Read an Excerpt
The Caring Congregation
How to become one and why it matters
By Karen Lampe
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
In All Things: PRAY FIRST!
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. —Colossians 4:2 NIV
All of us in ministry understand that prayer should always be our starting place for everything, but sometimes we take the power of prayer for granted.
Your journey of creating a congregational care ministry or directing people in their journey to help you should start with prayer.
So, to begin, may I pray for you?
Prayer: O healing God, we give you thanks for the opportunity to serve your people. We give you thanks for being appointed to do this holy task. Yet we don't know and are unsure of how to prioritize needs and create the systems that will best meet their needs. So Lord, I pray for anyone who is starting this journey. Give them courage and strength to know that you will guide them. Please provide them with vision, understanding, and resources. Help them not to be afraid to ask for help. And in all of this, we will give you the praise as we point your people to your healing grace and love.
In Christ's name. Amen.
The Redemptive Force of Prayer
As you recall from the Introduction, in each chapter a redemptive story or stories will be used to illustrate the ministry that happens through Congregational Care. Redemption means the act of restoring. The importance of prayer for redemption in all situations is primary. Let me illustrate through a personal story.
Easter Sunday had finally arrived. That morning promised to be one of the best Easter Sundays ever for The Church of the Resurrection. The weather was exceptional, spring break was over, and the sports schedule was minimal. However, the week before had been brutal in other ways as our department tended to the needs of eight families in the congregation who had experienced a death. For three of those funerals, I had been the lead pastor to attend to the services and the families. So when the sun came up that morning, although I felt charged with energy for the day, I have to say I was running on near empty.
I arrived at the church before our earliest service at 7 a.m., parked along the far edges of the parking lot, and began to walk into church. My arms were laden with my robe, stole, two clean shirts, two pairs of shoes, and two bags of other needed items. As I began to walk briskly (nearly breaking into a jog), I felt myself begin to stumble. As I continued at my quick pace, I completely lost my balance, then went face first toward the pavement. As the left side of my face ate gravel and I felt my glasses give way, I thought, This is not good.
Lying there for just a very brief moment, I hoped that someone had seen the fall, yet also in my embarrassment, I was hoping no one had seen me plummet. Well, it proved to be the latter, so I picked myself up and quickly realized I was bleeding from my mouth, nose, and the scrapes up to my left eye.
As it turned out, I was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital. But the prayers that occurred in between the time the accident happened until I got home around one o'clock tell something about prayer and the restoration that happens through the redemptive process.
Again, I was reminded of my primary contention about prayer: Prayer lifts us up out of the chaos of the moment to a different reality. That reality is where we connect with God and where restoration can happen.
With that in mind, I'll try to relay to you very briefly the number of prayers that either someone said for me, or I said for someone else on that Easter morning:
1. The medical doctor who volunteers his care for our congregation during worship services prayed for me and I prayed for him.
2. Our pastors came and prayed over me individually before I was shipped to the hospital.
3. On the way to the hospital I prayed for the young EMT in the ambulance who told me she and her partner could not find a welcoming church.
4. I prayed with the custodian in the ER who said he was working three jobs and wouldn't make it to church on Easter Sunday.
5. My husband and I prayed with the young man who shared our large room in the ER. He shouted that he was scared and asked us to open the curtain separating us.
Whenever someone was praying for me or I was praying for someone else, we were in the act of restoring. We were transcending the chaos of the moment. We were connecting with God.
That crazy Easter morning that I'll never forget was full of opportunities for people to be touched by God's love—including me! After that morning, I received many calls, cards, Facebook messages, and e-mails from people telling me they were praying for me. And I truly believe those prayers accounted for why I healed so quickly.
Principles of Prayer at Resurrection
Every church and pastor has basic ideas about how to do their daily ministry. For me, prayer absolutely sets the tone and flow for the day. My hope is that this extends out into the congregation in amazing ways. Prayer is the means by which people expect the pastor to connect with God, yet so many times I think pastors are reticent to say, "I'd like to pray for you. Would that be OK?"
Let me explain to you some key ways that prayer is extended at our church.
First of all, the pastors, directors, and leaders understand that every meeting, class, or service begins and ends with prayer. That prayer usually includes thanksgiving to God, a request for God's guiding presence, and acknowledgment of any obvious needs of those assembled.
