A Call For Prophetic Leaders

If someone were to ask you, “What is the gift of prophecy?” what would you say?

For years, I equated this gift with predicting the future. I thought people with the gift of prophecy could foresee events, or even speak new, inspired truths. I pictured men like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Elijah, leaders at the center of dramatic stories, who served as mouthpieces for God.

In many ways, those men are perfect examples of prophecy, but not because they called fire down from heaven, or slept in lions’ dens. What makes them significant is the broader role they played among the people of God.

Prophets in the Old Testament were disrupters:

- They challenged the status quo.
- They pruned away the false teachings which had grown up around the truths of God.
- They spotlighted hypocrisy, and exposed the ways in which Israel had become too much like the world, condemning sins like idolatry (Hosea), greed (Jeremiah), and neglect of the poor (Isaiah and Amos).

Because of their disruptive role, the prophets were not always well liked. In 1 Kings 19, king Ahab “killed all the prophets with the sword” (v. 1). Others, like Samuel, were honored and esteemed, but not because they spoke easy truths and affirming messages. When push came to shove, prophets had to choose between being likeable, and being faithful.

That is the lens through which we can understand the modern day gift of prophecy. Exercising this gift means overturning the status quo and speaking hard truths to the people of God. It is perhaps one of the most important roles there is, because it guards the distinctiveness of our witness. However, there are two ways we miss the mark in practicing it.

First, there are the leaders who delight to be harsh. They don’t mind hurting people in the name of truth, confusing prophecy with unkindness. When they are criticized for their meanness, they receive it as confirmation of their “prophetic role.” Fortunately, these false prophets are easy to spot; we know them by their fruit. Or more accurately, the absence of it. They do not exhibit much, if any, of the fruit of the Spirit.

The second way we miss the mark of prophecy is by avoiding it entirely. The church is full of positive, upbeat, affirming teachers—which we do need!—but few are the women speaking uncomfortable truths. I will be the first to admit I feel this pressure myself. When I look around at what’s popular--which graphics get shared, or which posts go viral--it’s not typically the prophetic ones. It’s the encouraging ones that tell us we’re good and ok.

Even among leaders who do address hard topics, they tend to focus on the people “out there” rather than the brokenness within their own tribe. They rail against the sins of the world, but never turn their gaze to the dysfunctions of their flock. That is not prophetic work, since it only enforces our own self-righteousness, rather than indicting it. As pastor Jonathan Akin recently put it, “It takes much more boldness to call out the sins of the choir than it does to call out the sins of the culture.”

When I look at the world around us, I am convinced we need prophetic voices now as much as ever, because the Christian identity has come to mean something sentimental and comfortable, rather than radical and sacrificial. Too often, our messages sound like Christian versions of secular self-help, which might make us feel good but will not motivate us toward true acts of courage. Affirmation is great, but it does not rebuke our idols.

That’s why we need prophetic voices, unbound by the worship of likeability, and committed to the integrity of the church. We need leaders who search themselves, and their people, and name the problems within, rather than focus on the problems of others. That does not mean we should be judgmental or harsh, but it does mean we cannot serve God and people-please. If we, as the people of God, want to be known as the people of God, then we need the correction of prophetic voices.

Sisters, wherever you are, it’s time to step up.

Sharon Hodde Miller

Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mom of two boys. In addition to recently completing her Ph.D, her first book releases with Baker Books in 2017, and she blogs at SheWorships.com. You can connect with Sharon on Twitter.     

