Caveat: Its easy to simply criticise what we don’t understand, so as I write some reflections here based on my experience of the Global Prophetic Conference we were just a part of in Glasgow I am concious that I was well out of my natural habitat and I need to tread carefully.
Back in 2003 I remember having a deep and distinct awareness of my calling to be a missionary to the western world, rather than trying to keep shoehorning myself into the local church pastor role. I flew across to Melbourne to hang with Al Hirsch and the Forge crew and I just remember feeling like I had ‘come home’. I had discovered other people like me who were disturbed deep in their gut about the state of the church and our missional indifference. All thru the 5 day intensive I felt myself wanting to yell ‘YES YES YES!! This is what we need to do!’
I was inspired but also excited because I had found my tribe. They were predominantly apostolic types – pioneers – church planters and innovators. At that point I didn’t realise that an apostle was the equivalent of a missionary (apostello = to send) nor did I care. I just felt relieved that I wasn’t a lone voice agitating for change.
I sense the Global Prophetic Conference was that equivalent for prophets – a gathering of like minded and similarly gifted people coming together to focus on the enabling of the prophetic gift within the church and the world.
I had been listening to Emma Stark’s podcast for a few weeks before attending to try and get my brain tuned to the frequency on which these guys are communicating. And I found their content interesting, sometimes provocative and intriguing. But I was also aware that they were using a language and tone that I wasn’t familiar with – and at times I was wary of.
Why wary? Probably because my historical experience of prophetic people has been a bit chequered.
My positive experiences have been with the John (Smithy) Smith / Tony Campolo types who have confronted the church on matters of justice – the preaching prophets. But my more negative experiences have been with the ‘thus saith the Lord’ types who deliver an apparent message of ‘revelation’, or those who dispense ‘prophetic words’ like fortune cookies or horoscopes – clear enough to he possible – obscure enough to be interpreted any way you like.
Being a fairly natural cynic doesn’t help me to hear their voice. I want to say ‘really?… Are you sure?…’ Especially when it’s a prophecy of larger proportions. And I find it easy to dismiss anything that is so vague it could apply to anyone.
So what of the conference?
It was clearly led by a small team of high powered prophetic people (all of whom I had never heard of before – not my tribe). So the entire weekend was like a freight train powering across the land with no sense of slowing or taking a breath. The intensity level of the preaching and the worship was between 8-11 on a scale of (1-10). After the first evening Danelle asked me ‘ok so come on – hiw did you find it?’
‘Loud’ I said.
Because that was the only word I could speak with clarity. It was intense, confronting and at times inspiring. Emma Stark spoke the first message and essentially ‘downloaded’ a lot of what she felt God had been saying to her.
I really appreciated her courage to tap into the issue of the hour and speak about monarchy and how we compare ’empire’ and ‘kingdom’. She suggested that we may see a dismantling of ’empire’ going forward but that we shouldn’t be overly concerned because our focus should have always been the kingdom of God and it’s expression in our world.
She spoke of seeing Jesus as king rather than saviour or friend, not a new concept for many but it seemed to be a shift in that community. Scot McKnight’s writing on this subject has shaped my own thinking for many years now. She spoke of having a ‘violent’ approach to the kingdom battles that we face – that we have been too passive in dealing with the kingdom of darkness and too accommodating. ‘Violent’ is a strong word – usually with negative connotations – but I got the gist of what she was saying. The passivity and apathy of the church has allowed the kingdom of darkness to tap deeper roots and immobilise / strangle us in many ways.
Another speaker spoke to the issue of timidity and called people to move beyond fear to confront darkness. He was fairly insistent that pretty much everyone struggled with timidity and needed to respond to his call in some way or other. I don’t struggle with it so I found myself getting annoyed at his louder and louder calls for people to wake up to themselves. Yeah Nah…
As I sat there and listened I realsied there is a whole ‘theology’ around prophetic things that I am unfamiliar with and at times prone to critique. On Friday evening Emma Stark made minimal reference to scripture so I found myself immediately asking ‘why should I believe / trust her message?’ (When you’re a long time Baptist it’s what you do.)
But it’s also a fair question. I am not so constrained that I feel every speaker needs to preach expositorily each time they stand up – but I know that when I am needing convincing of an idea the person speaking needs to convince me from scripture.
No speaker took a passage of scripture and worked thru it as their base for a message. Perhaps that is more of a prophetic thing than what I am used to. But it meant I was always listening and on guard at the same time.
I attended 3 and 1/2 sessions out of the 5 and in each I found valuable challenge. I wished I had the energy to be present more fully on the Saturday evening but weariness got the better of me and by 9.15pm I was propping my eyes open. Knowing these guys like to ‘party’ I decided to head home and Danelle found me asleep with the light on when she came back to the room. My attempt at reading had only lasted a few minutes!
If I had to rate the transformative impact of the conference for myself it woukd probably be in the 2-4 range. I know that is very low, but I just didn’t feel the depth of impact that it seemed to be having on others. As someone who values silence and reflective practices over long repetitive worship sets I found myself zoning out during worship. When you repeat a line 72 times you lose me! (Yeah I ended up counting as I was getting bored.)
The long times of musical worship and long very intense (think lots of yelling) messages just didn’t turn a key in me. But this where I recognise that these are ‘not my people’ – not in the sense that the Forge crew were. There were some theological /cultural clashes as well at times although none of these were deal breakers – just different ways of reading the Bible and living it out. For example I chose not to join the other 1300 people who were filing past the prophets for an ‘annointing’. In my mind I don’t feel like I need or would benefit from their hands waved over me in prayer. Maybe I am wrong on that – but I struggled to see the value of the exercise.
As we drove up to Glencoe this morning I asked each person in the car what their one most significant ‘takeaway’ was. Each of us had a valuable insight. Mine was the sense that I had been too complacent when dealing with obviously evil or demonic activity. I can look away too easily because it doesn’t impact me directly. The folks I was with over the weekend would walk up and pick a fight – and win.
So perhaps that’s enough value in itself for a weekend. I fully believe in the value and need for prophets in the church and would never want to see them marginalised or done away with. In Baptist churches we haven’t valued prophets or apostles all that highly but apostles are probably an easier fit. Prophets still weird us out a bit too quickly.
My tribe will always be the apostles and I will find myself most at home among those who are dreaming new dreams of how the kingdom can advance – but I know I need my brother’s and sisters who live and operate in the prophetic realm. On the weekend I walked in to their tribal gathering – and while I wasn’t on their frequency at times with how they did things – I was with their heart to see Gods kingdom come on earth as in heaven and concious that for this to ever be a reality it will take us working side by side, arm in arm to get there together.
As an aside – Danelle and I asked one another as we entered the building – ‘what are the chances of being known by anyone at a prophetic conference on the other side of the world?’ No chance right?…
So we thought until after the first session when a woman approached us and said ‘hi – remember me?’
Truth be told I couldn’t place the face – such was my lack of expectation of any connection – but DJ was a friend from 20 years back during our time in Lesmurdie. She has been travelling with a friend and finished up hanging with our family for several weeks. Nice moment – and proof it’s a very small world!