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Pastors & Prophecy 101

How do you handle ‘prophecies’ given to you or spoken to your flock?

I've had situations tempt me to despise prophecies. How about you? So many lives have been shredded by misguided or manipulative "words from the Lord." So many church services have been divided by a veil of confusion—all because of a prophetic "word." No wonder Paul had to warn against "despising prophesying" (1 Thess. 5:20).

Harper's Greek Lexicon defines exoutheneo (despise) as "to make light of, to set at naught, to treat or reject with scorn." In short, the apostle's command prohibits anything that would mock, deride or cheapen the place of prophecy. In this sense, prophecy is a means by which several members may participate in a service, prompted by the Holy Spirit to relate ideas or thoughts—a "word"—that may edify, exhort or comfort. It is a word, always to be based upon and measured by the Word.

As a pastor, I need to:

• Deliver prophetic "words" God gives me.
• Respond to those "words" ministered from the assembly.
• Integrate vital "words" into the body-life.

How can I release this gift's blessing without confusion? First Corinthians 14:26-40 clearly says that a prophecy (that is, a truth God wants to remind us about or encourage us with) is to be judged. This means to evaluate it, to weigh what has been said in light of the Bible's teaching and so determine the place the message fits in the flow of a service. It also includes application—what ought to be done in response to the insight the "word" brings. (I lament the glib habit of applauding prophetic words as though the whole idea of the gift were to excite us.)

In my early ministry, I was uncertain how to welcome prophesying without inviting problems. Then I was introduced to the concept of "submitting the 'word.'" By submitting, I mean that anyone feeling God has given them a word first present the gist of the message to an elder. I believe this is as valid a fulfillment of the apostolic directive to judge the prophecy as if we waited until it is given publicly.

At first I wondered if this practice might obstruct the liberty of the Spirit, but instead I found it released ministry. Individuals sensing the Spirit's prompting with a word were liberated, and the congregation seemed freer to receive. This custom removed the person's appearing to be seizing the service at his or her own discretion. Members of the body learn to trust eldership who assist the release of the gifting within the assembly. Thus, when during a worship segment of the service a member submits a prophecy to an elder, our goal is to see that word ministered, not to repress it in a hierarchal manner.

At times a submitted prophecy is given almost immediately; another time it will be reserved until later in the service. On occasion the person submitting a word will be asked simply to receive it as for himself, not the body, or to reserve the word for another occasion as it doesn't seem to synchronize with this gathering.

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit of prophecy (see 1 Cor. 12:10) is given to profit the local assembly (see v. 7; 14:3-4). It's the leader's task to administrate its exercise—to release the Spirit's grace, not control it—and see that order and edification are balanced. It will help any congregation to delight in and respond to prophecies—not grow to despise them.

Jack Hayford is the founder of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif., chancellor of The King's Collge and Seminary and the president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.


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