Different parts of the church understand prophecy differently. For example, I was recently at a conference in which a speaker distinguished himself as a prophet, because he was a visionary thinker. But this is not what it biblically means to be a prophet. Modern enlightenment has broadened the scope and given too many people the space to claim an authoritative position that is not theirs to take.
While prophets may have visions and even be visionary to some extent, their main job is to speak for God. Sure, many times they might speak out of their own mind, but sometimes they will supernaturally receive and speak a message directly from God.
Claiming to speak on God’s behalf is obviously a very big claim to make. Therefore, the last prophet I’m going to trust is the one who told me they were a prophet by their own authority or estimation—or that they found out they were a prophet because of a spiritual gifts test they took. A prophet needs to be called by God, be able to prove their gifting, and have someone else validate it.
It’s important for prophets to be tested just as we expect people in other spiritual positions of authority to be tested. In the Free Methodist Church, for example, I was required to go through the pastorate proving grounds after feeling a call to ministry. First off, I had to have my local church validate my calling and voice their belief that I was called to be a pastor. And then, after completing the set requirements, I had to have my entire conference test me and agree that they, too, saw the call. And then after the requirements at that level had been completed, I was able to be ordained in which the bishop and the ordained elders in my conference gathered around me and agreed that they saw pastoral gifting in my life. This whole process took a number of years to move through.
This process has since been changed in my denomination, because we were finding that just about anyone could still get ordained as long as they had the time and money to take the proper classes, read the proper books, and do the proper internships. The pastoral call shouldn’t be affirmed by fulfilling requirements, because just about anyone can do that. Instead, the process is now a bit more open and a bit more intense. It’s been changed to make sure that our pastors are actually called to be pastors and not just doing professional work that makes them perceive that they are pastors.
Now if we expect all of this work out of pastors, obviously we should desire a fair amount of proof from our prophets, since they are expected to speak clearly on behalf of God. Despite what some prophets might say, it is okay to require evidence that they are called by God to be a prophet. Vice versa, if the evidence can’t be proved, then it’s okay to question their calling.