Understanding the Prophetic Function

What does it mean to be a prophetic church, a prophetic body of people?

To fully answer this question we need to see the big picture of exactly what Jesus has called his church to be. As much as I love prophetic ministry and mentoring prophetic people, there is more to an holistic prophetic culture than just activity and experience: we need a broader paradigm than is currently found in many charismatic churches. If all we focus on is giving people prophecies, we miss out on the breadth and depth of prophetic spirituality. If all we focus on is prophets, we miss out on seeing the way the church itself can be prophetic in its very nature.

So to understand the prophetic function of the church we have to step back a little bit from prophetic ministries and individual callings, and begin to view the church in terms of who we are called to be as the Body of Christ. The prophetic function is part of the church’s intrinsic identity and purpose: how we are shaped and defined. We are called to be a prophetic community, and this community needs to look like Jesus.

As I said in my last blog, our number one goal as the Body of Christ should be to imitate Jesus as closely as we possibly can. The church is defined by Jesus: it is Jesus who shows us who we are and what we are called to do. All authentic Christian ministry is based on him. The church, by its very nature, is called to be Jesus-shaped, and the fivefold ministries from Ephesians give us a clear perspective on what a Christ-like church should look like. Jesus has given these five identities to the church so that we can be all that he has called us to be, fully representing him in the world.

So as we consider how the church in its very nature can be prophetic – embodying the prophetic function – we need to embrace the prophetic pattern we see in the life of Jesus. Our life as a prophetic people must be directly formed around the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. We can only define a prophetic church according to Jesus’ ministry as the true and perfect prophet.

When we look at Jesus’ life and ministry we see that he is uncompromisingly prophetic in a whole host of ways:

  • He is the revelation of the Father: he perfectly shows us what God is like.
  • He is the Word of God in flesh.
  • He is the mediator of the New Covenant between God and people.
  • He confronts evil and breaks the power of sin.
  • He calls people to return to God and live righteously.
  • He speaks truth to power (both religious and secular).
  • He only does what he sees the Father doing.
  • He is led by the Spirit and ministers in the power of the Spirit.
  • He prioritises prayer and worship.
  • He speaks prophetically of the future.
  • He discerns the hearts and minds of people.
  • He challenges injustice and unrighteousness.

Jesus is the perfect expression of the prophet and so gives us the blueprint for a mature, holistic, multi-faceted way of being the prophetic church. We need to be prophetic in the way that Jesus was prophetic. Not just as individuals but as a Body with a collective prophetic consciousness.

The really good news is that as we choose to emulate Jesus’ prophetic role in our churches we get to participate in his very work and ministry as the greatest prophet there has ever been. The prophetic function is deeply rooted in the person of Jesus. In building a mature, holistic prophetic culture in our churches we are continuing his work, not having to manufacture something new. And as we do this, Jesus will be more present in our midst as his perfect prophetic identity gets expressed through his people.

So what does a prophetic church look like?  Here I’m using the 3-dimensional pattern of Jesus’ life as a framework for casting a vision for what the mature Jesus-shaped prophetic community can look like:

Upwards to God: Deep spirituality

As a prophetic church we have a passion for the heart of God, desiring to feel what God feels.

We prioritise worship, prayer, and the presence of God.

We are prepared to challenge idolatry and cultivate a hunger for holiness and obedience.

We create a culture of intentional and expectant listening, making space for this in all parts of church life.

The presence and holiness of God is tangible and accessible.

Our church is a place where people’s personal covenantal relationship with God is encouraged and enhanced.

We are developing a culture where individuals have confidence they can hear God for themselves.

Inwards to each other: Thriving prophetic ministry & community

We prophetically reveal the Father’s heart in the way we love each other.

We help each other connect with God’s heart so that together we are strengthened, encouraged and comforted.

The Spirit’s presence is manifested through his revelatory gifts as we meet together.

We demonstrate prefigurative community – radical, holy, covenantal – witnessing to God’s presence and power.

We embrace a prophetic ministry that is servant-hearted, inter-generational and inclusive.

Out to the World: Bringing transformation

We rejoice in revealing the true nature of God to the world around us.

