|Book: Creating a Secure Church: BOOK TWO|
Part 1 : Objectives & Obstacles
Part 2 : Secure in Relationships
Part 3 : Secure in Ministry
Part 4 : When Things go Wrong
Part 5 : Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 11: Secure in Ministry - Gifts
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy”
(1 Corinthians 14:1)
In the previous chapter we considered a number of aspects of preaching that affect the security of the church. Within this chapter we'll go on and consider a number of other aspects of ministry that also contribute to or detract from the sense of security within the church.
11.1 Stay with me
I am aware that as I go into this chapter I am moving on into more charismatic aspects of ministry which may make certain parts of the church feel uncomfortable. I would simply ask that you bear with me and read what I have to say before giving this chapter a miss (you have, after all, tolerated my other references to charismatic things so far). Perhaps I may be able to say things that touch the reasons why you are unhappy about a charismatic dimension to the church.
A little while ago my wife and I were travelling on a ministry trip in the States and had been invited to a small church with some beautiful people. As we shared with the leader and his wife before the meeting started we found we had a number of things in common and the Lord had taken us down similar paths. The meeting progressed, I preached and the Lord gave me a number of prophetic words for the people there. To my mind there was nothing out of the ordinary. However at the end of our time together the leader and his wife came up to us and said, “That was beautiful” and went on to explain how they had been down the prophetic path but it had gone badly wrong. Yet, in the way we ministered, they regained a sense of security in this ministry and particularly in the use of the gift of prophecy.
I believe many of us are fearful in respect of charismatic gifts and therefore run down the path that says it is no longer for today, not because we are intellectually convinced that that is what Scriptures shows, but because we fear abuse, we fear obnoxious people who seem to flash spiritual gifts around like a laser sword from Star Wars!
Perhaps for some of us, we have run across imperfect people using a gift imperfectly and we have assumed it couldn't be of God. As we said near the end of the previous chapter, the Scriptures show us that God uses imperfect people, even an Ass! In fact the reason we know so much about spiritual gifts is that the church in Corinth was a classic illustration of God's kids running amok with God's gifts. The amazing thing was that God didn't withdraw the gifts. He knew they had to learn, they had to grow up. So it is with us.
11.2 The Use of Prophecy in the Church
Three times in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul exhorts them to “desire” spiritual gifts. Some people suggest that it is not spiritual to desire spiritual gifts, that it is seeking after experience. That was not how Paul viewed it.
To these Christians who had some experience of gifts he said, “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (12:30). After he had placed the gifts in the context of love he then said “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (14:1). When he was explaining about the gift of tongues he said, “try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (14:12).
What Gifts really are
If we worry about eagerly desiring such gifts, we need to remember that when you seek the gift you'll find the giver, for gifts are not something separate and distinct, they are simply Jesus expressing himself supernaturally through a believer. Let's see that in two of the main New Testament passages on gifts:
1 Cor 12:4-11 (gifts of abilities on occasion)
Rom 12:6-8 (gifts of abilities on occasion, with a sense of regular usage)
Human and Divine
Many of us don't doubt God, but we doubt the human vessel that carries the divine. The trouble is that whenever God expresses Himself through us, the human is not overridden but is still very much there. For instance we have the choice:
Yes, there may be some who fear to let God be God and be Lord over all their circumstances, and most of us probably aren't put off by God, but we fear less than perfect people!
11.3 Checks and Balances for Prophecy
Let's consider some of the Biblical checks and then some practical things we can do to create a sense of security when the gift of prophecy is being expressed in the church.
The Context of Love
Before Paul moved on to speak about prophecy, tongues and interpretation, we have the well-known Chapter 13 on Love. What he says there is that if you have the gifts but don't have love, you've missed the point!
When Jesus wants to express himself he also wants to express his character (God IS love - 1 Jn 4:8). Therefore whatever gift we express should always come with the love of God. Whoever is on the receiving end of a spiritual gift ought to come away with a sense of being loved by God, because every gift is an expression of the Loving God.
As far as we are the vessel through whom God is moving, our part is to ensure our heart is open and full of love towards God, and open and full of love towards the person or people before us. Because we have free will, we need to choose to be a loving vessel to this person. God is for them even if He's coming to bring correction to them. When we come full of love for the people before us we will not come with any desire to harm or expose them, in fact quite the contrary. We'll say more of this in the next section.
