If I were to boil down everything I know about transformational ministry into one word, it would be â€¦ 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.Â Prayer is more important than programs, curriculum, praise bands, small groups or even money in reaching the un-churched public.Â I am convinced that if a church is serious about growing, it must be serious about prayer.
Now, Iâ€™m not talking about the constitutionally required words of devotion offered during the first three minutes of a session or committee meeting. Â Iâ€™m not talking about the prayers for peopleâ€™s health concerns that make it to the prayer chains in our churches. Â Both of these have their place in church-life and are a blessing to many.Â No, Iâ€™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.Â
I think itâ€™s time to look at the kinds of prayer weâ€™re offering most in our congregational lives.Â I hear lots of prayer requests â€“ 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.Â Certainly there is benefit in offering these kinds of prayers.Â 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?Â
Brian McLaren wrote:Â â€œOur 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.â€
Not much changes, because in transformational ministry, what most needs to change is inside ourselves.Â Itâ€™s not so much about the style of worship or the types of programs, itâ€™s not about mission/vision statements or designing a â€œcoolâ€ new logo; itâ€™s not about small groups or permission-giving environments; itâ€™s not even about knowing the needs of generation-x or the post-modern world.Â No, itâ€™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.Â
I have witnessed congregations in serious prayer â€“ 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 congregationâ€™s direction.Â And I have been blown away by the power of God at work in those congregations.Â Â I have seen miracles!Â
Are you interested in congregational transformation?Â Do you want your church to move from losing members to gaining?Â The first step is the easiest â€“ and the hardest â€“ Pray.Â Â 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