We are connecting with God’s heart for the neighbourhood, city and nation.

We are walking in the power of the Spirit as we serve our communities.

We take a stand against injustice and unrighteousness and share God’s concern for the poor and oppressed.

We confront powers and principalities.

We are not afraid to speak truth to power.

This is the prophetic function alive and well in the church of Jesus. This is the prophetic ministry of Jesus reflected in his people. This is the big picture of the prophetic church. And be encouraged: it’s not too difficult to get there!

Do We Look Like Jesus?

Jesus’ vision for his church is a beautiful thing. A body of people from every imaginable background, tribe, and walk of life. His Body here on earth, reflecting his light and glory. Loving like He loves, serving like He serves, speaking like He speaks.

But, honestly, how much do we actually look like Jesus?

This is a question that I’m thinking about a lot at the moment as I observe how we, the church, are responding to a broken world and a toxic political climate. A question that I’ve heard coming from a number of wise prophetic people. A question that opens the door to sanctified discernment – and boy, do we need plenty of that right now.

Surely our number one goal as the Body of Christ should be to imitate Jesus as closely as we possibly can. We’re His hands and feet; we’re His voice and touch. When the world has gone crazy we should be the ones radiating His compassion and healing presence.

One of the most urgent questions for God’s people to be asking in these turbulent and polarised times is to what extent our churches and ministries truly look like Jesus. Do our words, attitudes and actions mirror those of Christ? Are we speaking as He would speak and acting as He would act? When the world looks at us, do they see an accurate representation of the Good Shepherd and friend of sinners? Do they see Jesus in our midst? Christ will always be the only true measure of our authenticity, and if we are not faithfully representing Him, can we genuinely call ourselves His church?

We are Christ’s Body here on earth. He has designed His church to be the tangible expression of His glory and beauty, and as His church we carry His spiritual DNA. Our only role is to be exactly like Jesus: He wants a Jesus-shaped church!

For a brilliant perspective on what a Christ-like church should look like we can turn to the concept of the fivefold ministries that we find in Ephesians 4*. The gifts in verse 11 describe five different facets of Christ’s ministry. These gifts are for everyone and Jesus has given these five roles to the church so that we can be all that He has called us to be, fully representing Him in the world. As we engage with the five roles we are given the means by which to participate in His work. The beautiful thing about the fivefold ministries is that together they represent the ministry of Christ. Each one reflects a key element of the ministry of Jesus; in fact Jesus is the fullest representation and demonstration of all five roles.

It’s not just about individual calling though: it’s important to move beyond seeing the fivefold as just describing individual believers and get the bigger picture. We can understand the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching as functions of the church itself, implicit purposes embedded in the church’s identity and culture. The church itself is called to be a mature expression of the fivefold callings.

We can use fivefold thinking to give us a benchmark of all Christian ministry and church culture: the ministry of Jesus Christ Himself. We can ask this question of any church: do we observe a healthy and mature expression of each of the fivefold functions?

Do we see the mature apostolic church, engaged in the mission of God and looking like Jesus the ultimate ‘Sent One’?

Do we see the mature prophetic church, listening and responding to God and looking like Jesus the perfect Prophet?

Do we see the mature evangelistic church, proclaiming hope and the good news of God and looking like Jesus the greatest Evangelist?

Do we see the mature shepherding church, cultivating God’s loving and healing community and looking like Jesus the Good Shepherd?

Do we see the mature teaching church, illuminating God’s truth and looking like Jesus the master Teacher?

To get to this place – to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13) – we need to hear afresh the invitation of Jesus to come and learn from Him; to walk alongside Him and see the world through His eyes.

We need to lean a little closer to our Servant King and be defined less by what we believe and more by what we do.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love… Ephesians 5:1

 

*I’m giving a very brief overview here – for a much more in-depth approach to APEST and fivefold thinking I highly recommend the books ‘5Q’ by Alan Hirsch and ‘Primal Fire’ by Neil Cole

Trip to Novi Sad, Serbia

Last month I had the privilege of travelling to the city of Novi Sad in Serbia to lead a prophetic conference with a team from the Netherlands. I’ve asked Marleen, one of the team, to write up her thoughts about the trip.

