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Do You Hear Voices in Your Head?

by Jay Gary, PhD, April 16, 2007


Graham Cooke, Denver, April 13, 2007

It is not normal to hear voices in your head, at least in my culture. Yet many of my friends claim to. If you confessed to ‘auditory hallucinations’ you would normally be diagnosed as borderline schizophrenia by your psychiatrist.

Among psychologists there is little agreement as to why people hear voices. Most relate the experience to our unconscious minds, which presumably aims to resolve our past troubles. Today there are dozens of support networks to help people learn to cope with their voices and the problems that may lie behind them. Not every one who hears voices is mentally ill, nor do they drown their children, like Andrea Yates.

Recently I spent two days with a growing number of true believers who aim to induce each other into ‘hearing voices.’ They are part of what Pentecostal Christians call “prophetic ministry.” They claim the practice of listening to the Holy Spirit goes back centuries to biblical prophets such as Elijah, Daniel, or even Jesus. Granted, few claim to “hear voices” in the literal sense, but they do claim to hear God through the “inner voice” of their spirit.

While receiving personal guidance has been widely practiced in Christianity, especially among Quakers or Friends through the “inner light,” the modern day prophetic claims it receives guidance far beyond personal matters. A contemporary web site, the “Elijah List” aggregates daily prophetic “words” to a subscription base of over 130,000, about matters ranging from church sloth to U.S. foreign policy crises.

Few books offer an objective view of the prophetic movement. Most are written to the choir, like Pytches and Buckingham’s 1991 account, “Some said it thundered: A personal encounter with the Kansas City prophets.” As an insider to this sub-culture, Clifford Hill has written a fairly balanced overview entitled “Prophecy past and present” (Vine, 1989).

Some boast the 21st century prophetic is part of a new breed of believer, who is spiritual charged to take back what’s been lost to a secular culture. While the warfare motif is strong across the prophetic, which some number up to 500,000 in the U.S., there is a modulating bridal dynamic at work, calling believers to recapture a new innocence with their Lord.

Few demonstrate this self-reflective, “bride of Christ” focus better than Graham Cooke. Recently I went to hear Cooke, after being prodded by a friend for nearly four years. The conference was packed wall to wall with 600 people, mostly suburban 40- and 50-somethings.

Following an extended session of worship the first morning, Cooke gave a 100-minute talk. His British manner was very disarming. His conversational style and anti-institutional rhetoric was the polar opposite of a TV evangelist. In talking about upgrading one’s life, he spoke in street-language as appropriate to an Irish pub, as much to a church. I was surprised also, that unlike other prophetic superstars, he did not engage in any “called-out” prophecy to his audience, made famous by psychic medium John Edward, in a parallel world to Christian fundamentalism.

To me Cooke’s message was surprisingly refreshing–and future-oriented. He spoke about living out out of our dreams, nurtured by God’s love. He talked about “suddenlies” or encounters with life that re-orient us to who we can become, not just who we have been.

Perhaps taking a cue from Reggie McNeal’s book, “The Present-Future Church,” Cooke labeled these as “present-future” experiences, rather than “present-past” fixations. To deal with our baggage, the Holy Spirit must speak to us from the future. The Word renews our identity, and makes way for us to inherit a larger work and service. In turn we are called to relate to our spouses or relatives as emerging, in their present-future potential, rather than present-past stereotype.

While the main sessions went from dawn to dusk, the real action was in the back room. Everyone who had been pre-registered was scheduled for a “personal prophetic ministry” time with a “trained prophetic team.” My name tag was marked 2:00 pm. So taking my appointed time as destiny, I lined up in a cue along with other seekers for an encounter.

I was amazed at how organized the entire endeavor was. High tech facilitated high touch. Prayer teams were sorted into bull-pens, while those scheduled for ministry were escorted in, efficiently.

I sat down across from two prophets. One asked me if I had read the disclaimers, and I said yes. They then bowed their heads, flipped on their Sony cassette recorder, and sought “the presence of God.” Seven minutes later they were done with their prayers, and perhaps–I too was finished!

