Prayer and the Missions-Minded Church

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

2 Replies to “Prayer and the Missions-Minded Church”

  1. If what is good and important is evaluated from the perspective of what is hard to do or hard to implement, hard to practice and achieve, then we may get a sense for this. As this blog post states it is challenging to come up with a metric for this. But how often do people say they have prayer down? I got it and am moving on to something else? Most of us admit we don’t pray enough, or consistently, or properly. We wish we did it more.

    In one sense I think this in and of itself is a tool of the enemy in that if we too often feel we are worthless and feel our efforts are puny and fall short. This makes it easier to be despondent and give up. But on the other hand I think we see the importance of prayer in this, the need to pray and hopefully the challenge to keep trying.

    Paul as the prototypical missionary asks repeatedly for prayer that he may have the words needed to proclaim the gospel. He knew he was powerless. We are like him. Can the litmus test for first century prayer be the impact that Paul and his team had for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ?

    Could the litmus test for 21st century prayer be the impact we are making?

  2. Thanks so much for posting this. There is so much to talk about prayer (or the lack thereof), both in churches, and on the field among missionaries. One would think in both cases regular prayer for the unreached would be common, perhaps even fasting and hours of late night prayer would take place on occasion. With the tremendous task before us, the great commission of our Lord Jesus behind us, we could not but be humbled to the point of crying out in prayer. Yet in both cases, the local church and the missionary team, prayer is frequently lacking in this regard. Perhaps it’s pride, perhaps it’s distraction, perhaps it’s self focus, I really don’t know the cause, though I myself am often guilty of the same lack of humility and prayer.

    On the positive, as this topic has come up several times just this weekend, I am so thankful for my church. A church which is just beginning to refocus on the importance of missions. And yet, when measured by the prayers of the people, I can say with joy and thanksgiving that missions is a high priority. We don’t even have set aside “missions” prayer times, and yet any time I have come to pray with groups in this church, people are crying out to God to save the unreached and raise up missionaries from within our church. I am astounded by what I’ve seen in this little church, and am excited beyond words by what God is doing here.

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