Remember the Purpose
Paul said, “Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). We are not Old Testament prophets speaking to a God-called nation. Any message to non-Christians is “repent and believe the Gospel”. Salvation is their first need. Yet God does speak prophetic words and words of knowledge to non-believers sometimes as part of His means of drawing them to Himself. We have had on occasion prophetic words that have cut non-Christians to the core (see 1 Cor 14:24,25).
However, mostly prophetic words in church are for believers. Paul said in verse 4 of chapter 14, “ he who prophesies edifies the church”. Edifies means to strengthen and build up the church. The primary purpose, therefore, of prophetic words brought in the congregation are to strengthen, encourage and comfort people.
It is most unlikely therefore that God will give you a word that exposes publicly a sin in someone's life. Gal 6:1- indicates that our aim should always be to restore a sinner gently. Jesus, in Mt 18:15-17 gave an escalating order for dealing with sinners and it starts with confronting them privately, taking a witness and only then taking it to the church. For most of the time, therefore, prophecy does not haul people out into the public glare but simply builds and encourages etc.
There will be the rare occasion when because
rebukes will occur publicly, as we find in Acts 5:1-11 when Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira. It might be argued that these early chapters of Acts were what we would today term ‘Revival' and such powerful corrective rebukes are only likely to occur in such similar situations today. Correction should only be carried out under the direction of the elders (minister, leader, call him what you will).
In 1 Cor 14:29 Paul said “Two or three prophets should speak and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” Now note that he speaks about prophets, whereas earlier he said he wanted everyone to be able to prophesy (14:5) and not everyone will be a prophet, merely someone who can bring a word from time to time.
What this indicates is that there are different levels of significance in respect of what is bring brought. There may be:
The greater the level of significance, the greater the need for it being checked. Paul's word indicates that where it is a case of significant words from established prophets, it should be limited to two or three at a time to give opportunity for it to be assessed by others with similar gifting in the meeting.
If words are not clearly checked then this is a source of undermining the security of the congregation. If it is a complex word or even a word slightly off target and it is not publicly checked, then the people are left wondering or even led astray. The ways that we create this sense of security in the congregation by publicly checking out words does not need to be heavy, over bearing or of a manner that makes the person who brought the word appear a fool.
In our own congregation we had a number of means of checking words. First of all we let it be known that when people feel they have a word to share publicly, they should bring it from the front so everyone can hear it through the amplification, and that they should come and check it with one of us in leadership first of all, not with the worship leader. In our situation we had one person leading the worship and then someone else later on preaching. We didn't want the worship leader to have to stop to check the word, so one of the rest of us in leadership would be approached to check the word even before it was brought.
When they shared that word with us we checked
I've never yet had to reject a word because of a), rarely because of b), and occasionally because of c). If we are turning away a word because we feel it would interrupt the flow of the worship or it's not just right for the moment, we'll simply say, “Thanks for bringing that. Hold onto it for the moment and we'll watch and see if it fits as we go along. I'll give you a wave if it seems right.”
What often happened was that later on in the service, it became more clear that this was the time for that word, so we'll indicate to that person to come up front again. The worship leader would be keeping an eye on me or whoever else might be checking such words and so when we feltl it was right we gave them an indication and they would step back and leave space for that person or people to share what they had.
Once a word had been shared from the front publicly we decided how to respond to it:
In such a way the congregation feel secure in the knowledge that the word has been tested and checked and can be accepted.
As a church that encourages the use of prophetic gifts we went to some lengths to teach understanding of the gift and its limitations. This is not the place to impart our full prophetic course but as far as understanding and bringing security is concerned we would teach:
In each of these ways we seek to allow the Holy Spirit freedom to bring God's specific word to us while at the same time putting checks in that seek to limit or restrict the possibility of human fallibility. What we have thus found is that a sense of security is created in those with the gift, who knew that they would be lovingly cared for as they bring it, and in the congregation who know that we would not permit them to be abused by someone doing their own thing.
11.4 The Benefits of the Gift
When the prophetic word is released in a secure environment, FAITH is built, God's LOVE is made more real, it brings JOY in the sense of being loved, it brings PEACE with a sense of purpose, it enables us to walk with PATIENCE in understanding, it releases KINDNESS towards others, it brings GOODNESS with that same understanding, it strengthens FAITHFULNESS in confidence, it allows GENTLENESS to prevail as we understand the Lord's acceptance, and it brings SELF CONTROL in the awareness of God's purpose for us. You may recognise these fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22,23 which come when God is allowed to be Lord in the midst of His people.
