When you read the title above, it likely rang a bell with most of you. You may have heard the above phrase before, but perhaps instead of “diaconate”, it read “family”, “couple”, or even “church”. It’s safe to assume that most of us have heard about the ‘reasons to pray’ since we first became a follower of Jesus. Not only does God command us to pray, but we see Jesus model a life of prayer for us throughout His earthly ministry. Prayer is how we commune with God and it plays (or should play!) a huge role in our daily lives and in our relationships with others, as well as our work in His Kingdom.
So this month we’d like to take some time to focus on PRAYER. Perhaps you’ve already realized that as a deacon, there are several opportunities to incorporate prayer into the important work that you do. Deacons are often asked to pray during the Offering time during Sunday Worship, they are usually expected to pray when doing a visit, and perhaps even pray and/or lead devotions at a Council or Deacon’s meeting. And while the idea of praying, and especially leading a group in prayer, can make some of our knees tremble (and not in a good, “Holy Spirit/Pentecost” kind of way!) here at DMC, we want to encourage, equip and empower deacons to make prayer a regular part of their ministry.
So for the purposes of today’s post, we’d like you to consider the following questions:
- What role should prayer play in our deacon’s meetings? and
- What sort of impact could consistent and meaningful prayer have on your diaconate?
The Role of Prayer in Meetings
For many of us who have sat on various committees or boards or teams, we are likely used to the perfunctory prayer/devotion that opens up our gathering time together. It’s one thing we can check off the agenda before we get down to the real business of the day or evening. One likely reason for this is because for many of us, meetings are pure torture! If it goes over the two hours we allotted for it on our Google calendar, we are NOT happy! To so many, meetings are the definition of boredom. They can be seen as a total waste of time, especially for a team full of ‘worker bees’. Perhaps you were just in a deacon’s meeting the other day and thought, How many times can we discuss the Offering Schedule or the Benevolence Budget or where to place the Food Drive barrel?!
But hold on and read this for a sec:
“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23–25
Meetings serve as a reminder of the hope we have in God and His faithfulness and because of that, they can be used to encourage and motivate each one of us toward acts of love and good works.
What these verses tell us is that while it’s tempting and many will do it, we mustn’t eliminate or scale back our meetings and gatherings. They are clearly important according to the writer of Hebrews, BUT perhaps we need to recall and reclaim their primary purpose. In these verses from Hebrews 10, we read that meetings can be used as a REMINDER and as an ENCOURAGEMENT to each one of us: they can serve as a reminder of the hope we have in God and His faithfulness and because of that, they can be used to encourage and motivate each one of us toward acts of love and good works.
So if we’ve established the necessary evil known as “meetings”, then why should prayer be a part of our regular agenda? Especially when deacons have so much other work to do!
In her book, “Beyond the Agenda: Add a Spiritual Dimension to Ordinary Church Meetings”, author Jessie Schut reminds us that “Working groups in the church are more than a gathering of people who carry out a specific task; they are also a community of believers.” She goes on to say, “Too often working groups in the church have adopted their style of operation from the business world rather than from the models they find in the Bible. They may ‘baptize’ their meetings with prayer and Scripture, but then it’s back to business as they deal with lengthy agendas and delegation of necessary tasks.” But what would it look like if your diaconate (and all ministry teams/committees in the church for that matter) focused on building relationships with each other and with God as they carried out their mission and vision? What would it look like if our task teams became more like small groups that desire to grow in the knowledge and likeness of Christ while accomplishing their tasks? Does that sound like a pipe dream? Does that sound a little too hokey for you? Jessie doesn't think so, and neither do we!
“Working groups in the church are more than a gathering of people who carry out a specific task; they are also a community of believers.”
Through the years in working with diaconates of all shapes and sizes, we know this way of ‘meeting together’ and carrying out your tasks can be difficult to practice in your diaconate and you may even argue all of this ‘extra’ stuff is unnecessary.
But… what if? What if God was invited to each of your meetings? How could spending time in prayer and reflection and perhaps even sharing with each other make a difference in how your diaconate functions and animates your congregation? How could going beyond doing the quick and easy prayer/devotion in your meetings deepen your relationship with God and with your fellow deacons?
Perhaps we need to step back a bit and look at the age-old question, asked by Christians and non-Christians alike: WHY PRAY? What is the purpose of prayer? What is the importance of prayer in our team meetings? How can prayer impact what any working group is tasked to do? Or, as we asked, above: What sort of impact could consistent and meaningful prayer have on a diaconate?
To put it simply, we see 2 main reasons for prayer, individually AND corporately:
- It helps us know God and His Will: Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Or Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Prayer (corporate and private) is about cooperating with God and abandoning our desires and submitting to God’s will.
