Think EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER instead of the token ‘BEGIN-a-MEETING-with-a-PRAYER-so-we-can-get-on-with-the-real-work
I have two mental pictures in my mind. The first is a boardroom in a large church with comfy office chairs, a whiteboard, and people wearing business casual clothes. There’s a sizable agenda for the day, lots of work to get done, so the pastor (aka ‘boss’) wants to jump right in. But right before he gets started he remembers that this is a church and that you have to start all meetings with prayer. So he prays and then they get down to business…
This picture is not uncommon for Western church leaders. I’ve led countless ones that started just like this. Dont’ get me wrong, prayer before meeting is a great thing. We need to keep doing it. And hear me on this, whiteboards are a gift from God (I’m a big picture-vision-guy, my happy place always includes a whiteboard…). But clearly we can see prayer’s place in an average church meeting like this.
I have this other mental picture in my mind: it’s one of a canoe trip. I’ve taken a few of these in my days. I was a youth group kid, a college student in Manhattan KS (Go Cats), and later a youth pastor – I know how to navigate a river on a canoe. One time I was on a 20 mile trip with a few buddies and there were a handful of times where the water was dead still, which forced us to row constantly, to buckle down and get to work, for sometimes a mile or two stretch at a time. And then it happens. In the near distance you see a little bubbling in the water. It’s not much, and if you aren’t looking for it you can miss it. But it’s just enough to make you see that the water is actually moving. It’s hitting some rocks underneath the surface, it swirls and bubbles just enough so you can see it on the surface. The canoer’s job at that point is not to get to work, but it’s to realign the canoe in order to join the current. It’s then that you remember you actually enjoy canoeing.
The difference between these two pictures is the difference between MINISTRY in the West and MOVEMENT that is happening in pockets all around the world. In the West we pray that God would bless our efforts. We ask him to join us in our endeavors, which are often awesome and God inspired, but the real work is not looking for God, the real work is the business It’s the planning. It’s programming and the strategy.
Among Disciple Making Movements, prayer is not the token thing you do, it’s the desperate cry of those who hope to see God move. It’s the steadfast plea of people needing the Lord to move because they know they don’t have the answers. It’s the current in which they join, not the far-off duty they hope results in some kind of blessing. Prayer is absolutely essential every Disciple Making Movement.
In one of the first and largest Disciple Making Movements tracked in the last decade or 2, which occurred in North India among a previously unreached group of people, we can actually see numerically the power of prayer in movements. The background of this story is that there were such large numbers of new disciples, new discovery groups, and new churches being reported by the team on the ground that the missionary agency of which they were a part didn’t believe them. They actually sent out a commissioned research team to study the reports. What they found was nuts… not only were the numbers actually larger than what the team reported, but the research team was actually able to track consistent themes and characteristics within the different strands of movement happening. What they found about prayer has stuck with me for years. This is an actual quote within the summary of the report:
REGARDING PRAYER OF THE LEADERS: “…on the median a leader spends 14 hours a week in prayer. The least time spent in prayer by some Leaders is 7 hours a week and the highest is 35 hours. The survey figures also clearly reveal that time spent in prayer by leaders is directly proportional to the effectiveness of their church planting ministry.”
David Watson, the man leading the team of people who helped launch this movement, actually challenges this and clarifies that on average a leader would spend 3 hours a day in personal prayer, and then another 3 in team prayer with their co-laborers. So it’s actually more like 6 hours a day.
That’s nuts, right? As a Western leader I get hit with 2 things simultaneously: guilt and awe. On one hand I’m amazed by that kind of prayer and am inspired to lead in a way that puts prayer that high on the priority list. But I also feel a pretty strong sense of conviction. I don’t pray like this. I can’t even wrap my mind around praying like this. But, maybe that’s the point? Of course I don’t see God moving, I don’t need him like these leaders do. I have my strategies. I have my education. I have my freaking whiteboard. You know what they have? God. Almost nothing else. Yet here is the irony of the Kingdom of God: I find myself jealous of what they have, even though in almost every trackable way I have more things.
Maybe that’s why I love this report. We are able to actually track what is so often untrackable. Prayer leads to fruitfulness. “…time spent in prayer by leaders is directly proportional to the effectiveness of their church planting ministry.” Yeah, no wonder we are consistently marked by frustration in our Western church endeavors. When we pray, it’s so often not marked by desperation, but by obligation. When we pray it’s so often void of a missional context. I once heard a pastor say, “We’ve been praying for our neighbors for 10 years, and then one day I decided to walk over there and talk to them.” Ummm, yeah. Hard to desperately pray for people we only know as names on a map (or a whiteboard!).
Movement people pray while on mission, desperately pleading for God to reveal where he’s already at work. They have no other choice but to ask God to show them where the current is. And when they find it, they jump on board the work God as already begun. Sometimes that means we pray so hard that God, in his crazy-awesome and unfathomable sovereignty, responds and a current seemingly appears out of nowhere. Other times it is more like a simple yet radical revelation God gives to us as workers, and we see the current that was already there. Regardless, we don’t have the power to stir the water, we simply steer ourselves to align with it.
PERSONALLY, this has been my story. I struggle with extraordinary prayer. I thrive in new ideas and boardroom vision-casting, but at the same time I long to see legit movement in my city. So in my prayers of asking God where his current is moving, he firmly nudged me to the county jails. There I found spiritual hunger like no other. There I found a current so strong that by finding inside leaders and giving them a simple tool to discovery God’s Word, we have seen new disciples pop up. And then we just continue to ride that current outside the walls of the jail, because many of these men and women have networks of relationships consisting of tons of people who too have a hunger for what they can’t see, and a dissatisfaction with what their life has been. And then all of a sudden it’s easy to feel desperation, because in the messynes of real life comes real discipleship, and real discipleship leads to real multiplication of disciples. And desperate prayer begets desperate prayer. This is how it works. But none of it can happen if we don’t posture ourselves to look for the current of God. Movement simply won’t happen if we pray as we are used to praying. As David Watson says, “A prayer movement preceeds every Disciple Making Movement.”