How To Disciple an Immature Prophet (APEST Series)

Written by Ben Sternke:
Have you ever noticed that some people seem to be wired up to question everything? They’re always
seeing what’s wrong, what’s unjust, what could be improved. They care about whether we’re living out
the right values or not. They tend to ask questions that upset the status quo and bring us back to our
most fundamental values. These are people the Bible calls prophets, and they’re great! But they can
also be terribly annoying and completely unproductive, especially if they’re immature in their gifting.
It’s important for us as leaders to be able to recognize the immature prophets among us, and disciple
them to maturity so they can fulfill their ministry in the Body of Christ. But discipling a prophet is a lot
different than discipling someone gifted in another way, so let’s talk about the unique challenges and
opportunities of discipling immature prophets.

Five gifts for the church
The way I’m using the word “prophet” comes from Paul’s letters. They’re mentioned in Ephesians
4:11-13, where he is laying out five different gifts that God gives his church. These gifts are
actually people that God has gifted and then given to the church to build it up and bring it to maturity
and unity. (This is sometimes called APEST – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds,
Teachers. Search “Alan Hirsch APEST” for more.)
Paul’s assumption is that the church needs to grow into the fullness of her identity in Christ, and that
these five gifts are crucial to that happening. In other words, we need prophets in our churches if we’re
going to grow into maturity. The problem is that mature prophets don’t grow on trees. Prophets
normally come to our churches immature, in need of encouragement and shaping. How can we do this
faithfully and effectively?

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, “prophets” can be a bit of a polarizing term. It’s easy to
think of Old Testament prophets with their fantastic visions and strange behavior. We can also
imagine Nostradamus-like figures, predicting obscure happenings in a far-flung future.
But a better way to think of prophets is that they are simply people who are in touch with God’s
values and care a lot about whether people and organizations are living those out or not.

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 from “true north” in these areas.
• They are able to stand back from circumstances and get a clear picture of what’s really going on
underneath the surface.
• 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 (still feels weird to say that). This is how I’ve operated in
almost every team I’ve ever been part of. I ask 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 their relentless drive for better, they can make others feel inadequate and
discouraged. They have trouble continuing to move and act on their convictions because they strive for
perfection in everything. People feel like they can never “measure up” with a prophet, and that it’s hard
to disagree with them.

Here are some signs of an immature prophet:
• They talk about their perspective as though it was simply “the truth.”
• Because they think they are the ones who really “get it,” they can form elite cliques in churches
that destroy unity.
• They jump from church to church because they keep finding problems 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 can’t hold their tongues.
• They have a hard time accepting people right where they’re at.
• They tend 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 notice these characteristics in yourself? One temptation
we encounter with immature prophets is to use them for their ability to think strategically and their
willingness 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.”
But frankly, the easiest temptation is to simply reject an immature prophet, because they can be some
of the most annoying people you’ll ever meet. It’s really easy to wish that immature prophets would
just go away. I know leaders who have 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 loving or wise to use them or reject them. Instead, we learn to disciple them.

How do we disciple immature prophets when we find them in our churches?
In some ways, what prophets need to grow in discipleship is the same thing that everyone needs: an
abundance of both grace and truth. We calibrate grace in discipleship by offering connection and
compassion in an authentic relationship. We calibrate truth in discipleship by holding reality in front of
others non-anxiously.
This calibration looks different for a prophet than it does for an evangelist or apostle. The grace and
truth they need takes on a certain shape.

Offering grace to an immature prophet
Here are a few things I’ve learned about offering grace 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). The prophet can never be the sole interpreter of her message.
• 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” that sets people free, instead of mere “fact
truth” which can often bind people in fear and shame.
• Prophets need to remember that they need the whole body of Christ, that God is not just a
“voice,” that the other gifts really matter.
• It’s worth noting that the apostle and prophet gifts seem to work together well to establish and
build new works. There seems to be something powerful about the apostle-prophet partnership
that helps new things start.
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 every
single day, probably, but you need them.
• If you’re a prophet, pray for an apostle to join you! It will be hard to deal with their
relentless push for movement, but it will be a good kick in the pants for you