Prophetic Ministry, Reimagined Missionally

By Emerging Grace & Brother Maynard.

What happens when two post-charismatic pseudonymous emerging/missional church bloggers sit down for coffee to discuss their former involvement in the prophetic ministry, and try to imagine what it could look like in a missional context? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

Bro.M. – Grace, thanks for agreeing to this crazy idea. We didn’t end up with a lot of spare time to pull together a collaborative article that defines this whole thing, but what do you say we each pull up a chair, pour a couple of cups of fair trade, and at least take the idea for a spin? Rob tells me you were pretty involved in the prophetic ministry at the leadership level… tell me about that.

E.Grace – Brother Maynard, this would be a fascinating conversation to have with you in person. Let’s see how it goes over virtual coffee. My husband and I were involved in teaching and training prophetic ministry teams in our rural church. We did a little bit of teaching in other churches in the area and on occasion had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some prophetic superstars (who shall remain nameless).

A conversation ensued which compared our backgrounds and experiences, naming names and swapping war stories. Here we keep it nameless and observe that despite having been running in different circles during our charismatic/prophetic years, our experiences – both good and bad – are uncanny in their similarity. We were both engaged in teaching and leading propetic people and ministries as well as in prophetic ministry first-hand, both in ministry-prayer settings and "up-front" from the podium. The excursus ends roughly like this:

Bro.M. – It is very uncanny how close our experiences were. Obviously our CLBs (Churches we Left Behind) were in different cities and part of different "streams" but the parallels are very clear, differing really only by degrees here and there.

We talked about abuses… by church leaders and by prophetic people. It was clear that we’d both seen our share of excesses… but in the midst of it, we’d both seen the gift of prophecy accomplish powerful good in people’s lives.

E.Grace – What would we do differently? My husband and I both still feel strongly about the need to teach people that they can hear God’s voice. There is truth in the fact that practicing will develop the ability to hear. We would no longer teach the theatrical style of ministry, but rather encourage people to hear God for their own life.

I think the thing that could transform the gift of prophecy would be to get it outside of the church box. Speaking God’s words into situations in regular language for the purpose of bringing His life into those situations would be more fruitful than continually praying over one another. I am most excited about what prophetic ministry could look like in a missional context.

In thinking about this, I am still in favor of opening up the prophetic realm and making it as accessible as possible rather than shutting it down for fear that mistakes will be made. In my opinion, restricting the gift of prophecy is a greater mistake than dealing with inaccurate words.

Bro.M. – I am as well. I used to use Proverbs 14:4 — "Where there are no oxen, the stall is clean, but great is the strength of an ox." Something like that. You lose a pound of good for fear of an ounce of bad.

E.Grace – One of the traps of prophetic ministry is the tendency for people to always be chasing after a word. Prophetic ministry is very attractional. When special speakers came, people would sit for hours to see if they might be one of the ones called out and given a prophetic word.

Bro.M. – Oh boy, hobby-horse alert… that soapbox has my name on it, and my footprints are firmly scuffed into its top. So many people didn’t value what they received, but treated the prophetic like a spiritual slot machine, pulling the lever just to see what they’d get. After ignoring the word, they’d rush off to get another one someplace, forgetting the last one until they’d got the new one, then saying, "Oh, yeah, so-and-so said that too – neat!" They never connected the notion that if God kept saying it, there might be something important about it. No, it’s off to find the next word.

E.Grace – My husband and I suggested shutting down the type of prophetic ministry we were doing at our church. We sensed the need to step away from the "bless me" model and at the time didn’t know what to do instead. We continued using prophetic words at a more grassroots level, especially in our home group. But yeah, it’s been quite a few years now. I’m not sure I would give a "thus says the Lord…" word now.

Bro.M. – That sounds like it was a wise recommendation. I share that hesitation… even if I was really certain, I’d probably couch it in a lot of caveats or maybe not even make a distinction between it and my opinion, just hope the Spirit would highlight it and cause it to grow in them. Or not, whatever ;^)

E.Grace – I can still sense when I speak prophetically at times, but it is usually more conversational now. Mostly, I still prophesy in my conversations with God as part of listening and hearing from Him. Recently I had a more supernatural experience while talking with a friend who had just received news that her sister was diagnosed with serious cancer. She was on her way to be with her parents and sister, and she said, "[Grace], you have to tell me what to say to them." Feeling desperately inadequate, I muttered a quick prayer, and the words of life and hope that poured out were not my own, but they were exactly what she needed in the moment. That is an example of how I think the spiritual gifts are supposed to work, they are supposed to be what we need in the moment, not something we chase after to entertain ourselves.

Bro.M. – [Grace], this is most excellent stuff. This is the kind of thing that I know can still happen with the prophetic in any context, and would suggest must be very close to the heart of missional prophetic ministry. I used to define the prophetic as "expressing God’s heart in a given situation." That’s it. Could be a word, an action, a song, a dance, a picture, or four notes on the piano. Anything, so long as it communicated in some way and expressed what was on God’s heart. As I drag that up from the past and consider it alongside the example you’ve given, this is really the heart of the matter, isn’t it? Missional and prophetic, hand-in-hand, two sides of the same coin. The voice of the incarnation.

E.Grace – It seems we’ve hit the same chord here. It was great reading this knowing that I had basically said the same thing [as our messages crossed]. I agree with your definition of the prophetic and that it is the heart of the matter. Missional and prophetic do go hand in hand. A missional lifestyle should be a prophetic expression of the kingdom of God — expressing His heart and revealing His nature and character.

Having reached some notion of personal prophetic ministry as inherently missional, we got onto the subject of "platform ministry" and talked about "superstar" prophetic people who typically minister itinerantly and speak publicly to the church at large.

