Prophets belong in Church!
Mike Bickle had his hands full in the late 1980’s whilst leading the Church in Kansas City. Out of nowhere he suddenly found himself administrating Prophecy in the Church in one of the most controversial periods of the so called ‘prophetic movement’.
The following article was written by him in response to the challenges he faced:
“In 1982, I began pasturing a growing church in St. Louis, Missouri. My wife, Diane, and I assumed that we would serve there many years. God, though, head another plan for us.
That God would have a different plan isn’t so strange. But how he communicated his plan to us was, well, rather bizarre. And it presented a great challenge to our faith. Let me explain.
Only a few months after the church was founded, I was confronted by people who claimed to have divine encounters with God; encounters that had major implications for the direction of my life and ministry. The usual experiences included audible voices, angelic visitations, “Technicolor” visions, signs in the heavens, and trances – to name a few of the more spectacular ones.
At first their claims seemed to come out of science fiction novels, not from genuine Christian experience. But as I listened and prayed, the Holy Spirit started confirming their veracity in my heart and through his word. At the same time my most trusted friends and co-workers also began believing they were true prophecies.
So I decided to take a risk and allow for the prophetic ministry in our church. Little did I know at the time what I was getting into. The Lord used prophetic words and circumstances to lead us to relocate in Kansas City, Missouri, and start the Kansas City Fellowship, a church that today consists of six congregations totaling 2,500 members.
Since then, the leadership of the Kansas City Fellowship has discovered that prophecy can impart faith, work wonders, and generate enthusiasm. We’ve also learned that it can cause confusion, bring condemnation, and be counter-productive to God’s purposes if not properly administrated.
A few people with prophetic anointing who ministered among us no longer do so. The reasons for their departure include major character flaws, ministry styles that conflict with leadership, and an inability to accept correction and restraints from pastors.
These were painful but necessary confrontations that our fellowship weathered and from which we have emerged wiser and more seasoned.
The Administrative Key
The gift of “administrations” is strategically set like a vital organ in the body of charismatic gifts (1 Cor. 12:28). In fact, Paul’s main purpose for writing 1 Corinthians 12 through 14 was to release the tension between exercising and/or restraining charismatic activity in the Corinthian church.
I believe that pastors have a responsibility to encourage and nurture the prophetic ministry. I also believe that we are to be responsible for judging and restraining it in order to protect the flock from false prophecy and abusive practices.
To expend the time, study, energy, and patience needed to administrate prophecy, leaders must be convinced of and motivated by the benefits of a prophetic ministry. In Kansas City we have observed the following benefits:
1. Leadership development.
Most of the key leaders in the Kansas City Fellowship were discerned and established through prophetic words and events. For example, at least four leaders were specified by name through prophetic revelation before they were a part of the church or known.
Both first and last names were given for two of them. Other leaders’ faces, families, giftings, circumstances, and the like were seen beforehand by revelation. This “prophetic confirmation” provides a high level of confidence when ordaining a new leader. (Of course, many other factors – character development, gifting, training, and so on – contribute to the successful addition of new leaders.)
2. Location and timing of major expansions and expenditures.
At critical points in decision-making, the Lord has guided us through the means of several unsolicited and mutually independent prophecies.
Exact buildings, street intersections, amounts of money, words that would be spoken to us, people that we would encounter, and the exact timing of several events have all been “seen” prophetically and later fulfilled in our experience.
3. Warnings of satanic attack.
On numerous occasions the Lord has given us prophetic warnings of satanic assaults on our work. The warnings have come in a variety of forms: foretelling specific people’s words and actions; describing circumstances; knowledge of the nature and area of an attack.
“Secret intelligence” helps in any war. For example, frequently we’ve avoided giving time and energy to false corrections or to people who have been sent by the enemy to disrupt and divert our ministry.
4. Sustaining hope and faith.
We are strengthened by the knowledge of God’s will (Col. 1:10). Because God’s will has frequently been prophetically revealed and confirmed throughout the history of the Kansas City Fellowship, we have been strengthened in difficult times.
The prophetic ministry creates a corporate consciousness that God is with us, despite the obstacles and setbacks we may encounter. It brings repentance, a willingness to sacrifice, a sense of awe, and other issues of the heart that carry us through tough times.
We love the benefits of prophecy, but the ability to receive prophecy has hinged on our willingness to wade through the pitfalls and distortions of its messengers. I think it has always been this way. Perhaps it was his concern over the “human dimension” of prophecy that led Paul to exhort the Thessalonian church not to despise prophetic utterances and thereby quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19, 20).
To properly administrate prophecy in the Kansas City Fellowship we follow the following criteria when giving and receiving prophecy:
It is vital to distinguish between inspirational prophecy and revelational prophecy. Almost everyone filled with God’s Spirit is able to prophesy on an inspirational level. These prophecies are general in nature, frequently based on a passage of Scripture.
Inspirational prophecies evoke refreshing, encouragement, exhortation, motivation, comfort, joy, and reverence from God’s people. Restraint must be exercised in the number of inspirational prophecies that are publicly delivered. If too many, they become common and the people’s hearing is dulled.
