We are living in a time of transformation. The ministry of the prophet is very important at these times. Joel connects shaking and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with an increase in prophesying. This is because God cannot act, without first giving a warning through his prophets.

Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

God cannot shake his church until he has announced it through his prophets.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, God is merciful and always gives his people an opportunity to repent, before judgement comes. God would be happier if he did not have to shake the church. He gives a warning, hoping that his people will put things right. But if the warning is not heeded, God has no alternative but to act himself.

Secondly, it is important that any shaking of the church is recognised as coming from the hand of God. If it is seen as just a coincidence, it will not be effective. The fact that it has been announced beforehand by God’s servants will be proof that it is a work of God.

Prophets are watchmen and men of vision who can see what God is doing. Their task is to "uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10). They cooperate with God in breaking down all that is not built on the true foundation. They do this by announcing judgement against persistent sin. At the same time, they watch over all that God is building to see that it is built according to his Word. Prophets are absolutely essential for the purification of the church. The most urgent need in the church today is the restoration of the prophetic ministry. God cannot complete his work until the prophetic ministry is restored.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the manifestation of the gift of prophecy in the church. This gift is given by the Spirit for the encouragement and edification of believers. It is a gift that is available to all believers. In fact, Christians are urged to eagerly desire the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1,5). Of course, not everyone who exercises the gift of prophecy is a prophet. Whereas the gift of prophecy can be given to any believer as the Spirit wills, the ministry of the prophet is a calling on a person’s life. It is this ministry that the church really needs.

Prophets are watchmen. They stand on the walls of the city of God so that they can see what God is doing and call the people to respond. They speak for God. Their task is to bring the word of God to the people of God. The prophet admonishes, warns, directs, encourages, intercedes, teaches and counsels. This ministry is well described in Jeremiah’s challenge to the false prophets:

Which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word?

If they had stood in his council, they would have proclaimed his words to his people and they would have turned from their evil ways and from their evil deeds (Jeremiah 23:18,22).

The prophet must spend time in the presence of the Lord. When they know the heart and mind of the Lord, they must speak the word of the Lord to his people. They stand before the people as one who has stood before God. And because their words are from the heart of God, they are powerful and effective. They are especially effective in turning people away from sin.

A prophet must be called by God. The initiative in making a prophet always rests with God. It is not a ministry that anyone can take up. Only a false prophet dares to take up this ministry for himself. The true prophetic ministry always begins with a call from God (Jeremiah 1:4-10; Isaiah 6:1-8). And the proof that prophets have been called is the fact that their words are effective and fulfilled. A good example of this is Samuel. All of Israel knew that Samuel was a prophet, because the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Samuel 3:19,20).

Prediction of the future is part of the prophetic ministry. Almost every prophet in the Old Testament first appeared as a foreteller. Through their fellowship with the eternal God, prophets have access to the future. They are seers who have insight into God’s purposes for history. But what they see for the future is always related to the present. They warn of future judgements so that people will change their behaviour. They speak of future blessing to give hope for the present. Prophets speak to the present, in light of the future that God has revealed to them.

The primary responsibility of prophets is to speak to the people of God. They bring both direction and correction to the church. But a prophet may also be called to speak to their nation. Many of the prophets of the Old Testament found themselves confronting kings, and taking an important role in national affairs. Some also addressed their words to foreign nations. But the prophet’s main concern will always be for the church.

The prophet’s loyalty to God must take priority over their loyalty to the church. While being sufficiently involved to know what is going on, they must be detached enough to be objective. This means that a prophet should not be a paid officer of the church. It is interesting that Paul says that gifts of money should only be given to those elders who work hard at teaching or preaching (1 Timothy 5:17). That is, only pastor-teachers and evangelists should receive financial support. Prophets are not included because being a prophet is not a full-time work. They can work part-time to support themselves. An example of this is Amos, who earned his living as a shepherd. If prophets are financially-independent they will not be tempted to compromise.

An important part of the prophet’s task is prayer. Because they know the mind of the Lord, they are in a position to pray effectively. They have a clear picture of what God is doing, so they know where prayer is needed most. Prophets watch over the word of the Lord and pray it into being. They must not rest until God has fulfilled his word (Isaiah 62:6).

Pastors and Prophets

Every church needs both prophets and pastor-teachers. The two ministries are complementary. Pastors tend to be warm, loving people. This is a strength for their ministry, but it means that they can sometimes find it hard to confront evil. Because they long to see people grow, and to see the church united, they can be tempted to compromise for the sake of peace and unity. A prophet would act as a balance to this tendency.

Prophets tend to see things in black and white. They have a zeal for holiness and truth. Their main concern is to see the church functioning according to the Word of God. But their zeal for purity and truth can make them appear to be hard and harsh. The pastors will temper their strictness and zeal with love and grace. And whereas pastors tend to concentrate on the present, the prophets would give vision for the future.

Every church needs both ministries. It must exhibit both the love and the holiness of God. Love without holiness is compromise. Holiness without love is harshness. If both ministries are present in a church, then holiness and love will both be evident. The church will then be a true reflection of the character of God.

This explains why there is such a shortage of prophets in the church. Most modern churches are controlled by pastors. To them, a young prophet can appear to be a nuisance. When first starting their ministry, prophets seem to be negative and over critical. And because they are human, they often make mistakes. The trouble is that their intolerance and insensitivity can irritate the pastor. This causes the pastor to jump on the prophet, the first time that they makes a mistake. They are often so crushed that they do not dare to prophesy again. The pastor is relieved because what appeared to be a problem is gone. What they do not realise is that they have squashed a ministry that their church really needs. Because this has happened so often, there is a shortage of prophets in the church.

The New Testament teaches a different approach.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.
Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Test everything. Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 3:19-20).

Pastors must be careful not to quench the spirit of prophecy. The words of all prophets should be weighed carefully. The Scriptures give clear guidelines for testing prophecies. Anything that is good should be received; the rest should be discarded.

The restoration of the ministry of the prophet is urgent for our times. We must recognise the danger of the despair that comes with extinguished dreams. In the troubled times that lie ahead, many people will have their hope shattered. The plans and projects to which they have given their lives will collapse. Often they will feel that God has abandoned them. Part of the prophetic ministry is to give new vision to the people of God in times of shaking. The churches will need prophets who can explain how God is at work in what appears to be a disaster. And because prophets can see what lies ahead, they will be able to give direction and hope for the future.

We should not just be looking for a few heroic prophets like the men of the Old Testament. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit means that this gift has been distributed far more widely. We should be praying that God will raise up numerous prophets. There should probably be at least one in every church fellowship.

Go here for a detailed study of the Ministry of the Prophet.