The Holy Spirit had established a warm cross-European connection between our two churches the year before. Back then, a group of people from Crossroads Rotterdam visited ‘Protestantska Hrišćanska Zajednica’ in Novi Sad, to do some Alpha training with the Serbian church. This had been such a warm acquaintance that we from the Rotterdam group were delighted to be invited again – this time to support Cath Livesey in leading a conference on listening to God’s voice and prophecy.

This Protestant church, in the second city of Serbia, is considered a ‘mega church’ within the Balkan area. Since the Orthodox Church is the main denomination, with strong ties to the state government, there is very little acceptance of other expressions of the Christian faith. Especially because Eastern Europe completely missed out on the Reformation, this Protestant church is considered a religious sect. Understanding this, it was quite amazing to see about a hundred people attending the conference. People came not only from this church but also from smaller churches near the Croatian and Bosnian border.

Although I am familiar with the concept of prophecy, have attended the Prophecy Course, have read books about prophecy and had several opportunities to practice hearing God’s voice, I was actually a bit hesitant when arriving in Serbia. I somehow felt a pressure to ‘perform’. Which is silly because one of the most important things that Cath taught me through the Prophecy Course, is that it’s not about me and my effort: I hear God because I’m His child; it’s certainly not about striving.

It was really remarkable to be part of this conference, where so many people, men and women, young and elderly came together with a hunger for more of Jesus. The desire that we felt in the congregation to draw closer to Him was so inspiring and moving. And although most of the people had never received teaching on hearing God’s voice, hardly anything stood in the way for them to open up and hear His words and see visions. We were so encouraged to hear many stories of people hearing God and stepping out in prophecy for the first time.

During the conference there were several moments when we were asked to mix up and get into groups of two or three people in order to put theory into practice. At one point I formed a group with an elderly lady and a teenage girl, and we were asked to listen to God for prophetic words for each other. When, after a moment of silence during which we listened for the girl, I asked the elderly lady, “Did you receive a word or something?” She replied, “No, there was nothing.” So I asked again, “Wasn’t there anything, something that just popped up in your mind?”

And then, at first hesitantly but then more and more confidently, she started describing an image that she had for the girl in our group. It was very vivid and rather detailed. The girl was really was touched by the picture, and was certain that she should devote this to her personal prayers to receive more insight on it so that she could fully understand it. But most of all, this elderly woman receiving her first ‘word’ from the Lord, was a great encouragement for the three of us!

There were many experiences like this: people whose relationship with Jesus is very strong and loving, but who, up till now, were ignorant of the way God speaks to us to encourage others. It really humbled me that only a few nudges and simple encouragements were sufficient to activate that communication with Jesus. It wasn’t us, the people from Western Europe, who brought the gifts. We weren’t needed there. God’s love for His Serbian people, and their love and desire for Him is enough.

This also became clear to me right before the conference started. The Dutch team was asked to offer ‘prophetic appointments’, where people could come at a set time and receive some prophetic ministry. Our job as team was to listen to God and ask Him, “What do You want this person to be encouraged with? What image or words of knowledge do You want us to pass on to this person?” So I sat with one of my Dutch travel companions, and a young lady came to sit with us. We closed our eyes and we brought this woman in God’s presence. And with my eyes closed, I saw her standing on a pedestal, with her arms open wide, face up towards a beaming light. In this image, the expression on her face was of pure joy – it looked like she was fully soaking up the warmth and the light. Then I opened my eyes and looked at her in ‘real-time’ – and she had exactly that expression on her face! She smiled with her eyes closed and she looked so happy.

I was drawn to tears because of this precious moment. I asked her why she looked like that, what happened to her at that moment. She said that it’s just that she loves Jesus so much and she loves to be near him. That touched me deeply. She had come to the conference to learn about hearing God’s voice. Prophecy was something that she never had received teaching in. But her relationship with Jesus was so apparent and intimate, that she only needed a bit of biblical reference and confirmation in order to activate the heavenly communication. Sharing with her the vision that I had about her was just a confirmation of what she already grasped.