In our large worship gatherings (600 to 1,300 people), we encourage people who receive inspirational prophecies to pray that God will impart the general content of the words to a special group of “Prophetic singers” that are stationed up front at microphones. Our prophetic singers are recognized as having the prophetic gift, mature character, and a special anointing for presenting prophecy in spontaneous song. When people pray, and their inspirational words are delivered in spontaneous melodies by the prophetic singers, their words are especially blessed and more effective.
Small groups provide the best and most appropriate opportunity for more people to experience and grow in the exercise of inspirational prophecy. Small groups are the training grounds for our prophetic singers.
Revelational prophecy differs from inspirational prophecy in that it may include new direction, correction, and/or different doctrinal emphasis or practices from what are officially held in the fellowship. Because of this, revelational prophecy should not be delivered without the approval of the governing leaders of the church. After all, they are responsible before God to discern, administrate, and govern the overall life of the church.
When these kinds of words are given to us, we wait for confirmation from at least two or three unsolicited, independent sources, or by circumstances outside of our control.
Boundaries set by the Holy Spirit do not quench the Holy Spirit; they are biblically designated safeguards on charismatic activity. A river without banks can be very destructive!
We must keep in mind that there are certain things that revelation does not automatically provide. For example, a person’s accuracy of revelation does not mean he or she has mature character.
In the Old Testament the stories of Balaam and King Saul are good illustrations of God anointing “unworthy” vessels for his purposes. In the New Testament the church at Corinth was known for both spiritual gifts and carnality. History is littered with those who continued in blatant sin while exercising supernatural gifts, resulting in spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, relational, and moral breakdowns.
Operating at a high level of revelation also exposes people to unique and intense satanic assault and the temptation to compromise ethically. For this reason we should carefully inspect the lives of anyone with a prophetic ministry (Matt. 7:15-23). A failure to take sin seriously in the lives of prophets opens the entire church to deception.
Revelation about a situation or condition does not automatically supply the power to bring a change in the situation or condition. The release of such power is often a separate operation of the Holy Spirit.
For instance, someone may prophetically discern an illness through a word of knowledge and yet not have the anointing to heal the sick person. Rather, it may simply supply the experiential knowledge that God knows and cares about the condition and it inspires the person’s faith to receive his appointed provision for the healing.
Finally, a claim of revelation can be wrong even by a genuine, godly Christian who has a “track record” of receiving accurate revelations. Unlike the Old Testament ground rules for prophets where 100% accuracy was required upon the penalty of death, the New Testament doesn’t require the same standards of its prophets.
First Thessalonians 5:19-21 implies that some prophetic utterances will contain a measure of error: “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.” (This verse refers specifically to prophetic utterances.) Nowhere in the New Testament is there the suggestion that a Christian should be executed, excommunicated, or even branded a “false prophet” for simply relaying an inaccurate prophecy. False words are supposed to be weeded out in the process of the church’s proper response to prophecy.
Inaccurate prophecies mean one of three things:
In most instances they are the inevitable mistakes made by Christians as they learn to prophesy. They need to be corrected, but the people who are learning to prophesy also need to be encouraged to keep stepping out in faith.
When a person regularly prophesies inaccurately, it probably means he or she simply isn’t anointed for prophecy and needs to face the fact.
In rare instances they reveal evil people who creep into Christian congregations to maliciously entice and deceive unsuspecting and undiscerning believers. (These people should be purged from the church if they will not repent.)
The pastor’s job is to discern which of the three categories an inaccurate prophecy falls in, and then deal with the person accordingly.
If a revelation is accurate, it is quite possible to incorrectly interpret its meaning. There are often symbolic and mysterious elements to visions, dreams, spoken words, and so on. Some revelations come in bits and pieces in which we need understanding from the Lord to discern their meanings.
Paul says, “…We know in part, and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). He’s cautioning us about being overly confident and dogmatic in prophecy. Frequently we do not – and are not supposed to – understand the meaning of the revelation until the circumstances unfold for which it was intended to apply.
Christians are tempted to strive and manufacture an interpretation when one isn’t clear. This is a recipe for disaster, an inviting temptation to mold a true revelation around a bogus interpretation. This is a significant problem in prophecy, compounded by the fact that some people who are best at receiving revelation are weakest at interpreting it!
I encourage people to have an attitude of open expectancy related to the fulfillment of a prophecy. The exact way that God fulfills his word is usually quite different from what we expected. This is why it is important not to rely on prophecy alone for guidance. It can be a vital component of the guidance machinery, but it must never be equated with the entire process.
I also encourage people to hold or shelve revelations for which they do not have a clear interpretation. If spoken publicly, they should be communicated with the stipulation that the interpretation is not yet clear.
A true revelation and accurate interpretation is followed by administration of the word. That is, the prophecy must be acted on within the context of the church or an individual’s life.
The application stage raises many questions: Who is supposed to hear it? Who is supposed to tell it? In what form should it be communicated? When should it be told? How much of it should be revealed? And finally and most significantly, what will bring about the maximum amount of edification related to the unity, purity, witness and growth of God’s people?
Administrating prophecy is a significant and challenging calling for all pastors. But the benefits more than offset the tensions and struggles of overseeing such a powerful gift. Remember, to avoid swallowing camels we’re all going to have to eat a few gnats.”