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THE Prayer SATURATED CHURCHA Comprehensive Handbook for Prayer Leaders
By CHERYL SACKS
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2004 Cheryl Sacks
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Church That Prayer Built
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If we call upon the Lord, He has promised in His Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to Himself, to pour out His Spirit among us. If we don't call upon the Lord, He has promised nothing-nothing at all. It's as simple as that. No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer. This is the engine that will drive the church. Jim Cymbala Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
Many years of my life's journey were spent as a high school journalism teacher. I still pray regularly for the public school system. One morning I was up early praying.
"Oh God," I cried. "Please return prayer to the classrooms of schools across our nation."
Suddenly the Holy Spirit responded to my prayer. His words seemed almost audible as they rang through the air: "Why don't you ask that prayer will return to the church?"
At first I was stunned. Then I began to ponder the meaning of those words. Could it be that the Lord saw the church's doors closed to prayer-just as they are in our schools?
I knew our Christian community needed to pray more. For more than twenty years, while my husband, Hal, and I had been working with the pastors of our city, we also had been leading citywide prayer meetings. Attendance was up and down. I was always asking the Lord for a new strategy.
But now He dropped this new thought into my mind: How can the city become a "house of prayer" when the local churches are not even praying? The citywide prayer movement will never be any stronger than the prayer in the local church.
Thus began my journey of training local church prayer leaders to work alongside their pastors in building houses of prayer.
THE LOCAL CHURCH PRAYER MOVEMENT
The world is now in the midst of an escalating prayer movement-and the hot spot of the movement is local church prayer mobilization. Christian bookstores are filled with books on the whys and hows of prayer and the need to pray, but very few address the topic of local church prayer. Fewer still offer any actual plan for developing a church into a house of prayer.
Recently, the pastor of a church in my city sat in our office belaboring the woes of trying to mobilize his church to pray. He had put himself through a crash course on prayer in the previous two weeks, reading some eight to ten contemporary books on the subject. He was now convinced that he needed to get a prayer ministry up and running in his church and spiritually map his community. He seemed overwhelmed by the vast amount of work to be done on this important project, and he didn't know where to start.
This is the same place in which literally thousands of pastors and prayer leaders find themselves today. Their eyes have been opened to the need to make prayer a priority in their church, yet they simply don't know where to begin.
I am writing this book to help fill the gap-to provide comprehensive, practical, and strategic material for mobilizing prayer in the local church. Whether you're a pastor, church elder, prayer leader, or interested intercessor, if you have a heart to see your church draw closer to God in prayer, I have written this book for you. While I've aimed most of the material at the church prayer leader (whether that person is a pastor, staff member, or volunteer), I've also included "For Pastors Only" sections. You'll find these clearly marked within the chapters.
In the following pages you'll find help for establishing a prayer ministry and becoming more of a praying church. You'll learn how to assess your church's needs, build a prayer action team, and develop a comprehensive prayer strategy that involves the entire congregation-and how to avoid many pitfalls along the way.
This book is for churches at every level of prayer. I've seen churches that are full of prayerful people and God's tangible presence, yet they don't have many organized opportunities for prayer and desire to increase that. Then there are churches with plenty of programming but not much prayer. Many pastors and church leaders are tired of running endless programs without seeing much fruit. I am writing for any of you who see outward signs of success but feel empty because of the lack of the presence and power of God. This book is essentially a call for the church to return to her first love, with a road map to show her how to get there.
Why is this movement so important?
Prayer is the priority for transforming our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Prayer-saturated churches are capable of transforming their communities.
Churches need a designated person to promote and mobilize prayer initiatives.
Pastors, church staff, and prayer leaders need resources to help them succeed in this mission.
THE UPPER ROOM PRINCIPLE
If an outsider observed your church, would prayer be immediately visible? For many churches, the answer is no. Yet prayer is certainly what anyone would have noticed about the early church or any of the churches during the Great Awakenings. Their continual practice of prayer was the primary reason for phenomenal growth and evangelism.
In the book of Acts, the early church was awakened, equipped, and mobilized to pray. They prayed in the temple, in one another's homes, and in the streets. They even had a special room where they assembled for prayer: "And when they had entered [the city], they mounted [the stairs] to the upper room where they were indefinitely staying.... All of these with their minds in full agreement devoted themselves steadfastly to prayer, [waiting together]..." (Acts 1:13-14, AMP).
The Upper Room was filled with activity; people were always coming and going. Many believe that it was a place where prayer was going on continuously-24/7.
The Upper Room became a launching pad for the church's mission. The disciples emerged empowered to share the message of Christ with boldness and authority. Profound and exciting things happened after the Holy Spirit came upon them. This little group of disciples with no buildings, no money, and no tapes and books, turned the world right side up.
Terry Teykl, in his book Making Room to Pray, explains this prayer phenomenon in what he calls the Upper Room Principle. The principle is simple:
When God gives us a great task, He expects us to seek Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength before we endeavor to do that task, because we must realize completely that His Spirit, not our might or power, will accomplish the work (see Zechariah 4:6).
THE CHURCH THAT PRAYER BUILT
In 1993, Biltmore Baptist Church was in trouble. After a string of devastating events, this once-active congregation of 600 had diminished to 175. In the wake of dissension, factions, and power struggles, the only staff left was a part-time secretary. There was no pastor, only an interim worship leader.
"We were a desperate, broken people," recalls church member Carolyn Fuqua, "but we began to call out to God." The congregation went through a time of confession, repentance, and cleansing. "We asked God to send us a pastor with a vision that would lead us."
