Developing a culture of prayer
March 5th, 2020 / By: Kie Bowman / comments
The greatest prayer movement in history is occurring now. This movement is strong and growing in unlikely places all over the world, including countries hostile to Christianity. In addition, prayer is unrestricted by denominational differences. Christian leaders frequently call believers to personal prayer, fasting and prayer gatherings. Even stadiums are sometimes filled for prayer meetings.
Ultimately, however, the success of the prayer movement will not be determined by awesome stadium events, parachurch ministries or denominational initiatives, even though we desperately need them and they are all critically important. The prayer movement is best fleshed out in the life of the local church. Our churches must become more dependent on and powered by prayer.
More than a decade ago, our congregation in Austin started focusing on becoming a “House of Prayer” as a ministry model for the New Testament church. The first step for us was determining what the Bible teaches and planning accordingly. If Jesus wants his church to function as a “House of Prayer,” the evidence for that ought to be overwhelmingly obvious in the New Testament. A study of the early church only strengthened our resolve. We have come to believe that everything in the book of Acts happened at a prayer meeting, after a prayer meeting, or on the way to a prayer meeting. Once we are convinced of God’s will concerning the church and prayer, the only significant question remaining is: “How do we develop a culture of prayer in the local church? The following suggestions aren’t an exhaustive list; much more can be said, but these are reproducible principles in any church.
Pastors lead the way. Every pastor believes in prayer, but that’s only the beginning of developing a culture of prayer. The pastor must be a man of prayer. As has often been repeated, “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.” When it comes to ministry priorities, nothing is more essential to a minister than his personal walk with God. In this regard, Leonard Ravenhill once reminded us, “The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying.” During our secret time with God, the voice of God impresses us regarding his purpose for our lives and for his church. Nothing will ever replace our daily meeting with the Lord.
Preach the Word. If you want to create culture, preach the Word! There are hundreds of references to prayer in the Bible. With so much said about prayer in Scripture, it is obviously dear to the heart of God and essential to our relationship with him. The most reliable thermostat in your church for creating culture, therefore, is the Word of God. Preaching turns up the heat and creates culture by changing the way believers see God and the mission of the church in the world. Prioritize preaching on prayer, and you will prioritize prayer. It’s as simple as that.
Learn from other voices. In only the last few years there has been a surge of books, sermons and ministries focused on the subject of prayer. When I started in ministry, for example, most of the best books on prayer were written in the 19th century. Now, however, some of the best books have been written by living authors. These are extraordinary days, and if we want to build a prayer culture we should expose our people to these powerful voices. Take groups to their churches or conferences where they speak. Buy and distribute, or at least recommend, their books. Show videos of their sermons on prayer in your services or small groups. Distribute and recommend classic books too. Build culture by educating and inspiring your people about prayer through the ministries of others.
Equip the people. Even though information is abundant and we should constantly teach our churches, our people often need fundamental, practical help in learning how to pray. Equipping people and training them moves information into action. Remember, there is no correspondence course for swimming! In other words, some things require involvement and action to learn them. So, schedule conferences. Hold workshops. Equip leaders who can train others. The apostles didn’t ask Jesus to teach them about prayer; they said, “...teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Pray. The secret of prayer is praying! To develop a culture of prayer you have to pray. At our church we offer multiple opportunities for prayer. For instance, our entire staff has a once-weekly, morning prayer meeting. We schedule prayer lunches and invite the church members to join us at the church for one hour of fellowship, teaching, worship and prayer. Once a quarter we host a church-wide, one-hour prayer gathering on a Wednesday night. We periodically devote an entire Sunday morning service to prayer. During Sunday invitations we call people to the altar to pray. We have held 24-hour, non-stop prayer meetings at the church. We recently called for a forty-day fast and over three hundred people signed up to fast for a combined total of over three thousand days of fasting and prayer. Once a quarter we also join with other churches for citywide prayer meetings where hundreds of people gather. Once a month our church commits to 24 hours of prayer as part of our citywide prayer movement. Over 325 people pray for spiritual awakening for 24 hours in 30-minute slots from wherever they are. The point is—if you want to prioritize prayer, you have to provide multiple entry points for prayer.
You can develop a culture of prayer. It takes time, and there will be challenges. Start where you are. Develop your own plan. Measure your progress. Make adjustments along the way. Reach out to the SBTC for resources. In time, your church can be far more effective in prayer. By the way, you can start now!