How to Spot an Immature Prophet and What To Do About It

immature prophet v3 2016

This is the second in a series of articles on recognizing immaturity in fivefold ministry and what to do about it. If you have no idea what fivefold ministry is, check out Alan Hirsch’s brief descriptions here, or JR Woodward’s video introduction here.

Missional church planting isn’t easy. You’re trying to grow something from the ground up in a healthy way, but the vagaries of people’s schedules and commitments makes it difficult to gain momentum and critical mass.

That’s why it’s so tempting to release gifted people into leadership too soon. If a competent leader comes along, it’s easy to just let them “go for it” without really evaluating their character.

Unless we also have a way of evaluating how mature these gifted people are, we are asking for trouble. Why? Because putting people into positions of leadership before their character can bear it is a recipe for disaster.

[Tweet “Putting people in positions of leadership b4 their character can bear it is a recipe for disaster.”]

One of the most devastating mistakes we can make as church planters is to assume that giftedness is the same thing as maturity.

So how can we avoid this scenario? How can we be more discerning about the people we release into leadership?

This is the second article in a series on recognizing immaturity through the lens of fivefold gifting (sometimes called APEST – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers).

I talked about apostles last time. Today it’s the prophet’s turn!

How can we recognize an unhealthy prophet? And what should we do about it if we spot one in our church?

You Might Be a Prophet If…

Before we talk about immature prophets, let’s talk about prophets in general. How are they Christ’s gift to the church?

First of all, please don’t think that APEST prophets are the same things as “Old Testament Prophets.” They don’t really “predict the future” like we typically think. A better way to think of prophets is that they are people who are in touch with God’s values and speak those things into other people and organizations.

You need some of these people in your church! Here are some signs of prophets in general:

  • They often enjoy spending time alone with God and sense his heart clearly.
  • They care deeply about values and integrity, and often sense before anyone else when an organization is drifting.
  • They are able to stand back from circumstances and get a clear picture of what’s really going on.
  • This clarity oftentimes enables them to come up with creative and innovative solutions that others don’t see.
  • They are outside the box thinkers, and tend to disrupt the status quo.
  • They are future-oriented, and tend to see opportunities and dangers before everyone else.

I know this gift well because I am a prophet (always feels weird to say that). This is always how I’ve operated in every team I’ve ever been part of. I ask pesky questions that can disrupt the status quo, because I want things to be better and more aligned with (what I see as) God’s values.

Signs of an Immature Prophet

But prophets need to grow from immaturity to maturity, just like all of us. Their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.

In my relentless drive for better, I can oftentimes make others feel inadequate and discouraged. I have trouble continuing to move because I strive for perfection. People have told me they feel like they can never “measure up” with me, and that it’s hard to disagree with me.

Here are some signs of an immature prophet:

  • They talk about their perspective as though it was simply “the truth.”
  • They jump from church to church because they keep finding issues in each.
  • They become frustrated when their ideas aren’t accepted and implemented immediately.
  • They have to point out every inconsistency or problem they see.
  • They have a hard time loving people “where they’re at.”
  • They want to live in their heads, because their idealism is cleaner than the real-world messiness of ministry.
  • They tend to isolate themselves or only associate with those who think like them.

Does that remind you of anyone? Maybe you’ve got an immature prophet in your church plant. Maybe you notice these characteristics in yourself? Read on for what to do with the immature prophets in your life (even if it’s you!).

Two Things NOT To Do with an Immature Prophet

Before I talk about what to do with an immature prophet, I want to outline two temptations every church planter will feel when they encounter an immature prophet: the temptation to use them, and the temptation to reject them.

1. Use Them

One of the strengths of prophets is that they have a lot of vision, they tend to think strategically, and they’re willing to work hard. Immature prophets create a culture where people are trying to do the right thing, and it can be tempting to ignore their immaturity in order to keep everyone “motivated.”

This is such a bad idea. In using an immature prophet to keep everyone “in line” you are creating an atmosphere of moralism and fear. And that doesn’t bring anyone to maturity in Christ.

[Tweet “If you submit to the temptation to use people, you’ll never be able to bring anyone to maturity.”]

2. Reject Them

The second temptation is to simply reject the immature prophet.

Let’s be honest: this is really easy because immature prophets can be some of the most annoying people you’ll ever meet!

It’s really easy to wish that immature prophets would just leave. I know church planters who have literally prayed for God to “move them on” because the criticism just would not stop!

But while some immature prophets will leave your church of their own accord (because you’re doing it wrong), it’s not wise or loving to simply reject them.

What To Do with an Immature Prophet

But our job as equippers in the church is not to “get things done” or avoid conflict and messiness. Our job is to bring the church to unity and maturity, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

So if we don’t use them or reject them, what do we do if we find we have an immature prophet in our church?

We disciple them.

We bring them to maturity so they can become the gift to the church they’re called to be.

After all, this is what Jesus did with the ragtag bunch of immature apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers that were his disciples.

How To Disciple an Immature Prophet

So how do we disciple an immature prophet? In some ways, we disciple them like we disciple everyone else: we love them by offering them an abundance of grace and truth.

But discipleship looks different for an prophet than it does for a shepherd or apostle. The grace and truth they need takes on a certain shape.

So what does grace and truth look like for prophets?