We left Serbia richer than how we arrived.

Prophets Need Community

 

All the believers were together and had everything in common.”

Acts 2:44

Sometimes it just seems easier to go it alone.

For those of us who are ‘prophet-shaped’ and find ourselves drawn to prophetic ministry, there is often a temptation to turn our backs on the wider Christian community and run to Elijah’s ravine or John the Baptist’s desert: that place where it’s just ourselves and the voice of God.

After all, many of us need a place of quiet and solitude to be able to hear God clearly: a place where we don’t have to explain or defend our prophetic sensibilities; a place where we can pursue the sweet presence of Jesus uninterrupted.

And when we look at prophetic people in our churches we often find that they occupy those more isolated places: perhaps disconnected from a thriving community, and often on the very margins of church life. Isolation and separation are temptations for many prophets. When you can hear God so well by yourself it’s easy to end up thinking, “I don’t need anyone else – I can hear God!”  When you have encountered misunderstanding and even rejection because of your prophetic calling it’s very easy to emotionally and spiritually withdraw from the Christian community you are part of.

But an isolated prophet is an unaccountable prophet and this is a dangerous place for prophets to occupy. The most precarious place for prophetic ministry is right on the edge of things – a long way from the leadership, a long way from the central heartbeat of the church, a long way from accountable relationships. And in this place it’s all too easy for the prophet to end up being a critical voice outside the church – manifesting the spirit of independence and refusing to submit to any counsel or correction.

To gain a biblical perspective on prophetic ministry it’s important to see the huge shift that happens as we move from the old to the new covenant in respect to the role and ministry of prophets. The prophets of the Old Testament often had to minister as ‘lone-rangers’: they were sometimes a single voice in the midst of a corrupt and rebellious nation; often with a message addressed at unbelievers. They were working in isolation and alienation.

But the New Testament paints a very different picture of prophetic ministry and the context it operates in. Community is the crucial lens through which we must now view prophetic gifts, and as we look at the New Testament model of prophecy we see that its true home is a healthy, thriving community of God’s people. The church has become the centre of prophetic activity: a family of listeners, who discern God’s voice together.

New covenant prophets need community. It was all very well for the likes of Jeremiah and Co to minister in isolation, but under the new covenant a commitment to community is the deal for everyone, regardless of what our five-fold ministry is. Jesus never let his disciples do anything by themselves: they even had to find a donkey as a pair. So in order to have a balanced and fruitful ministry we have to overcome the challenges of community and pursue deep fellowship with our fellow believers.

It’s vital that prophetic people have a strong inward dimension to their lives, fully embedded in community, with healthy relationships with other believers. God created us to be social beings and his design for his church is that we are one body. In fact the love that Christians have for one another is the mark that identifies us as Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35). We are all called to live out our faith alongside others.

Prophets need a sense of belonging, so that when they bring a word to the church, they are listened to because they are part of the family. A leader’s job is to help prophets find a supportive community. But more important than that is the need to create a culture where prophets can gain a vision for community, so that they are able to maintain a soft heart towards the body – a heart to build up the body.

So we have to create an environment that draws prophets close to the centre and ensures that they are firmly embedded in community; a place where prophets feel loved, accepted, valued, and invited in. We want to create a culture that communicates that the prophets, and all that they bring, are valued.

A strong culture of community, enhanced by the right sort of language, is going to be key for the healthy development of prophets. A strong community will naturally create trust, and it’s worth recognising that many prophetic people have to overcome their fear of judgement and rejection in order to mature and thrive. It’s really important that prophets feel that they can trust their community not to reject them if they share revelation.

And a strong community will create an environment of healthy submission and mutual respect: the prophet is happy to submit to his/her leader because they are part of the same family.

If we are sensing the temptation to go it alone, here are some searching questions we can ask ourselves that will help us stay focused on loving and blessing our community:

  • Am I committed to my church community?
  • Am I submitted to my leaders?
  • Am I accountable about my life and my prophetic ministry?
  • Am I making myself vulnerable to others?