Their spoken words during the prayer session were intended to offer me assurance of my vocation, using imagery from gardening, jogging or at times, making declarative statements about God’s accelerating work.

To be honest with you, I don’t hear voices in my head. On the other hand, I didn’t just fall off the Pentecostal turnip truck. As an Evangelical, I have kept tabs on the Charismatic renewal, at local, national and the international level, for nearly twenty years. I’ve been drafted to work a healing line, when others found themselves short handed. For three years I served as a volunteer city, state and regional coordinator with the praise-oriented March for Jesus movement. I have heard the Good Word preached, sung, and delivered in both rhyme and rhythm.

Where does all this leave me? Where does it leave us? Should we view the prophetic as borderline schizophrenia? Is this merely a movement of collective dissent? Is the prophetic a self-induced “hearing voices syndrome,” as Foucault claims arises when a minority is at variance with the dominant social norms in society? To be honest, I am less interested these days to classify the prophetic on either end of the spectrum, whether human or divine.

I am more interested to inquire whether it leads people into healthy family, work and community relationships. This is an area which needs much more research. It is an area where prophetic leaders in English speaking countries should be just as eager to explore.

Can a prophetic lifestyle lead to what Argyris and Schön (1997) call “double-loop” learning? Are there parallels between “suddenlies” to cognitive insight (Sternberg & Davidson, 1995)? Does prophetic leadership in the church have any behavioral parallels with visionary leadership in corporations (Nanus, 1995) or charismatic leadership in politics (Burns, 1978)? Or is the prophetic nothing more than corporate cultism, operating in the religious realm to affirm power-relationships (Tourish & Vatcha 2005)?

Does the prophetic operate in the workplace, rather than just in the church? Are there any parallels to Senge’s (2004) or Scharmer’s (2007) claims of work group or team cognition based on their U-Theory? Is the prophetic an evidence of Surowiecki’s (2004) wisdom of crowds? Can we understand the prophetic best through complexity theory (Wheatley, 1999), operating chaotically on the edge of organized religion?

Personally, do practitioners of the prophetic display any more tendencies to new paradigm innovation, over maintaining stability. Would there be a cognitive style preference for innovation over adaption as measured by the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (Kirton, 1989)?

Is there any evidence that prophetic churches enhance their workforce, community or economic development? Or does the prophetic lead to authentic creativity and innovation or does it lead away to narrow sectarianism? Do non-apocalyptic prescient movements also operate in other religions, constructively or not (Cook, 2005)?

Finally I want to know–how should Christian futurists, who are trained in the art and science of forecasting, relate to the prophetic? Does the prophetic have any interest in learning and professionally practicing foresight, from both the right and the left brain?

I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. I am not in prediction business. I don’t seek divine foreknowledge for others. I am in the business of releasing others to cultivate human foresight and wisdom, whether that is CEOs, teams, organizations or communities.

I’ve done that for years as a strategy consultant. Now I do this as an assistant professor of strategic foresight with Regent University, by helping mid-career leaders practice the futurist trade, along with its theories, methods and taxonomies.

Perhaps you are in the prophetic. If you an prophetic leader, please give me feedback. How can we become a more expansive community of practice? How can futurists and prophetic practitioners learn from each other? How can we engage in action research to solve real problems? If you have some constructive ideas, please drop me a note via the contact form.


Argyris, C., & Schön, D. A. (1977, Sept – Oct). Double-loop learning in organizations. Harvard Business Review, 55(5), 115-125.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Cook, D. (2005). Contemporary Muslim apocalyptic literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Cooke, G. (1999). A divine confrontation: Birth pangs of the new church. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image.

Cooke, G., & Goodall, G. (2006). Permission granted: To do church differently in the 21st century. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image.

Hill, C. S. (1991). Prophecy, past and present: An exploration of the prophetic ministry in the Bible and the church today. Ann Arbor, MI: Vine Books/Servant.