God sent a man by the name of James Walker. Together he and the congregation dreamed about what their church would look like in the future. Yet none of them could have even imagined what God was going to do.
"We began to pray that God would send people to help the pastor fulfill the vision-God's plans and purposes, not man's," says Carolyn. "We asked the Lord to bar the door to people who would come with a hidden agenda or who were seeking power or position for themselves. We asked God to do something so big that no man could take credit for it."
Ten years later Biltmore Baptist Church is a growing, dynamic church. With a staff of close to eighty, including sixteen ministers, membership has reached nearly five thousand. According to Carolyn, the phenomenal turnaround is all because of prayer.
With the coming of the new pastor, seeking God together became the church's number-one priority. "The prayer ministry was born in the heart of the pastor," says Carolyn. "He believes it, he preaches it, and he gives leadership to it."
Carolyn now serves on staff as the prayer ministry coordinator. She and her nine-member leadership team coordinate the church's prayer activities. The expanding prayer ministry began as "God's 300," became "God's 600," and is now "God's One Thousand." At this time, 825 intercessors are involved in one of eighty-nine prayer groups.
Every person in leadership is a part of the prayer ministry. "Whether you're a pastor, deacon, or Sunday school teacher, you're either leading a [prayer] group or you're a committed member of one," says Carolyn. "We are a church dedicated to and excited about seeking God together."
And what are the results of all this prayer?
Increased unity and harmony. "I always knew there could be a place where people got along-where egos were laid aside," says Carolyn. "In the last ten years I've seen this. I can honestly say that I don't see ego in our sixteen ministers. They love the Lord and they love each other."
Increased fruit in ministry. Every year the church baptizes from 300 to 400 people, and from 500 to 600 people join the church. "One Sunday we baptized ninety-six people in a nearby lake."
Increased presence of God. Jesus is exalted and praised in every worship service. God's Word is preached with authority. Many broken people, in difficult situations, have come to the church. "Because of the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit, we've been a place of healing," says Carolyn. One family shared how they pulled into the parking lot and right away knew something was different. They began to weep and said the presence of God was so evident they could have just sat in their car and worshiped.
"We believe what is happening at Biltmore Baptist Church is because people are on their faces praying for God to pour out His blessings and power upon the church," says Carolyn. Our constant prayer is, 'Help us to stay clean and obedient and blessable. Let not your Holy Spirit depart from us.'"
The way we define success in the church is often influenced more by the world than by the Scriptures. It is easy to believe that if we are busier, we are more fruitful. If we have more people and more money, we are more successful. In some cases this is true. However, the real mark of success is obedience.
The question is, "Are our activities pleasing the Lord? Does His pleasure shine upon our work? Is God's tangible presence in the church?"
The following story told by one church leader illustrates this point:
Our church has been struggling with a sense of spiritual dryness and a lack of God's leading for more than a year, and the leadership has finally thrown their collective hands in the air and basically given up. They know that we need to get back to the basics and have decided to suspend all of the church's programming (the church numbers over nine hundred families, so that's a lot of programming!) and announced a time of fasting and prayer. They say that the fasting and prayer will continue for at least forty days and that if we are not able to get back to our First Love in forty days, then we will go eighty, or 120, or whatever God leads us to!
The most remarkable thing, though, is that when a group of prayer people from the different churches got together for a time of prayer and fellowship and found out what was happening at my church, they said that they had been hearing God say something similar at their own churches but had been afraid to act on it. They fear losing "sheep" to churches who have programming going on. What are you up to, God? We have decided to take Moses' words to God to heart: "We are not moving unless you come with us" (Exodus 33:15, my liberal paraphrase).
Another church, Solid Rock in Colorado Springs led by Calvin Johnson, stopped all other activities to call the church to thirty days of prayer and fasting. Each staff member was asked to take at least three days off to pray and fast. Immediately murmuring and complaining ceased. People repented who had unforgiveness in their lives; people who had been disconnected returned to the church.
WHERE ARE WE?
When I think of the church in other nations around the world, words come to mind such as all-night prayer meetings, prayer and fasting chains, and multichurch and community-wide prayer and worship gatherings.
What is the American church known for? I think people might say we're known for great programs, effective small groups, excellent resources, or good administration. Most people probably wouldn't think of the American church as being known for dynamic prayer.
"A paradigm shift is needed in the minds and hearts of American church leaders if their churches are to become houses of prayer," says Frank Damazio, pastor of City Bible Church in Portland, Oregon. A number of years ago his church made that shift, and his experience led him to believe that if a church is to become a house of prayer, six areas need to change:
1. The heart of the senior pastor.
Only the senior pastor can cast the vision on Sunday morning to the whole church. No one else has that place of visibility or authority. When the pastor's heart is captured, the whole church is affected.
2. The heart of the congregation.
A house of prayer is made up of living stones-the prayer lives of God's people. Through a pastor's example and prayers, a congregation's heart can be moved to spend more time with the Lord. In fact, it's important to see this happen even before establishing a prayer ministry.
3. The spiritual atmosphere of the church.
When the prayers of God's people focus upon the things that open the heavens over a church, the spiritual atmosphere will change. Damazio asks his congregation to pray over twelve specific goals, some of which are biblical truth to lead the church, strong prayer and intercession, awesome worship, liberal giving, healing, and miracles.
4. The worship service.
When prayer is a priority of the church, it will be visible in the weekend service.
Excerpted from THE Prayer SATURATED CHURCH by CHERYL SACKS Copyright © 2004 by Cheryl Sacks. Excerpted by permission.
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