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About the Author
Paul E. Engle, series editor for Counterpoints Church Life, is an ordained minister who served for twenty-two years in pastoral ministry in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois, and Michigan. He is an adjunct teacher in several seminaries in this country and internationally. He serves as associate publisher and executive editor in the Church, Academic, and Ministry Resources team at Zondervan. He and his wife Margie, live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
First Church, located in the Midwest, averages about 250 at Sunday morning worship. Several years ago, the church adopted a growth strategy built around six purposes of the church-one of which is prayer. The church wasn't large enough to afford a full-time minister of prayer, so they enlisted a layperson to be the prayer coordinator.
The new prayer leader enthusiastically tackled the challenge. He recruited prayer teams to pray for ministries that supported each of the church's purposes. For example, a team was formed to pray specifically for the church's evangelism and missions efforts. Other teams were formed to pray for the church's fellowship, her worship, and her other central purposes.
The prayer leader also worked with the pastor to provide training opportunities for the members. The pastor preached a series on prayer. At the same time, the church held Sunday evening classes, covering such topics as "How to Pray for Your Unsaved Family Members," "How to Pray for Your Coworkers," and "How to Pray for Your City."
Now the church offers a prayer track in its Wednesday night equipping program, prays weekly for missionaries, and provides multiple opportunities for members to pray together. Under the leadership of the pastor and a committed prayer coordinator, First Church has become a praying church.
One secret behind this church's renewed focus on prayer is simple: They have a pastor and a prayer leader who believe that prayer matters. When a church's pastor and leaders really believe that prayer makes a difference, they'll make prayer a priority in their own lives and in the church's life.
The goal of this chapter is to challenge you to raise the level of prayer in your church. The New Testament church serves as the model of a church that prays. Stories of churches that grew as they prayed will encourage you as you strive to become a church "devoted ... to prayer" (Acts 2:42).
As you begin this study, take time to consider the importance of prayer in your church. Complete activity #1 on the following page, and be prepared to discuss your opinion with other members of your study group. (A suggestion: After you read the following sections on prayer in the early church and in other churches, you may want to do this exercise again.)
THE EARLY CHURCH AND PRAYER
Have you ever thought about how much the early church prayed? Look at these revealing clues from the book of Acts:
1:14-"They all joined together constantly in prayer."
3:1-"Peter and John were going up to the temple at the
time of prayer."
4:31-"After they prayed, the place where they were
meeting was shaken."
6:4-"And [we] will give our attention to prayer and the
ministry of the word."
10:9-"Peter went up on the roof to pray."
12:5-"The church was earnestly praying to God for him."
13:3-"After they had fasted and prayed, they placed
their hands on them and sent them off."
14:23-"Paul and Barnabas ... with prayer and fasting,
committed them to the Lord."
16:25-"Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns
20:36-"When [Paul] had said this, he knelt down with
all of them and prayed."
28:8-"Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed
his hands on him and healed him."
Clearly, the early church was a praying church. Why? Because they loved Jesus, they were dependent on God, and they knew that prayer made a difference.
The Early Believers Loved Jesus
Because of my teaching and speaking schedule, I'm often out of town and away from my wife. Wherever I am, though, I want to hear her voice and talk with her. Our phone bills are sometimes expensive, but not talking to each other isn't an option. We just naturally want to talk with each other, because we're in love.
That's the way it was for many of the early Christians. Though they needed direction in how to pray (Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:13-16), talking with God was as natural for them as a wife talking to her husband or a son talking to his father (Romans 8:15-17). Jesus' love for them had motivated him to teach them to pray, and their love for him motivated them to follow him in prayer.
In reality, however, we sometimes get so busy "doing church" that we neglect our love relationship with God. Our church activities continue (often in abundance), but we give too little attention to our personal spiritual walk. Driven by duty rather than by love for God, we work harder in church but often pray less.
A church that wants to be a prayer-driven church will first make sure that she has kept her "first love," that is, that her members love God more than they ever have (Revelation 2:4). If they really love Jesus, they will keep his commandments (John 14:15).
The Early Believers Were Dependent on God
Genuine prayer indicates not only love but also dependence. The prayers of the early believers showed that they were dependent on God for food (Matthew 6:11), health (James 5:13-16), power (Acts 1:8, 14), protection (Matthew 6:13), and guidance (Acts 1:24-25). They also knew that only God could grow the church (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
The early church recognized that they couldn't face a tough world without God's directing them. In fact, the apostle Paul himself needed prayer support to be a bold witness for God (Ephesians 6:19-20). His call was dramatic (Acts 9:1-19) and his commitment was sure (2 Timothy 4:7-8), but even Paul needed God's daily strength to fulfill his mission.
I recently led a group of American Christians on a mission trip to Moscow, Russia, to teach the Russian believers about prayer. At our first meeting, the Russians stood to pray (as they always do) and then led us in a two-hour prayer meeting. Throughout the next two weeks, the Russian brothers and sisters taught us more about prayer than we could ever have taught them.
They typically prayed for hours, with hearts broken over unbelieving family members and friends. They interceded passionately, believing that God would be faithful to hear their prayers. These believers-whose faith had often cost them dearly-had learned through hardship to trust God. In the end, their dependence affected the way they prayed.
Prayer-driven churches are churches that depend on God. On the other hand, churches that operate in their own power usually don't pray much.
The Early Believers Knew Prayer Made a Difference
Many of the early believers were Jews who had converted to Christianity. Very likely they knew from their Scriptures many stories about the power of prayer.
Abraham interceded for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot was rescued (Genesis 18:20-33; 19:29). Moses prayed for water, and God provided it (Exodus 15:22-25). Hannah prayed for a son, whom God gave her (1 Samuel 1:1-20). Solomon gained his wisdom through prayer (1 Kings 3:1-15). Elijah prayed on Mount Carmel, and the God of Israel revealed his authority over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:36-39). Nehemiah sought his king's favor through prayer, and God granted that favor (Nehemiah 1:4-2:8). Daniel's commitment to prayer landed him in the lions' den, but God protected him there (Daniel 6:1-28).
Excerpted from Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.