Throughout the summer I'm revisiting some older posts that have been particularly meaningful to me. A few weeks ago I was at district conference in Portage and I had the opportunity to meet with the woman I talk about in this post, and she affirmed not only the point I'm making here, but how important that there are people with a diversity of gifts operating together in the church. One of my roles and gifts is to empower and let loose people to do what they have been called and equipped to do - and so I want to remind those with the gifts of prophecy in our body that they have an important role to play as well.
I hope this encourages you as well,
Talk about the prophetic gifting is a frightening thing in many church circles. There are those with the charismatic gifts of tongues, discernment, prophecy and words of knowledge in any functioning body of Christ but they are not always welcomed or understood. At worst they are forbidden by misguided cessationists who contend that the miraculous gifts ended with the closing of the canon of Scripture, more often they are officially validated within a congregation's theological framework but unofficially treated with great suspicion and misunderstanding.
I do not have these gifts. I need to say that up front. I have never demonstrated the gifts of prophecy, tongues, words of knowledge or spiritual discernment. It's not how I am wired, nor is it how God has gifted me as a member of the body of Christ. Because of that I am equally uncomfortable with movements within the Church that advocate for those manifestations to be the indisputable sign of the filling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. My theology, and dare I say more poignantly my experience, does not support such a narrow expression of the Spirit. I am quite comfortable with my tradition's official stance of "seek not, forbid not" so long as both halves of that axiom are expressed with the same level of conviction.
As one who has not been bestowed the charismatic gifts by the Holy Spirit though I have found that I have had to lean on those that have. My gifting and calling in the church is to leadership, I am by vocation a pastor, by calling a shepherd of the flock, by gifting a teacher but to execute these roles well and to the glory of God, my leadership, shepherding, and teaching need to be informed by the prophetic. In the Old Testament the prophets were the people who spoke God's will to power. Samuel rebuked Saul, Nathan confronted David with his sin, even in the New Testament John the Baptist challenged Herod's adulterous and incestuous marriage. As a person who has been given the heavy responsibility of church leadership I should be looking for God to use those with the charismatic gifts to speak into my leadership.
When I accepted the call to lead my previous church in Estevan I intentionally cultivated a relationship with a woman in the congregation that I (and others) had recognized the gifts of prophecy in. And over the course of my tenure as the Lead Pastor there I came to depend on her advice, counsel, and prayer when making significant decisions. When I found myself at a cross roads and the leading of God was not readily apparent to me I would call her up and ask her to pray. Or from time to time I would phone her up and quite simply ask - "do you have a word from the Lord for me today?"
Sometimes she didn't. Often she did. But I know that God frequently used her to clarify, or crystallize his leading and guiding in my life. It has been a blessing to be ministered to by those with the more charismatic spiritual gifts - but too often in our churches we fail to acknowledge them or make room for people who have them to develop their gifting.
You see, I think that we have an unfair expectation of those with the charismatic gifts. We, harkening back to 1 Corinthians 14, assume that they must be perfect or else they be a blight upon the church. The person who speaks in tongues with no interpreter, the person who speaks a word of knowledge that turns out to be wrong; the person who utters prophecy that doesn't seem to work out the way it was supposed to; the person who prays for healing just before the sick person dies - we seem to have no tolerance or patience for those with charismatic giftings who don't exercise those giftings with absolute perfection. But that's not the way Paul instructs the church to function.
"Pursue love, and use your ambition to try to get spiritual gifts but especially so that you might prophesy."
1 Corinthians 14:1
In this most famous of passages on church order and proper exercise of the charismatic gifts Paul begins by telling the church to grow in their gifting. "Try" he says - in a very un-Yoda-like moment he makes allowance for people to attempt something without the guarantee of success. We have no problem with this mentality when it comes to other gifts of the Spirit; someone with the gift of leadership must become seasoned in that gift and be allowed to make mistakes so that they can grow into the leadership God has called them to. Someone with the gift of helps is afforded the grace to mistakenly help when their help is not wanted or appreciated with the understanding that they are just growing in their gifts. Someone who has been gifted with music is allowed to play some wrong notes as they develop their talents; someone with a gift of hospitality is not strung up for burning the roast - why do we hold this one group of Christians then to an unbiblical and impossible standard of perfection if we hold no one else to it?
I honestly believe that one of the reasons that prophets in particular seem to have disappeared from many of our evangelical churches is because we make no room for them to grow by making mistakes. We have no grace for those who would like to hone their giftedness by putting it into practice knowing that like any gift it needs to be developed before it can flourish into all God intended it to be. We have made our churches places hostile to people who have been called by God to function in this way and then we wonder why we don't see them active in our congregations.
One of the better ways that I've learned to do this is to give your prophets the assurance that their words will not be taken as Gospel but will be subject to the testing of the spirits as prescribed in 1 John 4:1-6. I have had prophets before who have been reluctant to share with me a word from the Lord because the implications of that word if acted upon would be tremendous and the responsibility upon the prophet that shares such a word was almost too much to bear. Give them the assurance that you will take their words seriously, but as the person the words are delivered to (whether they be a personal word, or a word for the church you are in leadership over) you bear the responsibility of deciding what to do with them. When the burden of consequence is removed from the prophet, they are much more freed up to exercise their gift without fear.
And so I make this plea today, both to my congregation and to all the other churches that find themselves in the same boat - celebrate your prophets. Recognize them. Encourage them. And give them permission to make mistakes in the exercising of their giftings. They will never learn how to properly serve Christ and edify the church through their gifts if they have to spend their entire lives in hiding. I promise you, from my own experience, if you give them a voice and learn how to listen to them you will be blessed and your leadership.
At my installation service at The Bridge Church this month I issued the challenge to all of our 'blue' people (Natural Church Development jargon for those with a charismatic spiritual disposition) to come out of the woodwork. To exercise their gifts with boldness so that the church will not become deficient in hearing the guidance of the Lord. And so with this blog post I, reissue that challenge and ask that the rest of us, who are not similarly disposed and gifted would come alongside of, support and make room for our blues to bring balance and guidance into our corporate expression of faith and mission. God not only wants to speak to us, he IS speaking to us. It's time to open up our corporate ears (cf.1 Corinthians 12) and learn to listen as a body.