Kirton, M. J. (1989). Adaptors and innovators: Styles of creativity and problem-solving. New York: Routledge.

McNeal, R. (2003). The present future: Six tough questions for the church. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nanus, B. (1995). Visionary leadership: Creating a compelling sense of direction for your organization. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Scharmer, C. O. (2007). Theory U: Leading from the emerging future. Cambridge, MA: Society for Organizational Learning.

Senge, P. M., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2004). Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future. Cambridge, MA: Society for Learning.

Sternberg, R. J., & Davidson, J. E. (1995). The nature of insight. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Surowiecki, J. (2004). The wisdom of crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies, and nations. New York: Doubleday.

Tourish, D., & Vatcha, N. (2005, November). Charismatic leadership and corporate cultism at Enron: The elimination of dissent, the promotion of conformity and organizational collapse. Leadership, 1(4), 455-480.

Dr. Jay Gary is president of, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years Jay has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

Hi Jay, This is Michael Morrell. This article is excellent; let me reply briefly. The questions you raise could easily be a PhD dissertation! And I hope someone takes them up. Unlike you, I did grow up charismatic, for about 10 years (with some Presbyterian breaks). I still maintain positive relations with charismatics, some of whom I’d count as “progressives,” and virtually all of whom are in the “prophetic” stream, which by my lights is the most active on the internet (not counting the gaudy and inauthentic corporately-managed websites of televangelists). Of course, I also track some aspects of this movement at and

Here are your questions that moved me most: “I am more interested to inquire whether it leads people into healthy family, work and community relationships. This is an area which needs much more research. It is an area where prophetic leaders in English speaking countries should be just as eager to explore.”

They should be just as eager! While some prophetic leaders might balk that you’re using “man’s tools” to try and analyze “God’s work,” I think many would see what you’re asking as another way of inquiring as to whether prophetic gifting and operation manifest the fruit of the Spirit, something they should be open to asking.

I found it interesting that you call “the prophetic” a “non-apocalyptic prescient movement.” While I would say most of the prophetic folks are not into detailed end-times charts like fundamentalists “Bible Churches” and Southern Baptists, there is some high-voltage apocalypticism going on, whether its of the general sort propounded by Rick Joyner at Morningstar (who feels a calling to warn the Church about disaster preparedness) or the specific mandate Mike Bickle’s “Friends of the Bridegroom” feels to prepare the way for the “return of the King” on earth. This application or maybe misapplication of Bible prophecy can be questioned by exegesis, showing the end of the age had come.

Virtually all prophetic movements have this apocalyptic component, though some, rightly recognizing dispensationalism’s inherent hostility to spiritual gifts, have also critiqued its dystopian leanings. In other words, I’ve seen increasing amounts of “the prophetic” incorporating more historicist, postmillenial, and even partial preterist nuances* in their vision-casting than their evangelical and fundamentalist counterparts seem comfortable with.

Your question “Finally I want to know–how should Christian futurists, who are trained in the art and science of forecasting, relate to the prophetic? Does the prophetic have any interest in learning and professionally practicing foresight, from both the right and the left brain?” is also interesting…I’d say that many in the prophetic movement would be wary, again, of appropriating “man’s techniques” for anything futures-related, preferring to rely “solely on God.” And those from the prophetic sphere would *would* be interested in foresight, I fear, might be doing so for unscrupulous motives, wishing to improve their “accuracy” or something when predicting trends.

Despite these potential cynicisms, I think it is worth the time and effort for both foresight people and those espousing an “eschatology of hope” to build bridges of communication to the “prophetic” world. Sure a lot of them can be eccentric, but variety is the spice of life; further there’s a lot spiritual energy and (yea, even) power in the prophetic branch; they have great potential to be great peacemakers or the most militant and warlike of Christians in the Western world. I’d personally like to channel that toward the former; you know, get ’em to read some Brueggemann with their Joyner!

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