Guidelines for Prophetic Ministry in Small Groups2
These are the guidelines we provide at Bridgeway Church to facilitate the proper exercise of prophecy in our small groups. I hope you find it helpful.
Three Foundational Principles
1. The primary purpose of prophetic ministry is to edify, encourage, and comfort God’s people (1 Cor. 14:3).
2. All believers are exhorted to earnestly seek after spiritual gifts, especially prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1).
3. All prophetic words must be judged/weighed by the body of Christ (1 Thess. 5:19-22; 1 Cor. 14:29-35).
Three Suggestions for facilitating the Prophetic
1. In order to encourage prophetic ministry (see 1 Cor. 14:1), leaders must create a “safe” environment where people are willing to take risks.
2. Leaders must also be intentional in “making space” or creating opportunities for it to occur: “Does anyone have a sense from the Lord about the direction of our meeting tonight?” “Is anyone hearing from the Lord for ministry?” “Did anyone have a dream recently or feel burdened or impressed in some way?”
3. Don’t be afraid of or offended by silence. Maybe God isn’t speaking at this time.
How to Introduce and Deliver a Prophetic Word
“I have a strong inner impression that I believe is from the Lord.” “I have a picture in my mind that I think may be for someone here.” “I had a sense from the Holy Spirit about what he wants to accomplish tonight.” “I had a dream which involved several of you, and I would like to share it.”
Avoid using dramatic and overly authoritative pronouncements like “Thus says the Lord” or “This is the word of the Lord” or “God told me to tell you.”
Seven Guidelines for testing/judging/weighing Prophetic Words
1. Does it align with Scripture?
2. Does it confirm what the Holy Spirit is already doing?
3. Does it edify, encourage, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3)?
4. If the word is predictive, does it actually come to pass?
5. Is it spoken in love and for the welfare of the recipient, or is it manipulative and serves only to draw attention to or promote the speaker (1 Cor. 13)?
6. Does the broader believing community (the church) endorse the word?
7. Does it correspond to personal experience (cf. Acts 21:3-4; 21:10-14 with Acts 20:22-23)?
Four Suggestions for handling questionable “words” or those that lack the anointing of the Spirit
1. Be gentle, kindhearted, and encouraging. Don’t crush the spirit of the person or respond in a way that would make them fearful and hesitant to ever prophesy again.
2. Some “words” need immediate correction, especially if they are biblically misguided.
3. If the “word” is general or vague or merely a repetition of some biblical text or principle already well known, don’t dismiss it, but commit as a group to pray about it and re-visit it at a later time.
4. If the “word” is weird or unintelligible or embarrassing, simply say: “Thanks for sharing. Let’s discuss this in private at a later time. I’m not sure this is the direction the Spirit is leading us at this time.”
Fifteen Practical “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Prophetic Ministry
1. Do not publicly criticize or correct church leadership by name. Take such “words” privately to the Elders. The NT doesn’t say "Be subject to the prophets" but rather "Be subject to the Elders" (1 Pt. 5:5; Heb. 13:17).
2. Do not expose someone’s sin or identify them by name. Speak of sin in general/anonymous terms and ask the Spirit to bring conviction (1 Cor. 14:24-25).
3. Don’t prophesy marriages, babies, moves, or job changes.
4. If God reveals a person’s physical affliction, don’t immediately assume or suggest he intends to heal them. But of course pray for them!
5. Unless you have explicit biblical warrant, do not tell a person what “God’s will” is for their life.
6. Be careful about prophesying public, political, or natural disasters.
7. Avoid using prophecy to establish doctrines, practices, or ethical principles that lack explicit biblical support.
8. Don't appeal to prophecy to set behavioral standards on secondary issues (e.g., whether Christians should attend R-rated movies, drink alcohol in moderation, listen to secular music, etc.).
9. Be cautious about excessive dependence on prophetic words for making routine, daily decisions in life. There are, of course, certain exceptions to this "rule".
10. Always resist the pressure to prophesy on demand, in the absence of a divine revelation. At all costs, resist the temptation to speak when God is silent. Some of the most severe denunciations and warnings of judgment are reserved for those who claim to speak for God, but don't (see Ezek. 13:1-9; Jer. 23:25-32).
11. Don’t let your identity be dependent on your gifting. Remember that prophetically gifted people are often more sensitive than others and can be self-defensive. They are easily wounded by criticism. Remind them lovingly that they are not their gift!
12. Don’t despise prophetic utterances when things go badly or when people are offended or when someone gets it wrong (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
13. Resist the temptation/pressure always to interpret and apply the revelation you’ve received. Share what God has shown you and be quiet! Again, there are occasional exceptions to this “rule”.
14. Devote sufficient time to helping visitors, unbelievers, or cessationists understand prophetic ministry. They will often feel confused or find it weird. Make sure there is time to dialogue and debrief about what has (or has not) happened.
15. Don’t let prophetic ministry dominate the meeting. There are other spiritual gifts!