Pastoral Prayer: in our worship services we try to use clear language that uses all the parts of prayer as described in the acronym ACTS.
We assume there are people who may not have been in church for a long time, so we create prayers that speak to the possible needs of the individual, congregation, or country. We do not preach through our prayers, but rather we try to take people out of the chaos of the world, and help them rise above whatever is hurting or worrying them. This is a very pastoral time. We want to lead people to a holy place so they can truly worship. Once they are centered, they can receive the Scriptures and sermon for the day. Never underestimate the power of a great pastoral prayer.
Prayer requests for the bulletin are so important to the congregation. Whether someone has a new baby, is facing a lifethreatening illness, or is sending a loved one off to war, people want to enlist their community of faith to pray with them. Yet, depending on the size of your congregation, you want to approach this carefully.
Over the years we have decreased the space for our prayer requests in the weekly bulletin. We have done this partly because we have felt a need to be very careful about which joys and concerns we make public, but also because we have developed other ways for people to receive or to be in prayer.
One of our most important means of enlisting prayer has been through our Covenant Prayer Team. This team receives lists of prayer requests throughout the week. Just today I received a list of three people who called or e-mailed asking for care or prayer. Sometimes the list is ten people. Only the first name is given to this team of people and a general description of what is requested by those asking for prayer. In this manner, we can keep daily prayers flowing through the life of the congregation.
Prayer Request Cards are provided in the seat backs in the sanctuary. People are encouraged to write down their requests during the service and then drop them in the offering plates after the service. People who worship online are also invited to submit their requests. This has worked very well for years, and most regular attendees know of this method of communication. However, it is very important occasionally to remind people of this opportunity to request prayer.
Every Sunday after the last service or very early Monday morning, one of our key staff members and a few volunteers sift through the multitude of prayer request cards for any emergencies that need our immediate attention. There may be a Monday morning surgery or someone in a crisis who cries out through a prayer card.
The cards are quickly copied and given to the pastors as they come in on Monday morning. The pastors and their teams look through them prayerfully and quickly access how to address the needs. Beyond that, the prayer cards are sent to a special prayer team who write prayer notes to each person regarding their request.
The best way I can tell you of how God works through this prayer is through an illustration that helped me learn years ago how important our prayers are. I received a card from a young woman who had written that her grandfather had passed away recently. I put the card into the usual pile for sympathy and grief, knowing that it would be addressed. But "something" kept bringing to my mind the young woman who had written the card, and by that afternoon I could not stand it any longer, and responded to the nudge.
The call began with the usual "Hi, how are you? This is Pastor Karen calling." But before I could get to the usual part about extending "my sympathy regarding the death of your grandfather," the young woman's voice broke and she said, "How did you know to call?" She went on to say she had just returned from the doctor who had told her that she had cancer.
This call hit me like a ton of bricks. What I came to understand was that God had been responding to me as I had been praying over the cards.
Before every counseling session, our pastors are encouraged to pray. This prayer of preparation allows you to care for yourself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally as you understand the rigors of such a session. Do not neglect to give yourself this gift!
As the counseling session begins, I always tell the party that I believe God is present and acts through grace to help us figure out what is happening in their particular situation. I want them to know this is a safe place. I tell them I'd like to start with prayer. The prayer usually goes something like this:
Gracious God, we thank you for the opportunity for John to share what is on his heart today. Allow him to dig deep and for me to listen with grace. Allow us to listen together to what you might be adding to this conversation. All this we pray in your Son's healing name. Amen.
Many times after the short prayer the person is tearful and is more ready to open up for possible healing.
Perhaps more important is the prayer that the person receives at the end of the session. I truly believe that for most people, this moment of prayer is why they came for counseling. As you have listened carefully to their needs, fears, and questions throughout the session, allow God to speak through you.
Hospital visitation should be bathed in prayer. The chapter on hospital visitation contains practical tips to prepare you or your volunteers for this important ministry. Before you enter the room, say a silent prayer that God will use you to be a presence of calm and assurance.
