Dave: Joe and I are continuing our comments on the theme of “The Myth of the Missions-Minded Church.” Our question today is – “Does the prayer life of your church and its members indicate that your church is missions-minded?”
Joe: Measuring the prayer life of a congregation is not easy. Actually qualifying that prayer as to its focus is pretty near impossible.
Dave: But let me try. Here’s a starter question – Roughly 41% of the world’s population is considered “unreached.” Is 41% of your church’s prayer time devoted to the 41% of the world’s population that does not have access to the Gospel? If reaching that 41% is important to God, should not our prayer lives reflect our interest in what God is passionate about.
Joe: I talked to the person at my church in charge of facilities and asked her to name the different groups that reserve rooms here at the church for prayer. I learned that we have healing prayer, soaking prayer (don’t ask because I don’t know what that means), prayer for the services, staff prayer and the missions prayer group. The missions prayer groups tends to be small (in numbers not stature). It is led by a dear friend who has been doing it for years and is very faithful every other week to bring the latest requests from our missionaries to pray through.
Dave: In Matthew 6, when Jesus introduces the “Lord’s Prayer,” he says, “Pray, then, this way.” In other words, Jesus is advocating a way to pray. And in Romans 8:26, Paul says that “…We don’t know what to pray for as we ought.” Does that scare you? Do you feel less smug about your prayer life in light of the possibility that you might be emphasizing in prayer things that God doesn’t esteem as the highest priority? In other words, while prayer is pleasing to God, God especially likes strategic and focused prayer.
Joe: Now measuring the prayer life of a congregation by the number of meetings a church has and the attendance at those meetings really doesn’t show us much. After all, Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing, so if we’re obedient that means that a whole lot of prayer is going on that the church facilities person knows nothing about. Putting aside for the moment the fact that we aren’t likely praying without ceasing, what other ways are there to figure out how folks are praying?
Dave: I see the first step in assessing your church’s prayer life might be to ask if your church has addressed the question of the purpose of prayer. If prayer is intended for me to get my needs met, then fine, it doesn’t matter if I ever pray for anything other than what directly impacts me. But if prayer is actually a weapon intended to enable us to get on the front line of battle to fight for God’s mission, then I need to refine the scope and intent of my prayers to see that reaching the unreached 41% becomes my prayer priority.
Joe: I am going to go out on a limb here and say that people talk about what they pray about. Sure there are those issues which propriety dictates that we keep between us and God and maybe just a few trusted friends. More often, however, if we are praying about it, we are talking about it. And if we are talking about it, we are likely praying about it. And that makes me sad. If I measure it by how much is said up front on Sunday, the numbers are far from impressive. If I measure it by what is said in passing conversation on Sunday morning, that isn’t much better.
Dave: My concern is not with the number of prayer meetings but with what we are actually praying about in those meetings. Lots of praying that is not strategic may not be accomplishing God’s desire in prayer. And clearly the bulk of most church prayers are for sick people to get better. Now that is not wrong in and of itself, but at the same time that kind of praying does not leave much time for the heart of God that disciples be made out of every nation.
Joe: I know two things which seem almost mutually exclusive: throughout history missions has often been treated as the step-child of church ministries, and if we want to see the resistant parts of the world reached, prayer will have to be a big part of that happening.
Dave: To reorient your church’s prayer style to become more strategic and intentional in fulfilling the Great Commission, it may require some changes in how prayer is done. Joe and I know of some neat things happening in other churches that may be of interest. There may be pain involved. You may have to re-learn how to pray. But think how pleasing that is to the Father when we get our prayer lives on board with God’s agenda. So, if praying for the completion of the Great Commission is not a priority in your church, you may have to reassess your church’s missions-mindedness.
Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz