The Divine Confrontation: Why Can’t Shepherds and Prophetic People Just Get Along?
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (NASV) “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”
As the shepherd of a local body in Lakeland, FL and a traveling prophetic voice throughout the United States, my heart has been stirred as of late to issue a trumpet call for the need to create an outlet or avenue for messengers who have been called to bring forth biblical correction, expose deception, and speak the truth in love. These individuals must be given liberty to express themselves without fear of consequence or being labeled as critical and judgmental. I bring a unique perspective concerning this matter because I understand the headache and difficulty associated with many “prophetic” voices who feel that it is their duty to “correct” everyone, especially leaders. Many do so without compassion or understanding, and without practical wisdom that provides any real solutions to the problems.
Recently, our church was visited by a homeless woman who claimed that she had been sent of God to rebuke churches in Lakeland for their sin. She had been escorted out by multiple security teams at different churches for her outbursts and threats in the name of being a prophet of God.When she visited our service, she was relatively quiet until I found her waiting for me in the parking lot. She began her accusations and assaults and I waited patiently for her to finish. When she was out of breath, I gently said to this woman, “ I don’t doubt that you are called to bring the word of the Lord to churches, but what I am concerned with is the spirit in which you are delivering these words. It will take relationship and time for people to trust and receive what you are saying, but you aren’t interested in that are you?” That was the last time I ever saw that woman.
With the need for biblical correction, the exposing of deception, and the truth to be spoken in love so necessary in the body of Christ, what does this look like practically? How can we guard our churches against unstable voices, like the woman I mentioned earlier, but yet still create an opportunity for these people to share their God-given burden without being judged or criticized?
WISDOM FROM THE AGES
A.W. Tozer spoke of men who the Father has specifically called to walk in this calling. He said, “For these men, a smoothly operating system has no interest to them. They are specialists concerned with trouble and how to find and correct it. Their chief concern is the moral breakdown, the decline of spiritual health of the nation or the church. Such men were Elijah, Jeremiah, Malachi, and others of their kind who appeared at critical moments in history to reprove, rebuke, and exhort in the name of God and righteousness.”
PASTORS AND PROPHET RELATIONSHIP
I believe a foundational issue that needs to be addressed is this: that the prophetic and pastoral ministries were never created or intended to be at odds with one another. Much tension exists in the body of Christ amongst these two ministries because too many prophetic people operate in an Old Covenant mindset in regards to the local body. Shepherds fear words of judgment, random outbursts, and manifestations that would be considered disorderly and out of place by many. A truly New Testament prophetic person will never be seen as a threat to shepherds, but rather an asset. Pastors must not police the prophetic but shepherd it.
In public meetings, shepherds need to strike the right balance between encouraging the gift of prophecy and guarding the flock from potentially damaging words. They must also protect meetings from being hijacked by unstable people. The role of the prophets in the New Testament church is to facilitate the Holy Spirit’s movement amongst the flock of God during public meetings. If correct and healthy relationship is established between pastor and prophet(s) in a local congregation, any believer that thinks they have a word for the congregation needs to first give the word to the prophet(s). If the prophet(s) believes that the word is for that setting, the prophet(s) will wait until the proper time in the service and allow the believer to move in prophecy. The prophet’s priority in public meetings is to not only be listening for the voice of God for what He might be speaking, but to also protect the shepherds from any unnecessary burden that might be placed upon them in a public setting by someone that believes they have a word from the Lord. Prophetic words in public meetings within the local body must follow the protocol of 1 Corinthians 14. The words must be full of exhortation, comfort, and strength.
LET’S GET PRACTICAL
But, what about words of biblical correction, the exposing of deception, and exposing the truth without fear of consequence? I presented a paper at the Apostolic Council of Central Florida several years ago and provided a few practical steps for pastors and leaders in how to handle people who deliver directive and corrective words in the local body. These are the people A.W. Tozer called “specialists.”
I gave the following advice to the pastors and leaders in attendance:
Words involving correction and rebuke are not to be given in a public setting spontaneously. These words need to be written down, prayed over, and then given to the leadership in private for them to weigh and judge. Prophecy that involves heavy direction must also be written down and first submitted to the leadership of a local body before being delivered in a public meeting. If directional words can be judged prior to public delivery, shepherds can safeguard the flock and create an environment that is dynamic in bringing the prophetic word into the work.
WHAT DO SHEPHERDS DO WITH DIRECTIVE WORDS FROM PROPHETS?
As prophets follow proper protocol for handling directive words that the Father gives them for the local body (writing it down, praying over it, and giving it in a private setting) it frees shepherds to judge and weigh the word in a proper manner rather than being on the defensive. Strategy must be developed to bring a directive word from the Lord to the body. When leadership believes and endorses the directive word that the prophet or prophets have given, it is wise to call an extraordinary meeting of all the leaders in the church. Gather the core leaders and ministries and spend an evening unpacking the word. Worship together and then give the word. Let the leadership know that you have judged it, prayed over it, and are not presenting it to them to consider. Questions are asked and answered, implications are considered. After that, the word can be presented to the entire body. Delivery of a word must be seen as a key ingredient to seeing it fulfilled!
HOW DO SHEPHERDS HANDLE CORRECTIVE WORDS FROM PROPHETS?
The same protocol for directive words must be followed by the prophets if words of correction come forth.Corrective words need to be submitted to the leadership for careful prayer and judging. If this process has been followed and the word of correction is received as from the Lord, then again core leaders need to be invited to a meeting and be given time to pray over the word themselves. When the corrective word is seen as true and tested, then it can be given in a public setting by the prophetic person or the leadership of the church.
OUTBURSTS OR FAILURE TO FOLLOW PROTOCOL
It is important to discuss what should be done if words of correction, judgment, or rebuke come out in a public meeting. In other words, what does a shepherd do when proper protocol is not followed for these types of words? One option is to draw no attention to the event at that time. It may just be best to keep the meeting flowing and talk to the person in private. The second option is that if the situation warrants, one might have to make some comment or observation. It could be as easy as saying “moving on” or saying “thank you” and “we will consider it.” The last and third option is to be given no other alternative than to publicly rebuke the person who gave the word. It is imperative to remember that shepherds do not have to prove their authority in these moments but rather father the situation in a loving manner. A rebuke can be “I do not bare witness to that word. It is not the voice of God. I believe that is your opinion. I would be happy to chat with you about this at a later time.” Then move into a song or the next order of service.
SHEPHERDS MUST TEACH BOUNDARIES
It is of the upmost importance that shepherds teach and set guidelines within the local church for prophetic ministry that comes forth. It is the role of the Shepherds in the local body to provide proper parameters and a riverbed for the flow of the Holy Spirit in public meetings. Shepherds must teach the flock from the word of God how prophecy should operate. 1 Corinthians 14 sets simple guidelines such as “you may all prophesy” but “you cannot prophesy all at the same time.” This will free the shepherd from any form of fear or insecurity in public meetings. The prophets then assist the shepherds in meetings by facilitating the Spirit and asking people to share potential prophetic words through them rather than placing a burden on the shepherd during the meeting.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is deeply desiring for prophetic voices that bring forth biblical correction, expose deception, and speak the truth in love, and shepherds of local bodies to work together to see the purposes of the Father revealed in these last days. It is unbiblical and counterproductive for prophetic voices to fail to build relationship and submit to the process of getting assimilated with the leadership and people of a local body. Trust and character assesment is essential in the creation of opportunities to minister.
It is also unbiblical and counterproductive for shepherds of the local church to shut down the opportunity for people who have the right heart and spirit and have submitted to the process of relationship and trust to not be given the place to bring biblical correction, expose deception, and speak the truth in love. Ministry done in this manner is not critical. It is not judgmental. These people are specialists that are walking in their calling. They fear God more than they fear man. I believe with all my heart that they are the hope that the American Church needs so desperately.
I leave you with this quote to ponder and consider by Paul Washer,
“One of the greatest signs of HOPE for a church is when God comes to them and speaks a hard word, because it means that they’re still His people. The most terrifying thing in a church is when the only thing you ever hear from the pulpit is what itching ears want to hear.”
With Sincerity and Urgency,