- It increases our love for God first and foremost, which increases our love for others which results in UNITY: God desires to be in relationship with us and the more time we spend with Him, the more He makes us like his Son, Jesus. When we pray with others, each person is edified and unified in their common faith. Our love and concern for others grows as we rely on God for all we need.
We see these points echoed in the early church when we read through the book of Acts. It seemed all those early disciples did was pray! ”The members of the early church had that kind of commitment to praying together. As soon as Jesus had ascended to heaven, they gathered in the upper room for prayer. And this was not a unique event. If we survey the entire book of Acts, we see that the first-century Christians prayed together all the time: They prayed when they arrived and when they departed. They prayed together when they were sick and imprisoned but also when they were simply sitting down for a meal. They prayed in formal worship services and at the riverside prayer meetings.
“The early church had much to do, but essential to their gospel-proclaiming, bread-breaking, widow-feeding, and church-planting work was the task of praying together.” (“Devoted to Praying Together,” devotion on CT by Megan Hill)
“The early church had much to do, but essential to their gospel-proclaiming, bread-breaking, widow-feeding, and church-planting work was the task of praying together.”
In the same way, we are reminded over and over again in the New Testament to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), and “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18a), and to be “faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12b). When we “pray without ceasing”, some call this “practicing the presence of God” — to always be conscious of His presence, turning to Him as a constant companion, making no topic off limits with Him. (https://mintools.com/blog/prayer-culture.htm). In other words, prayer must be a priority, both personally and corporately. It should be as natural as breathing.
The Impact of Prayer on Your Diaconate
If we asked you how your diaconate is doing in this department, what would you say? Is prayer and reading the Word part of your regular evening’s agenda? Do you take time to grow in the knowledge and likeness of Christ? Or is this a completely foreign concept to your diaconate?
First of all, let us say this article is in no way meant to shame or belittle diaconates and the fine work they do. Perhaps your first reservation to incorporating prayer into your deacon’s meetings may be that it will take time away from the tasks you’ve been called to do. But as Jessie points out in her book, “the first community of believers described in Acts 2:42-47… ate together, worshiped together, and shared their possessions. They celebrated and prayed and studied the Word together; they supported and encouraged each other. They met together with glad and sincere hearts. But the stories in Acts also show that they got a lot of church work done, much of it likely through small working groups.” Widows received food, money was collected for struggling churches, missionaries were sent out beyond Judea, policies were made and so much more! Prayer IS WORK. And not only that, PRAYER WORKS!
Prayer IS work. And not only that, PRAYER WORKS!
So how did this happen? How did that early church spend so much time communing with God and each other and yet get SO MUCH WORK DONE?! Because “the members [felt] the relational bonds that are so distinctively the mark of the body of Christ. And knowing that they are part of a supportive and caring community, they [were] energized rather than sapped of energy by the work they [undertook].” (pg. 7, “Beyond the Agenda”, J. Schut) There is absolute no uncertainty that diaconates will find a greater level of effectiveness when their purposes are centered more on God than on themselves and their tasks.
Megan Hill, the author of Praying Together, also talks about the importance of PRAYING TOGETHER. When Jesus taught his followers to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), she points out the use of corporate language (“we,” “our,” “us”). It’s not “My Father in heaven”, but “OUR Father in heaven”. These phrases remind us that prayer is a relational activity; as we relate to God, we also remember our ‘neighbour’. “We pray for God’s other children as we pray for ourselves: Not just my daily bread, but our daily bread. Not just my need for forgiveness, but our need for forgiveness. Not just my rescue from sin, but rescue from sin for all of us.” PRAYER BRINGS US CLOSER TO ONE ANOTHER and gives us a broader Kingdom vision when we pray.
Diaconates will find a greater level of effectiveness when their purposes are centered more on God than on themselves and their tasks.
So, What Now?
In her book, “Beyond the Agenda”, Jessie helps teams get down to the business of helping groups and committees build relationships without blowing up their entire structure or making them start over completely! One of the models she shares in the book was developed and shared by Eldean Kamp for Diaconal Ministries in Eastern Canada over 18 years ago, and it’s one we still share with deacons today! Pretty neat, eh? Our “Growing as a Community of Deacons” handout looks to the example of the early believers in Acts, as well as what Jesus modeled in John 17:20-21. Jesus prayed that His intimacy, sense of purpose, and experience of community with God would also be experienced by His followers. Through His death and resurrection, this ‘new community’ of life-giving relationships was made possible.” (excerpt from the “Growing as a Community of Deacons” handout). We believe diaconates will be at their best when they operate as a ‘community’ and not just as a working team. We truly believe that a diaconate that prays together, stays together.
We encourage every diaconate, whether you’ve been incorporating prayer/devotions for a long time or if it’s never occurred to you to do so, to read over this handout and spend time reflecting on it and discussing it at your next deacon’s meeting.
Erin Knight, for Diaconal Ministries Canada