One Word: Prayer

If I were to boil down everything I know about transformational ministry into one word, it would be … prayer. I have learned to never underestimate the power of prayer in a church attempting to turn-around from a shrinking, aging congregation to a thriving community of believers.  Prayer is more important than programs, curriculum, praise bands, small groups or even money in reaching the un-churched public.  I am convinced that if a church is serious about growing, it must be serious about prayer.

Now, I’m not talking about the constitutionally required words of devotion offered during the first three minutes of a session or committee meeting.  I’m not talking about the prayers for people’s health concerns that make it to the prayer chains in our churches.  Both of these have their place in church-life and are a blessing to many.  No, I’m talking about life-changing, mission-discerning, intentional, time-intensive, and sacrificial prayers offered by the whole congregation calling on the Holy Spirit to fill them and lead them through the transformational process. 

I think it’s time to look at the kinds of prayer we’re offering most in our congregational lives.  I hear lots of prayer requests – requests that God will keep people safe while traveling, that God will make sick people well, that God will help a program or effort of a congregation go well.  Certainly there is benefit in offering these kinds of prayers.  But, dare I say, these prayer requests are more about God blessing what we are doing instead of about helping us become more about what God is doing? 

Brian McLaren wrote:  “Our persistent “bless-me” bug, like a nasty flu into which we keep relapsing, creates what some of my friends have called “the great commotion,” a close approximation of the Great Commission, but a miss nonetheless. Seminar junkies accumulate plastic-covered notebooks that could fill an oil tanker. Authors like myself write books whose combined gross weight may exceed the weight of our congregations after a pot-luck dinner. But not much changes.”

Not much changes, because in transformational ministry, what most needs to change is inside ourselves.  It’s not so much about the style of worship or the types of programs, it’s not about mission/vision statements or designing a “cool” new logo; it’s not about small groups or permission-giving environments; it’s not even about knowing the needs of generation-x or the post-modern world.  No, it’s about our willingness to put aside our busy schedules and our pre-conceived notions about life and church and allow God to mold our hearts, minds, and spirit into the likeness of Christ. 

I have witnessed congregations in serious prayer – 24 hour prayer vigils; committee members entering 30 day prayer covenants; 40 day fasts or periods of intense daily prayer for a vision or discernment in a congregation’s direction.  And I have been blown away by the power of God at work in those congregations.   I have seen miracles! 

Are you interested in congregational transformation?  Do you want your church to move from losing members to gaining?  The first step is the easiest – and the hardest – Pray.   Pray that God will shape your congregation into the vessel most effective at carrying the living water to a parched, dry and dying world.

Printed in the March 2005 issue of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant