When Prophets Pastor…
How to Pastor a Church when you’re Prophetic
Not all Pastors are alike.
In fact, no two are the same.
Church Pastors are like cars: All run on roads, all can accelerate and brake – but under the bonnet (the “hood” for our American cousins) all Pastors are more different than most congregation members would imagine. Just like the reality that we have petrol, diesel and electric cars (and hybrids too), the engine under the bonnet of your average church leader is really quite different to the Pastor down the road, or that famous one on the telly. And different engines are made for different things.
“So Christ himself gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Ephesians 4:11-12
Looking through the Ephesians 4 list of leadership types in the church, I would conclude that many great so-called “Pastors” (We tend to call anyone who leads a church Pastor…this is wrong and confusing!) are actually teachers in function, and build well-led and well-structured churches that grow large. Some are evangelists who build rather chaotic (but exciting!) fast growing houses of salvation and outreach. Some are apostolic and seem to spend more time abroad speaking and planting new churches than at their home church! Some are true pastors, in the functional sense of the word, and they care deeply and lead through deep relational bonds. All are right, godly and divine, but each will lead a church differently.
Most leaders are actually a very unique mix of 2-3 of the types mentioned above, making each leader a one-off!
I lead a church, but I am none of the above and part of my 30 year journey in ministry and leadership has been in discovering how a Prophetic person leads a church. So I want to talk to those of you today who lead a church, and lean quite strongly into the prophetic gifings.
I have been to many leadership conferences and equipping events, and listened to endless talks and sermons and I’ve finally concluded that most leaders who build large churches, then headline at leadership events to tell us how they did it, are usually apostolic and teacher in gift set. Occasionally there’s an evangelist or pastor, but usually with strong teacher tools in their gift set too.
As I sit listening to these outstanding “Pastors” teach, it has dawned on me that the engine under their bonnet was different to mine. My engine could not, and in many way should not, build church in the way they had done, as I was wired so differently.
I even sat with the pastor/teacher leader of a fantastic, very large and growing, attractional Spirit-filled church to ask advice about how to grow our church in depth, culture and numerically. Knowing me personally, he immediately highlighted something I already knew: “You are prophetic, and prophetic people don’t normally build large churches.”
The truth is, most Prophetic Pastors struggle to get a church to grow beyond 70 members!
To add to this, most leadership resources don’t take into account the “prophetic engine” under the bonnet, so there are very few books, conferences and training tools to help Prophetic Pastors build healthy, growing churches.
And so, over the last years of building church I have had to start discovering myself, how to build a growing church, when you’re wired more prophetically. My book “When Spirit & Word Collide” and the accompanying online course begins to tell some of the story of this journey, while our annual Spirit & Word Leaders Summit seeks to continue the journey face to face, but here are a few additional nuts and bolts of wisdom I’ve learned along the way:
Multiple Services or Multiple Locations? The two are VERY different! In order to grow, a church needs the physical space to grow. Most churches led by Pastors and Teachers address this by adding multiple services to their Sunday program (e.g. 9am and 11am, then perhaps even a 4pm and 6pm service). While this works great for a teacher, who can preach the same message over and over again with little depletion of energy, the prophetic engine is very different. A prophetic engine often works at much higher “revs” – the sense of the spontaneous and imminent reality of God speaking there and then in a meeting, means that once a prophet has finished ministering, he/she is a little weary, and certainly wouldn’t relish trying to recreate what just happened in the next service, in a few minutes time! The prophetic engine uses a lot more energy than the pastor/teacher engine. The conclusion is that multiple services are more difficult and more exhausting for prophetic ministries than the other leaders.
In the early years of taking on the leadership of Revive Church, it was obvious we were full in our one Sunday service, and we quite quickly progressed to 3 Sunday services in order to grow (9.30am, 11am and 6pm). This release of space and time choices indeed led to the church doubling in size in a relatively short time period, but it also led to exhaustion in me, the main preacher at many of these services. I soon realised I needed to find a better way than multiple services if I was to lead this growing church!
Through a mix of prophetic insight from others, and strategic thinking, I adjusted the pressures of the multiple service model, by trying multiple locations instead of multiple services. In 2009 we shifted our focus from 3 services in 1 location, and instead tried 4 services, but in 4 different locations, releasing teams of ministers to preach and teach, instead of it all resting on me.
The results were amazing, as our 90 year old church got its pioneering edge back. We reached out into new neighbourhoods, raised up leaders, had new locations, new times, and more “floor-space” (or seating capacity) and we continued to grow. 300 people responded to the Gospel for the first time in a little under 18 months! And what’s more, I was refreshed, excited and enjoying the journey again. This new strategy was a better fit for my prophetic engine.
Today we are in 8 locations, and just about to plant our 9th, but it doesn’t all depend on the prophetic engine in me “performing” over and over again every weekend, but rather the healthy release of the body of Christ into new adventures!
If you are a pastor, with a prophetic engine under the bonnet, you too might look at other churches and think “Let’s do multiple services, they are,” but then be disappointed at how exhausting they are for you to do. You must design your church around the giftings you have, so if you are prophetic, like me, find innovative ways to release growth, that do not demand things from you that you cannot do, week after week, year after year.
