How to Make the Prophetic Gift Safe for Your Community

Posted on March 8, 2018

by John E. Thomas

The moment I got her on the phone, I knew something was wrong. I hadn’t seen her at church in weeks, and my concern grew as she began to tell me a story I wish was unique. Unfortunately, I’d heard it before.
“I was in a meeting where someone was ministering prophetically,” she told me, “and I was amazed at the accuracy of what they shared. After the meeting, he told me that God had showed him I was supposed to marry so-and-so. I was so angry that God would want me to marry him—I wasn’t attracted to him. I didn’t see him in that way. So I have been running from God. I am trying to ignore God because I don’t see Him as safe anymore.”
How do we respond to stories like this? The prophetic can be an amazing tool to help people grow and change, but it can also be a source of pain and difficulty. The issue is not the prophetic itself—it is the maturity of the people involved.
As leaders, how can we help shape prophetic people into mature, effective tools for the Kingdom—men and women who are safe for our spiritual communities? Here are a few key points to consider:
Encourage Community
Anyone who claims to be prophetic but is not involved in a local church is dangerous. The apostle John wrote that false prophets “went out” from the congregation—that is, they left the fellowship. We should never allow a prophetic person to speak into our lives if they are not in a church family.
Place Character Over Gifting
When we celebrate gifting more than character, we run the risk of teaching people to be fascinated with the paranormal instead of obsessed with the beauty of Jesus. Someone who is actually spiritual (being used by the Spirit of God) will bear the fruit of the Spirit in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I want to celebrate a godly marriage that has lasted 30 years as much as I celebrate a person getting out of a wheelchair. I want to exalt someone who extends kindness to the least of these as much as I do someone who encounters heavenly realms.
Teach and Train
All gifting starts in an immature state. Not only do we need to teach people how to recognize their gifts, step out in faith and trust God, but we also need to teach them what their gifts can look like when they reach maturity. A toddler or adolescent needs to stretch, try again, and discover the extent of their strength, while an adult needs to learn when to withhold their strength. A mature individual understands the potential for harm that accompanies the potential for good.
Value Scripture
Someone once said that too many people treat the Word of God the way an intoxicated person treats a light post: more for support than illumination. If we treat the Word of God this way, we won’t hear from Him consistently. As followers and lovers of Jesus, all of us need to spend more time in Scripture because this enables us to throw out many inaccuracies before they end up as heresy. Only the Bible can be our foundation. The prophetic is helpful for direction, encouragement, and clarity, but it is not our foundation. The prophetic is shaped by the Word, not the other way around!
Cultivate a Culture of Feedback
Part of the training process includes feedback. Was the word accurate? Did it sound and feel like Jesus? Did it carry the heart of a servant? Just because someone says, “God told me this,” doesn’t mean we have to accept their words as truth. All things must be tested. We hold on to what is good and throw away what is not (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Focus on the Giver
“We all get to play.” John Wimber made that phrase popular in the 1980s, and it still holds true today. Gifting says nothing about the person with the gift; it says something about the Giver. The Giver can give whatever He wants to whomever He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). Gifting makes room for someone to serve, while character makes room for authority. We should never give someone authority merely because they are gifted. The requirements for someone in leadership haven’t changed; read 1 Timothy 5 and Titus 1 for more information.
Hear and Obey
Hearing God’s voice is not meant for our entertainment; we are listening to God and if He speaks, we must obey. We need to learn how to order our lives around real relationship with Him, which requires communication, and respond to His voice no matter how He chooses to speak: through a dream, vision, angel, Scripture, our circumstances, or another person. If it is God, we need to follow Him.
The Outcome
If we can implement these simple elements in our church communities, we will start to see a mature prophetic expression rising. All of us need to learn to discern the voice of God for ourselves, value character over gifting, and center our lives around His Word. That is how we become mature, gifted people who can bring His Kingdom and help shape others into Christlikeness. We have before us a wondrous goal.