Secure to Move in the Spirit
Before we move on we should also face the fact of fear when it comes to issues of faith and the Spirit. Those of us who have particularly high standards will be especially prone to this. Put most simply, we fear getting it wrong! Thus we hesitate in allowing the Holy Spirit to minister through us, in case it's not Him and just me! When it comes to spiritual gifts some of us are more fearful of attributing our words to God. This fear may be rooted in a belief that God doesn't speak today, but it's more likely to be rooted in pride that will worry about what others think.
The prophets of the Old Testament must have had to face this one. So often they seemed to be a lone voice speaking out for God. But what about bearing witness to Jesus in a crowd of non-Christians deriding God. Would we hesitate in speaking out? Hopefully not! If we do hesitate it is usually personal pride, what they will think of me? We are not attributing our words to God in that context but we don't hesitate to speak out. So if we don't worry about what people (non-Christians) think in that situation, why do we worry about what our brothers and sisters think if we say, “I believe God might be saying….”?
Have we locked ourselves into that foolish position that says God doesn't speak today - the God who for several millennia recorded in the Bible spoke, spoke and spoke again. If we say God doesn't speak we are as bad as the Deists who relegate Him to the role of the absentee clockmaker who set everything going and then stepped back. No, the main reason we hesitate to move as led by the Spirit, hesitate to speak out at God's prompting, is not because God doesn't speak, but because we are so insecure that we cannot trust God's love for us, we cannot trust ourselves, and we cannot trust those around us to love and accept and possibly gently correct us when we might get it wrong.
Every time I bring a prophetic word or a word of knowledge or revelation, I feel like Peter stepping out of the boat - it's just as great a risk! Yet again and again after I've had the courage to speak the words, I've had people say, “That's wonderful, that's exactly what I needed. How could you have known that?” Within me there is a great sigh of relief, I have not abused someone, I have not led them astray. Using spiritual gifts requires a great sense of security. If you've never brought ‘a word' to someone, it may create real fear in you at the thought of doing it. But wherever you are in God, it still requires faith which, as someone has commented, is spelt R-I-S-K.
Mostly I don't get stressed bringing words of general encouragement etc. but because I have a strong pastoral heart, there are certain words that God has given me that have brought absolute anguish to me, like the word, “You will have a baby in the next year” to the parents who have been told they'll never be able to have children, or “God will guide you to the man of His choice within the next eighteen months”, to the girl in her late thirties who has longed to be married but has never found the right man.
In both cases I anguished, “What am I saying here? Lord, I don't want to hurt these dear people, I don't want to raise false hopes”. In the event, the baby and the husband came in the given times. What was happening? God was simply telling His children that He was going to bless them so that when it happened they knew it was Him and would be more firmly established in His love for them. For the mouthpiece bringing the message it requires a real sense of security and a sense of right proportion.
When I've sometimes been questioned on this I've said I see myself simply as an office boy delivering memos from the managing director (yes I know I'm a Son of Almighty God, please just get the picture!), so the responsibility on us is purely delivery, but having said that it's very difficult to remain outside the situation.
11.5 Deliverance Ministry
Let's move on to another area of ministry, that of deliverance. For some of us this may be an even more contentious area. It's not an area I revel in but it is one that God has brought to the fore from time to time and it therefore becomes an area of activity that pertains to security in the church.
Forced upon Us
The presence of demons is not something we have to go looking for. When the powerful presence of God is manifest and there are also demonic beings around, then they will make themselves known. We see this clearly in Mk 1:21-26. The manifest presence of Jesus provoked the outcry from the demoniac. We learnt the hard way about this a good number of years ago.
When it first happened to us, at the end of a meeting when the Lord's presence was particularly powerful, we engaged in a deliverance session at the back of the room in full public view, complete with all the accompanying noises. In retrospect, although the person was delivered, we realised that the enemy had gained a lot of unnecessary publicity along the way. Around the world there are many different approaches and practices in respect of deliverance but for the sake of the security of the church, we have concluded that we are to be in control and not the demon!
To take control when a demon manifests itself means we first have to know who we are in Christ and the authority we have in Christ (obviously there is much in this but this is not the place to expound on holding our ground in Christ). Now I am aware that in many quarters screaming and shouting at demons seems to be the number one way of taking authority, but I would suggest that often this is because the person leading the deliverance is unsure of their position and volume helps boost confidence.
