Today’s church is filled with beautiful expressions of prophetic ministry—but unfortunately we can also find a good number of false expressions.
Some of these prophets are genuine. They mean what they say and aren’t deliberately trying to deceive people, but due to immaturity or error, they’re causing problems in the Body of Christ.
As prophetic ministry continues to increase, we need to be able to recognize what’s healthy and mature and what needs to be corrected, removed, or realigned with Scripture.
I believe God is calling for prophetic reformation in the church. As I’ve worked with prophetic communities in a variety of countries and cultures, I’ve found some common denominators in the specific communities I consider healthy.
Said another way, every healthy prophetic community I’ve come across values the following elements.
Healthy Prophetic Communities Are Committed to a Local Church
Healthy prophetic communities recognize the importance of working with and in the Body of Christ.
In all three major passages where Paul writes about spiritual gifts, he uses the metaphor of a body with many parts. All parts are needed in order for the body to be healthy! When one of your organs or limbs stops working correctly, it affects the entire body and—clearly—no part of the body can work outside the body.
Healthy Prophetic Communities Focus on Outreach
Jesus gave only one commission to the church.
This commission wasn’t intended just for evangelists, who usually are good at “going,” but for the church as a whole—including prophetic people:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:19–20 ESV)
Spiritual gifts like prophecy are the tools we use to fulfill this great commission. When prophetic people use their gifting outside the church, they often see amazing fruit! Those who don’t know Jesus yet start to realize, “That was GOD at work in my life!” This opens them up to learning more about who Jesus actually is and what He did to rescue them.
Healthy Prophetic Communities Value Character Over Gift
We need to remember what the word prophet actually means.
It comes from the Greek word prophetes, which is literally translated “to speak for another” or “to speak from the face of.”
When we look at this word closely, we realize someone who is ministering prophetically communicates their message not only with their words but also with their life. As Marc Dupont says, “The prophet is the prophecy. The messenger is the message.”
When someone receives a gift, the gift says nothing about the person who received it—but it definitely reveals something about the one who gave it! Gifts are not earned, so a gifted individual doesn’t deserve any special attention or position based solely on their gift.
In 1 Corinthians 12–14, Paul says love is the key to recognizing the spirit we’re operating from, whether it’s God or something else. The greater our love, the greater our Christlike character.
You and I have the incredible privilege of looking like Jesus in all our interactions. Character will always carry greater weight than gift.
Healthy Prophetic Communities Avoid Elitism
As we mature in prophetic ministry, we start to understand the importance of every gift. All the gifts. We stop comparing one with another and look for what God is doing and how we can respond to Him.
Throughout the church’s history—from the second-century Montanists until today—prophetic people have been plagued by elitism. As we develop humility, we stop creating false classes of Christians: the gifted versus the “not gifted,” the prophetic versus the rest of the church, those who see visions versus those who hear words.
Paul warns against making comparisons in 2 Corinthians 10:12:
When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
Healthy Prophetic Communities Never Build on Revelation Alone
Paul also warns about being overly focused on our visions and angelic visitations.
Obviously, talking about revelation can be very important—but we take it too far when we give our vision or angelic visitation a higher priority in our lives than God’s Word. At this point, Paul says, we are puffed up in our flesh and no longer cling to Christ or the church (His body).
There’s a problem when we take Scripture out of context and use it only to support our revelation. That’s a dangerous place to be in. As Andrew Lang astutely pointed out, “Some preachers use the Bible in the way a drunk uses a lamppost—more for support than for illumination.”
Unfortunately, some prophetic voices have fallen into this trap. Scripture needs to be our “home,” in a manner of speaking. When we use it more like a vacation house, something needs to change.
Healthy Prophetic Communities Distinguish Between Imagination and Revelation
There’s a difference between IMAGINATION (making something up) and REVELATION (hearing from God).
It’s scary that such a thing needs to be explained, yet it does. I’ve heard well-known prophetic teachers say you can imagine what you want and call it revelation, and that’s how you “prophesy by faith.”
I do recognize that when we’re practicing hearing from God, sometimes it’s helpful to allow ourselves to “imagine” something. This can crack us open to what’s happening in the spiritual realm.
But the next step is finding out if that picture, feeling, or thought was really from God. The feedback part of this process is extremely important and helps us actually grow.
Imagination can be used like a sledgehammer or crowbar to get past the “walls” of a mind trained to halt anything that doesn’t make sense. In this context, our imagination is similar to training wheels, which are helpful in the beginning, but at a certain point they need to be removed so we can ride the bike the way the designer intended.
As we grow in hearing God’s voice, we become better and better at discerning when He’s speaking to us and when we might be “making something up.” The goal is always to mature in recognizing His voice.
The Results of Healthy Prophetic Ministry
There is so much potential in healthy prophetic ministry!
Lives are changed, churches are strengthened, souls are saved, nations are shifted, businesses are healed, and—most importantly—God is revealed to aching hearts that have lost hope.
I am so thankful to be part of this prophetic reformation that is touching thousands around the world—it is time. All for His glory.
To learn more about this topic, check out Prophetic Reformation: Healthy Prophetic Communities, a three-message teaching set by John E. Thomas. Available at streamsministries.com/shop.