Patients are in a very vulnerable situation and to have someone pray for them before surgery or during the healing process helps them transcend a situation in which they can feel powerless. I always ask patients what they want me to pray for before surgery. Often they have specific things going through their mind. Right before I pray I address those concerns. Two great Scriptures that address the fear or anxiety often felt before surgery are Isaiah 43:1-5a (do not fear) and 1 Peter 5:7-11 (cast all your anxiety on God).
After the Scriptures are read, I ask if I can anoint them with oil before prayer (James 5:14), and then I pray something like this:
Healing God, thank you so much that we can live in a day and an age of modern miracles. We thank you for this hospital and the wonderful nurses and doctors who are here to be the hands of Christ in their ministry. Lord, today I pray for that healing to come to ___________ that she or he may receive the best care from all of her or his health-care providers. Allow them to offer the best of medicine and the kindest support. And even beyond this, God, we would ask that you who know every fiber of ___________'s being, would bring complete healing. So Lord, prepare ___________'s body so that he or she might receive complete healing this day. We also pray for ___________'s family that you will strengthen them for the ministry of family. Help all present here today breathe deeply that they might release any fear or anxiety in this moment. We know you are here with us and that you will be present every moment. All this in Christ's name. Amen.
Prayer vigils are a wonderful way to draw people together to pray. We have two major prayer vigils each year, one on Thanksgiving and one on Good Friday. For each event we choose a special theme. We provide short, simple prayer guides for both children and adults. Small groups, Sunday school classes, or families are encouraged to attend together. Our prayer vigils usually start early in the morning, incorporate a short noontime program, and end with a meaningful closing service. Our congregation responds positively to these events, and they add a beautiful layer of meaning to those seasons.
Create holy spaces that encourage prayer. This past year our worship planning team took a field trip to various Catholic churches in our area. Most of them had strategic places set aside for prayer. They were usually set in a quiet area that allowed people to come and go without being noticed. At Resurrection, our Firestone Prayer Chapel is set outside the main sanctuary and is available daily for prayer. We are currently working on a Prayer Wall and a Prayer Walk that will be outdoor features. I am convinced that such holy spaces allow and encourage people to pray.
As you consider what sacred areas you might create for prayer, I would encourage you to supply a quiet space with writing materials, prayer guides, candles, Bibles, and chairs. You might also provide reading materials that offer guidance regarding life issues such as grief, miscarriage, divorce, unemployment, and the like.
We train our volunteers to pray out loud. Many times people are reluctant to pray out loud. Congregational Care volunteers must be able to pray with people on the phone, through an e-mail or other written correspondence, or in person. As leaders, we have a duty to teach people how to pray. We do not assume they will know how to do this. In the next section, I have outlined what we teach to congregants, volunteers, and staff about praying out loud.
Praying Out Loud
For the last several years we have offered Praying Out Loud classes for our congregants, key volunteers, and staff members. One of those resources is a book by Laurence Hull Stookey called Let the Whole Church Say Amen! A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public. The main goal of the class is to give people tools to be more comfortable when praying out loud for groups or when praying one-on-one.
Seven basic steps to this course include:
1. Teach the person always to ask God to give them a right heart and words before they begin to say anything.
2. Begin by studying the different prayer types in the Psalms.
3. Write prayers that praise God.
4. Learn to name God according to the situation (Healing God, Gracious God, and so forth).
5. Help people with their confessions so they can release their guilt and shame.
6. Make your petitions appropriate for the situation (forgiveness, comfort, strength).
7. Practice praying out loud when you are alone or with those with whom you are comfortable.
As a ministry leader, you will be an example to those around you. Be an encouraging leader! As you train others to pray, encourage them so that their confidence to pray will grow. Then they will follow your lead by encouraging others to pray.
Our Praying Out Loud class is the basic curriculum on prayer, but we have developed others as we have seen needs arise in our congregation. For instance, after a sermon series on marriage, we developed a study called Praying as a Couple.
BACK TO REDEMPTION ...
Let's go back to my initial story that started with my fall on Easter. There are the obvious ways that the restoring forces of redemption were at play. There were people along my path that day whom I was able to pray with who were certainly out of the ordinary. Perhaps their lives would not have been touched by the Easter story if the accident had not happened.
There was a need for healing of my body. No doubt, rest was also a primary need. The prayers that were directed toward me that day and in the days ahead had a huge impact on my physical and emotional recovery.
Excerpted from The Caring Congregation by Karen Lampe. Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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