Now fear is a weapon of the enemy and noise and violence on his part may be part of his strategy to unnerve us. That's why I like Jesus' first response to the demon in Mark 1:25 - “Be quiet!” Why should we let the enemy scream and shout and get evil glory to himself? Not only that, it demeans the person who is possessed and who we want to help. There are those who carry out deliverance in a loud and violent manner addressing the demon. For the sake of the person and indeed perhaps sometimes for the onlooking church, we need first to silence the enemy and then with the help of the possessed person, take control of the situation until we come to the point when we command the enemy to leave.
It may be worth reiterating at this point that we want the co-operation of the person being delivered. Sometimes as I have watched situations in the past, it seems that well-meaning people seeking to help a possessed person often aggravate the situation by the aggressive persistence rather than help it. Although this may not always be true, especially in the case of multiple occupation, more often than not we can ask the person to whom we are ministering to take control and focus on us.
We sometimes need to lower the spiritual temperature so that we are getting more of them rather than more of the demon. Treating the person with love, gentleness and respect will help them respond to us and take back control under our authority. After they have made a declaration that they want Jesus to be Lord and they renounce the enemies activities in their life, we may then be ready to move simply, quietly and with authority to demand the enemy leaves.
Now at that moment there may be a struggle and there may be noise (see Mk 1:26 ) but that is very different from an ongoing argument between demon and deliverer which is really just about who has what authority. If we know we have the authority and we know the leading of the Spirit then:
we can silence the demon,
talk to the person and diagnose the situation and find out why this
situation has occurred,
gain their co-operation in repenting of their past sin and renouncing the
works of the enemy, so that we remove the grounds for the enemy to stay.
We can then command him to leave.
The Secure Environment
When we are involved in deliverance, in seeking to create a secure church, there are two areas of consideration:
The first is the person wanting and needing deliverance. Even though they are under the strong sway of the enemy, we still want to love and respect them and, to the best of our ability, protect them from public gaze, so that once they have come through they do not have to be worrying about what people thought of them. Hence we silence the enemy and decide on the strategy for releasing this person, which may involve taking them into a private back room; it may involve counselling them and helping them reorder their lives first. We are considering their well being.
The second area of consideration is that of onlookers. Sometimes it may not matter who is around, while at other times there may be very young children present or perhaps elderly people who are not familiar with deliverance and may be fearful, and so for their sake we limit the enemies activity publicly. In these ways, in both those ministered to and those who look on, a sense of security is created.
11.6 Ministering Healing
Perhaps nowhere more than in the area of healing is there potential for the love of God to be imparted, or alternatively, of creating confusion, disillusionment and cynicism. Again this is not the place to go into great detail about the healing ministry. We simply want to cover those matters that may affect the creation of a secure church.
The Need for Healing & a Secure Environment
The greatest difficulty in this area is what about the people who do not get healed? We live in a day of increased godlessness and unrighteousness in our Society, and at the same time of increased illness. As I write I have a newspaper article in front of me that reports “The health of young people has suffered an alarming collapse in a generation, a recent study revealed. Nearly twice as many teenage girls and young women are suffering long term illness than was the case 25 years ago.” That was simply one report, but the truth is that as a Society we are more unhealthy than we used to be. Scripture often links sin and sickness.
Because we live in this Society, many of us in the Church are struggling with similar things. Then comes the idea to pray for healing and whether it is a healing mission or simply regular services for healing we find an increase in ministry for healing. While some people are healed there are still a lot who are not. Therefore, creating a caring environment for healing prayer is critical if we are not to do more damage than good.
As with any other area, because we are human beings we sometimes get it wrong, and perhaps no more so than in this area. Clearly Jesus did heal and does heal. Clearly there are those to whom God gives a healing gift or even a healing ministry, and we should in no way take anything of the glory of God away from that. Yet in healing meetings we do see abuses, promises of healings that are not fulfilled, focus on the few healed to the detriment of the many who came forward but went away disappointed.
Now as I said earlier this is such big subject that we can't deal with it in depth here, but the fact is that we have many people in the Church who long to be healed, have even been prayed for, but who have not been healed. Often these subsequently feel guilty, feeling that their faith is inadequate or their lives are less than acceptable. Here is a major pastoral problem lurking below the surface.
God who is Sovereign
It is crucial that we face the fact that God who is all-wise and all-powerful is sovereign. There are times in history when God comes in revival power and sovereignly moves in bringing salvation and bringing healing. Sometimes those are in certain geographical areas and for certain periods of time, at other times they are through the ministries of individuals.
When Jesus came, the Father was able to perfectly express Himself through him. What we find in the Gospels and then in the Acts, as the Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus, is virtually equivalent to what we have subsequently seen in history a number of times that we call Revival.
