Many churches consider themselves praying churches, and even advertise themselves as such. They talk about prayer during services, they offer classes in prayer, and solicit prayer requests by various means. As laudable as that sounds, those things may not mean that the church is really a place of prayer. James tells us that the urgent prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, calling the church to pray for those in need. Jesus, as he cleansed the temple, lamented that it had become a den of thieves rather than a house of prayer. Clearly, God’s desire is that churches are praying churches. And yet, so many often pray so little.
So, how does a congregation move from being a church that talks, and even teaches, on prayer, to a church that prays? Here are five things necessary for the change to occur.
- The pastors pray. There is so much research done that validates the idea that churches take on the personality and characteristics of its pastoral leadership that it doesn’t even need to be cited. Suffice it to say that those in positions of pastoral leadership set the tone here. If they pray, the church is more likely to do so. From private times alone with God to public times in worship, as pastoral leadership cries out to God, the tone is set. And, one should not forget, God hears and responds. Things happen in ministry that can only be explained by prayer.
- Leaders pray. One of the qualifications those we choose to provide lay leadership in the church is that those persons must be people of prayer. Elder boards, and other leadership teams, should learn that prayer should not simply be an item on their meeting agenda, praying about the church’s business. It should be seen as doing the church’s business, and not something to be marked of the task completed list. These leaders also pray with urgency outside of meetings. For them, it is something integrated into their whole life, not a simple piece of the daily routine.
- The church prays. Prayer is natural and participatory rather than tangential or forced in worship. Members meet to pray, rather than to talk about prayer or to exchange the latest information about what is happening in other peoples’ lives. Crying out to God replaces lengthy discussions about prayer needs followed by an abbreviated session of prayer.
- Members pray. When a church becomes a praying church, prayer becomes contagious. As stories begin to circulate throughout the church about how God has moved in response to prayer, members begin to pray. They pray for their prodigals, their pastors, their enemies, their marriages, their church’s capacity to accomplish its mission, and a hundred other things. And God begins to do what he did not do when the church merely talked about prayer.
- Pray until prayer is part of the DNA, or the culture, of the church. The DNA of a church is its essence, its soul. It begins to develop with the birth of the church, and becomes embedded in the heart and soul of the congregation as its culture develops. While we cannot change our biological DNA, it is possible to change a church’s as we intentionally work at changing its culture. So, we pray. We join hearts in prayer in worship, rather than just listen to someone verbalize a prayer. We meet at times just to pray. We make prayer a core part of doing the church’s business. As members, when someone asks us to pray for them, not only do we say the obligatory yes, but we pray right then. We learn the difference between crying out to God and saying words to him. And we begin to see him act. As we recognize that he is hearing us, we are driven to our knees even more. And then, we are becoming a praying church.
How about your congregation? Does it need to become a praying church? Prayer was a part of the DNA of the church in Acts that turned the world upside down, and it must be in the DNA of the church of the 21st century for the church to change the world. Here’s the best part – it starts with you and it starts with me, and not with one more sermon or class about prayer!