In his interesting little book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom S. Rainer cites one of the principle reasons churches decline and eventually close is because members no longer prayed together. The sad truth is few congregations today pray together as the New Testament Church did (Acts 2:42 - “And they devoted themselves to...prayer.”). Prayer was the lifeblood of the early church.
The challenge of being a praying church (cf. Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13) begins with the (spiritual) leadership. Based on his research, Dave Earley, says, “Prayer is the indisputable common denominator of spiritual difference makers in every generation!” Henry Blackaby adds: “More than any other single thing leaders do, it is their prayer life that will determine their effectiveness.” J.O. Sanders writes: “The eminence of great leaders in the Bible is attributed to the fact that they were great in their praying.” The work of “building more and better disciples” is spiritual work, and as Andrew Murray observes, “In spiritual work, everything depends on prayer.” And prayer (an essential resource in church health and growth) is available to every congregation - regardless of size or finances.
It begins with the spiritual leader - the pastor. Surveys continue to indicate that pastors pray an average of less than seven minutes a day; translated: pastors spend little time in prayer. Pastors are focused on meeting expectations (i.e., they want to keep their leaders and congregants happy and stay employed); and few churches expect their pastors to spend time in prayer.
In all the times I’ve been interviewed by pastoral search committees, no one has ever asked about my prayer life; in all the elder meetings I’ve attended, no one has encouraged me to spend time in prayer. As an STM (Specialized Transition Minister) assisting churches in the calling process, I’ve seen only a handful of resumes where the candidate even mentions their prayer life. And while I assume (an assumption I can’t document) most pastors and church leaders pray at some level each day, no church can become a “praying church” unless the leadership (pastor, office bearers, staff, ministry leaders) become “praying people” in both their personal and professional lives. It is a challenge - although not an insurmountable one.
I have few answers guaranteed to change the DNA of leaders and congregations; I do have a lot of questions. So let me ask a few, and perhaps you can think of a few more so we can stimulate some discussion in our Renewal Lab teams, Councils, and staff meetings.
- Do you have a regularly scheduled time and place to meet daily with God?
- Do you pray daily for the congregation you serve and the community you minister in?
- Do you preach/teach on prayer regularly?
- Do you have a team of intercessors who pray for you every day?
- Do you begin your meetings with a significant time of prayer (20-30 minutes) where everyone is invited to participate both silently and vocally?
- Do elders offer to pray face to face with people in crisis, who are sick and/or hospitalized, and anoint them with oil? (cf. James 5:14)
- Do deacons pray with the recipients of their care and benevolence?
- Do elders and deacons pray with congregants in the church foyer, worship center and/or prayer room before and after worship who have shared a concern?
- Are council members encouraged to pray daily for the church they serve?
- Is prayer a priority in every leader’s ministry description? In the pastor and staff member’s ministry descriptions? Do you regularly ask your pastor about their prayer life?
- Do elders and deacons regularly attend the scheduled prayer meetings in the church?
- Do the leaders know who has the spiritual gift of intercession in the congregation? Do leaders consult them in the discernment process of decision-making?
- Does the staff pray daily and/or weekly for the congregation and community?
- Do staff members pray on the phone with someone who has just shared a crisis situation; an answer to prayer; or requested an item for the prayer line?
- Does the staff regularly attend the scheduled prayer meetings in the church?
- Is there a designated position of church prayer coordinator/mobilizer? Is the role written into another staff position?
- Since corporate worship is central to the churches ministry, is prayer an integral and visible part of your worship?
- Does your worship team pray together before they rehearse? On Sunday morning, do worship leaders and church leaders pray together in the worship center that the worship will glorify God, that those who visit may encounter the Gospel and that those who are members may be challenged in their discipleship?
- Are people in the congregation invited (assigned?) to pray for the service during the service?
To be a praying church, the leadership must provide a firm foundation and a visible model. The best way to learn to pray is still...to pray!
“Lord, teach us to pray. Teach us to pray together. Teach us to pray for the building of your kingdom, the gathering of your harvest, and the making of better disciples. Answer our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.”