Join the discussion

Jill B. February 1, 2017 at 3:31pm

Man. Everything about this article is so true. Prophecy is one of my spiritual gifts and it's crazy hard. I am a recovering people-pleaser (and by that, I mean still fighting it), and I never relish having to speak hard truth into someone's life. Yet I do it because I want to OBEY the Holy Spirit AND because I love this person AND most of all, Jesus loves them enough to speak truth into their life. Discernment comes in knowing whether God has opened my eyes to see this situation so I can be praying for them or whether He wants me to confront them. The hardest assignment I have had so far was when God had me speak to a family of 7 (the parents and 5 children ages 9-18) a couple of years ago that I loved who were being so disrespectful and ugly to each other, and members of my church. I prayed for months before I felt like it was the right time (I wanted to be sure!) and I firmly believe God was getting them to a point of being able to receive the message. My friend (the mom) was so mad and offended, and I knew it before I even left their house. I had to rest in the fact that I had obeyed God and He was going to have to handle the rest of it regarding their heart attitudes. Long story short, it was a turning point for their family, and they realized God was warning them about where their relationships as a family were headed, and they knew I loved them enough to say hard things (they just needed time to process it and for God to defend me). I give God all of the glory because I did not want to do it! Yet I saw my friend a couple of weeks ago at church and told her we needed to go to dinner and catch up, and she immediately said, "Why? Is there something you need to tell me?" Soooo, there's that.

Kim December 13, 2016 at 6:46am

Thank you for this! I can so relate to what you wrote here! I'm not at all confrontational, but I will not be afriad to speak truth (though I never look forward to the backlash that I know will follow). I do feel that God has called me to be his hands and feet and mouth! I pray for wisdom when I speak and for him to clamp his hand over my mouth when I should not! I am so encouraged by this article. Thank you!

Cherry Williams December 13, 2016 at 4:27am

Thank you for sharing this explanation about the prophetic gift. I have that gift and have all my life. I was raised in the church but the prophetic gift was not taught or talked about. I did not realize I had this gift until my late 30's. I am in my late 50's now so I have been under the Holy Spirits training strong for now about 20 years. Just this last year the Lord has lead me to speaking words to others through mainly over social media.
The prophetic gift is alive and well. I only speak what God allows me to speak or write. It is only through His Holy Spirit that I would have the words.
I have also learned that a MAJOR part of the prophetic is prayer. The Lord has given me dreams, visions and words of things to come both locally, nationally and globally. When He shares those I have found that He gives them to me mainly so I can pray about them. In the Bible, Amos 3:7 it reads, "Surely my Lord does not do anything unless he has revealed his secret to his servants the prophets".
The prophets are so needed to the church today but unfortunately they are mainly left out. The true prophets are of God and have words directly from God plus they have the heart of God. What makes God sad makes the prophets sad. What bothers God bothers the prophet. It is not an easy calling at all.
I have given words to parents that just lost a child to comfort them with God's words. I have faced Satan as he has tried to kill me so he can kill the word of God within me.
I love God with all my heart and I will obey Him even when it doesn't make sense or it cost me my life. He is everything!

Kari December 11, 2016 at 5:53am

Thanks for this. It is exactly the truth my husband and I have been struggling with, both of us having the gift of prophecy, but being fearful to speak truth when it's unpopular. I have been inspired to use my gift!

Sharon Miller December 8, 2016 at 9:56am

Jodi, I think that discernment process is best done in community, with believers who can help you discern your gifts and counsel you to use them well.

Bev Murrill December 8, 2016 at 8:45am

Sharon, I agree with your perspective on this. It's a tough gig when the only people who are heard are the ones who speak in ugly rhetoric, or with such hype that no one has to question their own identity as a Christian. And yet, there re those who have made a decision, as you have clearly here, who will keep speaking as the Lord calls. Yes, disrupting, but as a result, encouraging and enlarging the Church to break through into wholeness as well as holiness. Thanks for this fantastic encouragement to be what He calls us to be, without fear or favour.

Kristen December 8, 2016 at 1:53am

WOW. Just wow. Did I need to read that! The struggle is real over here with every point you made especially with my own tribe. Just the other week I made suggestions to a very close friend to "Try it God's way now" and to "turn towards Him and let Him breath through/work out these past 2 years of marriage hardships". Boy was there backlash! That's when I came to what you said about what's "popular" and "people-pleasing"...I'm picking up big time what you're putting down! Thank you for your words!

International Autism Ministry December 7, 2016 at 12:50pm

Thank you for this reminder to step into what God has called us to do.

Jodi December 7, 2016 at 7:37am

If one senses they have this gift, how do they go about using it?