Grace for a Prophet

Here are a few notes on bringing grace to a prophet:

  • Prophets need space in their schedule for prayer and connection with God.
  • Prophets need permission to rest and retreat.
  • Prophets need to know their gift is important – affirm them and what they’re seeing.
  • Prophets need an atmosphere of permission to get it wrong. They need to know they won’t be rejected if they share something immaturely.
  • Prophets need “safe spaces” to experiment. Create a playful, no-pressure environment.
  • Prophets need language that helps them qualify their revelations as something God “might” be saying.
  • Prophets need to know they are valued apart from their gifting. That they don’t need to “have a word from God” to be valued in community.

Truth for a Prophet

Here are a few notes on bringing truth to an immature prophet:

  • Prophets need to learn empathy and patience with those they disagree with. Challenge them to take the long view when it comes to discipleship.
  • Prophets need to submit their ideas and revelations to the community for interpretation (1 Cor 14:26).
  • Prophets will need training to help them deliver their ideas with humility and grace. Instead of “Thus saith the Lord!” try “I could be wrong, but what I sense God might be saying is..”
  • Prophets need to be reminded that they don’t have the whole picture. The interpretation and application of their revelation is for the whole community to discern.
  • Prophets need to learn to speak Jesus truth, which sets people free, instead of “facts” which can often bind people in fear.
  • Prophets need to be remember that they need the whole body of Christ, that God is not just a “voice.”

Apostles and Prophets Together

It’s worth noting that the strongest church plants and start-up organizations seem to have both apostolic and prophetic energy at the core. We need all the gifts, of course, but there seems to be something powerful about the apostle-prophet partnership that helps new things start.

When apostles and prophets can work together and honor one another, it provides an incredible secure foundation for a church plant to build upon.

Apostles without prophets tend to be all frenetic and aimless energy that eventually drifts from the core vision. Prophets help to keep apostles on the “straight and narrow” with their inconvenient questions about why we’re veering from the vision.

Prophets without apostles tend to be endlessly tweaking their ideas until they’re perfect, but there is a lack of movement. Apostles help prophets “get moving,” and decide when things are “good enough,” so we can launch something that will bless others.

If you’re an apostle, pray for a prophet to join you! They’ll rub you the wrong way daily, but you need them. If you’re a prophet, pray for an apostle to join you! It will be hard to deal with their need for movement, but it will be a good kick in the pants for you!

Questions for Discussion

How about you? Have you had experiences with immature prophets? What have you learned about discipling prophets? If you are an prophet, what has been most helpful in your growth?

Hear Ben at Praxis 2016. It’s not too early to sign up!

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Ben Sternke
Ben is an Anglican priest, church planter, leadership coach, writer, web designer, and content marketer living in the Indianapolis area with his wife and four kids. He is planting a church called The Table, and co-founded a leadership coaching organization called Gravity Leadership. He also helps church planters design and write content for their websites.
Ben Sternke

6 Comments

  1. David C. Mar 12, 2016 Reply

    First of all, let me say that your previous post about spotting immature apostles was very helpful and informative on many levels. This article also has some good gems in it. However, I think that it would be helpful if you articulate a bit more about what you mean by “not using” immature apostles and prophets. When placed as a heading under a temptation and simply saying do not, “use them,” it can sound as though you should avoid letting them be used to build up the Body of Christ. As I read further into the section where you articulate how to disciple them, I can see your heart is not to keep their gifts from being “used” in a positive way. Do you mean “use” in the negative sense of “take advantage of?” Or, do you mean that we should not give immature apostles and prophets any higher-profile positions of influence within the church until they mature? Some further explanation would be helpful.

  2. Ben Sternke Author
    Ben Sternke Mar 21, 2016 Reply

    Hi David, I could probably be clearer on how I’m using that term.

    I know that “use” has been a term we employ in the church to indicate being part of God’s purposes in some way (“Use me, Lord!”). I think culturally, though, it is becoming more and more of a pejorative term, especially as narcissism is becoming more and more recognized. People associate “using” with a negative, dishonoring activity where I manipulate you to “do my will” because I see how you will be “useful” to me.

    So by “not using them” I’m saying that we categorically reject this kind of using, of anyone, ever. That doesn’t mean that we don’t give people responsibility or opportunity. It just means that we honor their personhood, their calling, their agency. We develop them as people, as leaders. We lay down our lives for them.

    As always, Jesus is our model. He didn’t “use” his disciples to accomplish his mission. He called them to be with him, and then invested in them. They could have left at any time (some did), he was always and forever FOR them and their flourishing. This is the kind of relationship I’m suggesting we cultivate with those we are discipling.

  3. David C. Mar 22, 2016 Reply

    Amen brother. Thank you very much for the clarity and for taking the time to write. This explanation helps me glean quite a bit more from both articles. I look forward to the next ones!

  4. Mike May 3, 2016 Reply

    I have often been related to the characteristics of the prophet that you described. I have found that humility has been the most helpful. I learned the hard way in many areas and discovered humility through lots of difficult correction. Many that I know who resemble the character of a prophet also seem to struggle with a prideful “confidence”.

  5. Anonymous May 16, 2018 Reply

    Hi, I go to a prophetic church and the prophet is a really nice person but I noticed that when I’m being prophesied to I end up feeling offended, at the friday prophetic service last week, he said some things that really offended me and now I’m thinking about leaving this church. I know that prophets are humans and are sensitive but sometimes they should choose their words more carefully

  6. Amanda May 19, 2018 Reply

    As a prophet, especially if you are dealing daily with God’s law and the fulfillment of them through our Lord, you have to be patient on every level. You hear people talk about the Word, which is totally wrong. When the Lord says it is not time, You need maturity to keep quite and wait, but what I found, maturity is the ability to love and the passionate desire to show people the right way, because God was gracious to show you first the correct way, so you can keep your brother from going down the same path you took when you were immature.

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