The ability to hear God’s voice is not just another spiritual discipline. It’s the essence of discipleship and the key distinctive of the New Testament church. When the Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, it was this truth that the Apostle Peter emphasized: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). Now everyone could hear from God in the same way that the Old Covenant prophets did. The coming of the Spirit inaugurated a new season in the life of the church such that everyone could experience the fullness of relationship with God first-hand (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
The Power of Hearing God’s Voice
So we see the Spirit throughout Acts guiding into his people into truth (John 14:26), speaking about salvation and healing, leading them into mission, and speaking about things to come, just as Jesus had promised (John 16:12-13). As it had been in Old Testament times (Amos 3:7), we see God speaking at every point, initiating his plans for the kingdom.
Today, the voice of the Spirit is still speaking as the continuing voice of Jesus. The same Jesus who walked the earth two millennia years ago is ministering via his Spirit (John 16:7) to sons and daughters, young and old in your congregation. He’s drawing, revealing, healing, releasing and sending with words that are creative and life-giving (John 6:63). Jesus said that his words were like bread to our bodies and food to our souls: we cannot live them (Matt. 4:4). Hearing from God is an essential staple for our spiritual lives.
The Challenges of Pastoring the Prophetic Experience
Yet as pastors and leaders we face the ever-present challenge of how to pastor this powerful experience so that it is accessible to everyone in our congregations. Humanity is flawed so hearing God always carries the risk of getting it wrong with potentially devastating fallout. The words “God told me” have been used to manipulate, control and abuse. In facilitating this powerful experience in our churches, two significant challenges must be overcome:
1. Theological Orthodoxy
Throughout history, the experience of hearing God’s voice has been a point of contention theologically, particularly as it relates to the authority of the Scriptures. If I’m hearing God’s voice today, what kind of authority does this experience carry? If I make the claim to God speaking, does this not pose the same authority as Scriptural teaching? An inability to reconcile these questions has led to Cessationism (or at least a modified Cessationism) – the teaching that insists God stopped speaking when the last bible authors dropped their ‘pens’.
2. Effective Ministry Outcomes
The second area of challenge is how to pastor the experience so that it produces effective ministry outcomes. You’ve probably heard the stories: A man ‘hears from God’ to divorce his wife and marry someone else (far younger). A woman hears from God to move overseas with dire consequences. God tells someone where to park their car; the prayer group tells you how to run your church. Of course history tells an even more bleaker story. An ex-pastor shoots an abortion doctor claiming God told him. Medieval popes claim divine inspiration for mass slaughter during the Crusades.
Experience tells us that these challenges have been the reason for rejecting and minimising a spiritual inheritance that is rightly ours. Recent studies have borne this out in churches in both the US and Australia. The dangers, risks, threats inevitably lead to this profound experience being rejected.
The challenges are real, but not insurmountable. In order to disciple this powerful experience, we must create communities and cultures that facilitate hearing God’s voice in a pastorally safe way. All of the God Conversations resources are designed to help you build the church who hears God’s voice.
Looking to help build your church to be one where everyone hears God’s voice for themselves? Enquire about booking Tania for a leadership event here.