us to "not despise prophecies" (1 Thess. 5:20). But is that possible for pastors whose flocks have been injured, even abused, by misguided "words from the Lord"? What can leaders do to pick up the pieces?
Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater
Resolution often begins with a reminder. And in the case of questioning the overall purpose of prophecy after a misguided prophet hurts your congregation, it helps to remember God's original intention for this beautiful but powerful gift. A pastor's nature is to protect the sheep, which is why many leaders respond to major "prophetic messes" by shutting down prophetic ministry in the church and forbidding people from exercising their gifts. It's understandable, yet unnecessarily extreme.
Keep in mind that the gift of prophecy is the only gift that appears in all three "gift lists": Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. God has called each of us to prophesy (see 1 Cor. 14:5,39; Acts 2:17-21). This supernatural expression of the Holy Spirit is to be the natural experience of every believer. For this to be so, we must sincerely desire to prophesy (see 1 Cor. 14:1) and be equipped for this as we would be for any other ministry.
Prophecy isn't an optional ministry; it's essential for equipping the church (see Eph. 4:11-12). To forbid it is to undermine the very foundation of the church (see Eph. 2:20). Delivered in the right way, at the right time, in the right spirit, a prophetic word can be used by God to bring healing, restoration and deliverance. It can set churches and people in order, and it can evangelize the lost.
Proceed With Parameters
There is, of course, the negative side of prophecy that can cause incredible destruction. Even the early church had a problem with the prophetic. Yet Paul warned them that to despise the prophetic is to quench the Holy Spirit. He told them not to be gullible, but to test every good word and hold on to the truth (see 1 Thess. 5:19-21). Or as the proverb says, "Eat the fish and spit out the bones."
If the prophetic always seems to come with a host of potential problems, why bother guiding your people through the healing process? Why establish and publish guidelines for the prophetic? Because there will never be a day when you or your people don't need to be built up, encouraged and comforted (see 1 Cor. 14:3). We live in difficult days and can expect even harder times ahead. People need the confirmation, edification, exhortation and encouragement the prophetic offers.
To ensure this occurs rather than hurt, discouragement and confusion, we encourage pastors and regional ministry leaders to establish prophetic guidelines for words of knowledge and prophecy. Here are a few thoughts in that regard. 1. If prophetic words are allowed in a public worship service, consider designating a senior staff member to hear them and grant permission before they're shared publicly. Some churches establish a prophetic council for this purpose. The word may not be from the Lord or the timing may not be right.
Some prophetic types may view this as "pastoral control." They reason that no one approves the pastor's sermons—why should their word require approval? They overlook the pastor's role, responsibility and authority. God doesn't hold the prophet accountable for the pastor's sermons, but He does hold the pastor accountable for the prophetic words he allows to be spoken into the lives of his people.
2. Design a "revelatory form" for those who have a word for the church outside of a public service. Include a place on this for their name, telephone number, e-mail address and the date. Include small boxes they can check to indicate whether theirs is a dream, a prophetic word, a vision or a Scripture. Have them write the word they've received and explain their interpretation (if they have one), along with how they think it should be applied.
Also, explain to your people that once they submit the form their assignment is finished. The pastoral/ministry staff will pray over their revelation and ask the Lord for confirmation and direction.
3. Encourage those who prophesy not to give directional words to individuals in your church or ministry without pastoral approval. (These would be words such as "quit your job," "sell your house," etc.) Remember, the primary purpose for prophecy is to build up, encourage and comfort one another.
A Voice From Within
The day of the Old Testament prophet is over. In the Old Testament, the prophet was the voice of God to the people. The people and their leaders were dependent upon the prophet hearing God's voice. A false prophet was not someone who was inaccurate but someone who led people astray (see Deut. 18:15-22).