E.Grace – I believe that we have the opportunity to see and declare God’s intentions in many situations. We can be the voices that call forth His purposes, co-laboring in establishing the kingdom, speaking shalom into existence. This will no longer look like the "Thus says the Lord…" prophetic words we have known. Rather than limiting our prophetic voice to ministry situations, we can expand our understanding of the prophetic to a missional capacity. That means we are always seeing, always hearing, and always speaking as ministers of shalom.

Bro.M. – Yes… but what about the lack of platform, that ability to give a word for the city or to speak to the church corporately?

E.Grace – I think there is a place for the corporate word, but as we redefine church, leadership, professional ministry, and superstar conferences, what will that corporate word look like and in what type of gathering will it be given? For example, perhaps the corporate word will come from Joe Nobody at a regional gathering of emerging/alternative churches and house churches.

Bro.M. – Works for me. Maybe it’s even something that gets passed around a network and never given in a large public setting… kinda like a really good blog post that everyone points to and affirms. So okay, I’m not prepared to go to the mat defending the need for a platform or public ministry, but I’ve seen first-hand how the use of a public platform can be effective in a corporate sense, or at least larger than the one-on-one or small group context. I don’t want a super-class of prophetic people, but I am wondering how or if you see this being translated to work missionally in any way?

E.Grace – In order to answer what to do about platform ministry, we must first figure out what to do about the platform.

Bro.M. – Good point. Do you recall [certain prophetic voices] prophesying about the a need for humility in leaders for end-time revivals and whatnot. [Others] talked about nameless, faceless people leading it. See, after a while I started to find it very ironic how such words would be given (and listened to) because they were given publicly from a big platform… and people still wanted to be like the superstar, whose words basically negated their own ministry models. But I think there was something to them, and I see a healthy aspect of this in the emerging/missional church.

E.Grace – Yes, I have heard similar words from [others]. I agree that they don’t really have a concept of what they are prophesying.

I think that God still wants to speak to us as the church, but right now we are in such a transitional process of learning who we are as the people of God and redefining our perceptions of church. Perhaps His word to the church already is coming through the voices who are reimagining church life and who are describing what they are hearing and seeing – whether that is in a book, at a conference, or on a blog.

Bro.M. – Or is it something that needs to be dropped and replaced with a missional form of the prophetic that doesn’t really function like that?

E.Grace – Both, I think that corporate prophecy will have a more communal flavor than the superstar model we’ve seen. I also believe that it is very necessary that the missional people of God move forward in the power of the Spirit making full use of the spiritual gifts available to us, including prophecy. The corporate word will be an expression of the combined voices of many. As each person contributes their part, there will be a synergy and harmony created that magnifies our understanding of what God is saying.

Bro.M. – This really resonates. I recall people giving words that were of the confirmation-type and they were a bit disappointed to have given something the person had heard before. "You don’t understand," I would always tell them, and explain how sweet it is to give a confirming word, one that has by definition already been "witnessed" or established as accurate, which puts the recipient in a better position to actually be able to act upon it than if the word stood alone. Take that perspective and consider what you’re saying about this grassroots prophetic expression, and I’m all over it.

E.Grace – Changing our understanding of the prophetic goes hand in hand with changing our understanding of church and our identity as the people of God. Being missional is part of our DNA, but being prophetic is also part of our DNA. So what does it look like to be the prophetic missional people of God? Being prophetic is more than just speaking words of prophecy. It is the ongoing act of revealing the heart of the Father. This is where it connects with being missional. As we — by our life and words — reveal the heart of the Father, we are participating in his redemptive purposes, establishing the kingdom, and bringing shalom.

Bro.M. – Yes, [noting how we had each said essentially the same thing in messages which crossed]. We’re on much the same page then?

E.Grace – Yes, I see the prophetic as integral in bringing shalom because, as we said earlier, it is the expression and revelation of God’s heart. As He is revealed, his kingdom and shalom is advanced in individual lives and in the earth and the fullness of His intention for mankind is being restored.

Prophecy is to give us a glimpse of the reign of God, to give us understanding of His solution for our brokenness, insight into His intentions toward us. Part of our role as prophetic people is to be those who see, believe, and declare God’s redemptive purposes.

As missional people, we should be those who understand the heart of the Father. Prophecy is for the purpose of revealing His heart. Therefore as we understand His heart, we will reveal it to others in all that we say and do.

Bro.M. – I like that, that’s what we’ve been talking about, isn’t it? If I could sum up, I think we’ve come to this:

  • The practice of prophetic giftings in the context of everyday missional life inherently expresses both fundamental missional and fundamental prophetic impulses. We would envision this as a low-key expression of prophetic revelation blended into everyday life, typically with no label upon it as "prophetic" in any way… just allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through one person and highlight his own words in the heart of the other.
  • The mode of prophetic ministry that we’ve seen in the past as an up-front platform-based model could in missional practice blend into a kind of grassroots chorus. Rather than a single "superstar" speaking "the word of the Lord" with any kind of assumed authority, we would instead see multiple voices beginning to say the same or similar things which taken together form the chorus of what God is saying to the wider church. In this fashion, those who speak prophetically to the church at large may add nuance or local flavour, but may often not be prominant spokespersons. The voice of God is heard in the chorus where the voices blend together, ceasing to be individually credited.

We’re really in the very early stages of a conversation about missional prophetic ministry, and there’s much to be added to flesh out the picture. As the post-charismatics turn their attention toward missional living and attempt to begin the practice of the charismata in that context, a consideration of prophetic ministry will inevitably be on the table for further discussion and re-envisioning.