Embrace the Chaotic: Another thing I’ve noticed with large pastor/teacher led churches is their impressive ability to “franchise” and set controls around what they do, across multiple services or sites. They are almost obsessive about culture, about branding, about controlling the platform. They even lead services through “run sheets” and lists. While not wrong to the teacher, as they work well with the teacher gift set, all these are of course completely abhorrent to the prophetic, (often) spontaneous anointing that a prophet uses to lead. I know multi-site churches that tell their location preachers what to preach, so everyone is on the “same page” (A common obsession among teacher driven models), and even some that have the song lists prepared months in advance!
If you are a Prophetic Pastor, you will struggle to embrace these practices, even though the best leadership conferences may tell you otherwise. I am not saying they are necessarily wrong, I am simply stating that many Prophetic Pastors don’t have an engine that can be at home with those methods.
As a Prophetic Pastor I have decided to lead through “values” rather than control mechanisms. The reason behind this is that I have to trust as a leader that each and every leader working with me, has something divine to bring to the table in their location, and I want that to be released into the locations, rather than them having to teach what I tell them. This leads to personal passion in our leaders, imminent presence in services and the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, as people are free to experiment, go for it and express what God is saying to them.
We align our culture through training, shared values and occasional teaching series, rather than controlling the content of services. This leads to a sense of divine “sparkle” rather than the dull performance of a meeting program, planned by someone else, somewhere else.
I also discourage run sheets, as we are a prophetic house. Now there may be busy mornings, where there are presentations or concerts to do, and we do use them then. But most often, I want meeting hosts and preachers to follow the Spirit, to feel what God wants to do at any time, to help usher heaven to earth, more than fulfil the demands of a sterile list made earlier that week. Lists cannot listen there and then, leaders can. Release the leaders to listen and a prophetic church will embrace the prophetic style with ease and feel at home in its own skin.
No Prophet is Welcome at Home: In Mark 6:1-6 we read of Jesus visit to his hometown, where their lack of faith and honour hindered even the Son of God’s own ability to step out in the supernatural! “No prophet is welcome in his hometown” Jesus stated, showing that realms of the supernatural are easier for the itinerant than the local pastor.
So what should a prophetic local pastor do?
Well, firstly, remember we have an advantage over Jesus, in that our local home town churches can be filled with God’s amazing Spirit, so the dullness of the “Hometown Syndrome” can, I believe, be overcome.
A Prophetic Pastor must build a very supernatural culture through adventure, experimentation, mission, testimonies, storytelling, revival histories and momentum. These can all lead to a rising of faith and honour, which allows the supernatural to flow easily in the hometown. It’s also powerful to take time seeing a move of God among the children and youth of the church, as this always leads to a fresh sense of every adult saying “Well if they can heal the sick, so can I!”
Also, beware your administrative load, which can quickly suck the life out of the prophetic! If you become too distracted as a leader into spreadsheets, admin, health and safety and measurables, it will steal your zeal and momentum as a supernatural house. Prophetic leader, you must delegate these tasks and focuses to people more wired to do them, so you can give full attention to creating a supernatural flow in your church.
People Prefer a King to a Prophet: When Israel was led by prophets, they cried out for a king! (1 Samuel 8). They even said they’d rather pay taxes to have the clear understandable leadership of a king, than be led by a wild-eyed prophet! Ha!
If you are a Prophetic Pastor you will face this same dynamic, where people will wonder “Why can’t we be like that tidy, attractional church down the road?” Your worship teams will want their run sheets, your board will want their 5 year plans, your finance team will want their cost effective “multiple service” approach, but sadly, a Prophetic Pastor cannot always supply these.
While a teacher runs an organised church, a prophet loves a bit of divine chaos. While the pastor runs a caring church, the prophet wants a house that also knows the fear of the Lord, and no-one quite knows what God is doing to do next! While an evangelist has a clear single goal of reaching the lost, the prophet may be happy to also “waste” time in prayer and deep seeking of God’s face for seasons. This won’t always go down well with all the “troops.”
I sometimes apologise to my church (in a humorous way): “I’m sorry we are not super organised with everything locked down, controllable and understandable to our minds – but God gave you someone prophetic as a leader. That means we’re going to be gung-ho, wild, God following, pioneering, presence filled and prophetic as a church.”
Prophetic Pastor you might have to teach your people that gung-ho is good, that pioneering is scriptural (God said “GO” not “settle”), that “nice” is not necessary as those early disciples were causing riots, not having tea parties! Do it with a loving twinkle in your eye, that understands, “I know I’m harder to follow than a teacher or a classic pastor – but let’s adventure in God and do what He’s called us to do”
I believe this is the season for the innovative, wild, adventurous Prophet Pastors to stand up and stand alongside the apostles, teachers, pastors and evangelists, as we seek to “cover the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” – be bold as you do, but also be wise as you do. The engine under your bonnet can do some remarkable, amazing, supernatural things. Learn how to maintain that engine, and you will live well!