As New Testament believers, the Holy Spirit now lives in us and, according to Jesus, His sheep hear His voice (see John 10:27). Those with prophetic gifts typically confirm and clarify what God is already saying to us. For this reason, we encourage those giving prophetic words to:
• Speak in third person, not first person. Rather than say, "Thus saith the Lord: I, the Lord thy God, sayeth unto thee my child ..." interpret what you think you hear and say, "I feel the Lord would say to you ..." To give a word as if it's word-for-word from the mouth of God leaves recipients no room to judge the prophecy. After all, who would dare judge God's words?
• When offering prophetic words, follow up with something like, "I encourage you to seek a confirmation from the Lord concerning what I've just said to you." This isn't a sign of a prophet's weakness but of gentle strength.
• Speak in 21st-century, not 15th-century, English. Why would God speak to any of us today in Shakespearean English? Surely God knows that's not how we speak.
Pastor, if you are uneasy about a prophetic word given to your congregation, stand up and say so. The longer you wait, the more it will cost you. Say something like: "We should each judge the prophetic word just given to us. Let's submit what we've heard to the Lord and ask Him for clarification and confirmation if it's truly from Him."
We're convinced that greater damage has been done from pastoral failure to correct prophetic abuses than from the prophetic abuses. If you hear a word being offered in the wrong timing or in the wrong spirit, gently interrupt the speaker with grace and humility. You might say, "I feel that this word isn't for us at this time, thank you." By doing this, you communicate how much you love your people. Most prophetic problems could be avoided—or at least quickly resolved—if pastors and prophets had relationships of honor and respect.
It's also crucial that prophets understand their place in the church. When we were pastors we made sure that our people knew that "none of us is as important as all of us." It is better that you err on the side of protecting the sheep than protecting the prophet.
If your people have been wounded by a prophetic word, avoid sweeping the incident under the rug. That only communicates your lack of leadership. Instead, lovingly explain that we (including the one who wounded them) are all saved sinners, prone to error, who miss the mark at times and are growing in the prophetic. Even if you weren't the one who disappointed them, apologize for the misuse of the gift.
While the prophetic realm can be intimidating, pastoring it within a congregation can be overwhelming! Yet God has designed His church to include prophecy, along with other essential gifts. Learning to include this body part in a healthy manner often requires taking risks. At times, it will be difficult. After all, prophets (as Paul wrote about himself) "see through a glass darkly" and "prophesy in part." We're all prone to error. Although God spoke face-to-face to Moses, even to the best of us He speaks in riddles (see Num. 12:8).
Given that, we who purport to speak for God should always do so thoughtfully and humbly. And as leaders, we must encourage those who receive prophecies to offer grace and forgiveness when others—including you, the leader—disappoint.
Matthew 24 warns that false prophets in the end times will lead people astray and even deceive the elect, if possible. We need to be discerning, accountable and weigh every word purportedly from God by the Word of God. James encourages us to ask the Lord for wisdom. As leaders, we would do well to follow his advice. Because in the tumultuous days ahead, proper use of the prophetic will have immeasurable impact on the cutting-edge church or ministry that stewards it correctly.
Helping Your Church Heal From Prophetic Abuse
There's no quick fix when it comes to recovering from a damaging, misguided prophecy. Yet here are a few steps to take in leading your congregation through the aftermath.
1. Repent for the prophetic abuse. Even if you're blameless, consider some "identificational repentance" on behalf of those involved. You can do this without condemning or demeaning the prophet. (Explain that leaders are prone to error, too, and express your sorrow for the matter.)
2. Tell them exactly how they should view the person who delivered the word. For example: "He was sincere, but in my opinion was misguided in the word about ... We all miss it from time to time, and we learn from our mistakes. He still needs to grow in the prophetic." Of course, if the event was more grievous, a more serious and direct explanation may be required.
3. Explain the importance of forgiving, and lead them to forgiveness.
4. Lead them in a prayer of blessing for the prophet.
5. Remind them that they'll always be required to judge prophetic words.
6. Encourage them in the future to always hold such words loosely and await confirmations from the Lord.
7. Pray a pastoral blessing over them.