The Uncertainty Principle
If God calls and prompts us to pray for healing we may assume that some people are going to be healed, because that's why He's called us to do it. Yet as we come to pray we do need to make it clear that it is God who is going to move, not us, and we don't know the extent of what He is going to do (unless He has given specific words of knowledge). We also need to explain that perhaps some who would like to be healed may not be healed this time. This isn't to undermine people's faith, it is simply being truthful. When God wants to move He will impart faith to somebody to believe for this, and as they respond, healing will be released.
Chaos from Over Zealousness
What seems to happen sometimes is that as God starts to move, the over zealous leader loses perspective and starts making statements beyond what God has said, and hopes are raised beyond what the Spirit is bringing. I observed this at one particular conference a while back. Attending this conference were one or two significant ministries from Africa, men who were known there to move in signs and wonders. Another leader while speaking, invited those who had been particularly moved by what he had been saying and who wanted to be powerfully touched, perhaps for healing, to come forward and he would ask the African brothers to pray over them. As I had been sitting there I had thoroughly appreciated what he had been saying but did not feel his description of who was to respond fitted me. In a gathering of about four hundred people I guessed that perhaps a dozen or so would fit the exact criteria that he had given. However well over three hundred actually got up and started to go forward.
What did we have here? A lot of people who did not know how to distinguish a rise in faith within them by the Spirit from a general desire to be blessed, and a leader who did not have the courage to stop the crowd and make a distinction to clarify the limited number he expected in the Spirit. The outcome of this was that the men who had been asked to pray found it very difficult to pray for such a large number with the result that they ended up giving a cursory touch and a word of prayer to most people, and in the melee quite a number never even were touched. The result? Large numbers of those who went forward came away disappointed with nothing having happened.
Did God fail? Did the people fail? No, the administration of the thing was just bad so that things were not happening as the Holy Spirit wanted it to happen. The sad thing about that was that if the small number originally called had gone forward, I believe we would have seen spectacular things happen, which God may then have used to release genuine faith in others who would also have been powerfully touched. Instead because of insecurity, chaos ensued followed by disappointment and possibly disillusionment.
Believe for It!
The final aspect we need to mention here is that of whether someone has been healed or not. A very humanistic teaching some years back said, “When you have been prayed for, believe that it has happened. Ignore the symptoms. Believe the prayer.” Now the reason I say ‘humanistic' teaching is because we have man-centred thinking here that sees healing as down to us. Our part is to respond to God, His part is to do what we can't do, change the course of nature and bring healing when He wants to. While there may be a whole variety of reasons why God can't or won't heal at this moment, as we respond to His prompting He will heal in His time.
In the Gospel illustrations of Jesus healing he moves in a variety of ways. Sometimes he links sin to the healing (Mk 2:5-12), sometimes not (Jn 9:1-3). Sometimes the healing was instantaneous (Mt 8:3), sometimes it was partial in stages (Mk 8:22-26), sometimes it required people to go away and do something (Mt 8:13, Jn 9:7), sometimes it required faith (Mt 9:22), and other times Jesus just did it despite the person (Jn 5:6-9). More often than not it was a case of people seeking out Jesus because they were sure he could heal them, but in every case the most important thing was the will and direction of Jesus.
In all of this we have to say people were either healed or they weren't. People didn't have to think their way into being healed, Jesus just did it. It was a sovereign work of Jesus. As we seek to create a secure church can we, in the whole area of healing, be both a people of faith but also a people who care for all who are in physical, mental or emotional need, so that they may receive the love of Jesus through us to them, whether they are healed at this moment or not!
11.7 And So?
In this chapter we've simply considered some of those aspects of ministry that occur in church. The following questions pick up on the things covered in this chapter:
Do you fear spiritual gifts? If so, is the fear about God or about people?
Is prophecy given in your church? If so are the safeguards mentioned in the chapter clearly there to protect all concerned?
Is deliverance ministry something you've encountered? If it is, is there a control of the situation and a clear expression of gentle authority? Was the person being ministered to clearly being loved & cared for?
Does prayer for healing take place in your church? If it does, is sufficient teaching given to explain it is a sovereign work of God and are the people being prayed for dealt with gently and with care, especially if healing is not evident?
Again we have to emphasise that the purpose of these questions is not to condemn but to provide a checklist that we can use to work towards creating a secure church. In this chapter we have picked up on issues specifically relating to how we create security while using and encouraging the use of spiritual gifts in the church, to the glory of God.