Developing Prayer Support Systems in Partnership Churches
To love God unrestrained and to love one’s neighbor as self are the greatest acts of obedience we can give back to God in loving obedience to His commandments. As one Generation X church planter interpreted these commands he stated, "Church planting is the best way I know how to obey these commands!" We want to take a look at how prayer helps us to best achieve this "best" way to obey His commands. To help with understanding the vocabulary of this paper, I will be using the terms apostle/missionary/church planter interchangeably as we talk about the task of establishing new congregations. The term partnership refers to any relationship between two churches for the expressed purpose of beginning a new congregation(s).
The purpose of this paper is to aid church leaders in establishing a scriptural basis and successfully deploying the apostle with all the prayer support essential to the beginning of a multiplying movement of congregations which will compliment current kingdom work, permeate a defined region, and extend Christ’s witness across the world.
Who Is Responsible For Prayer In The Partnership?
Prayer is initiated by the Senior Partner within a church planting partnership —God.
God instructs the churches’ ministering members to set aside persons for the task of ministry in serving the larger Body of Christ.
The role of the apostle is a chief calling. The role of prayer permeates the whole of the initial stages of setting these persons aside. Acts 13 provides us with the prototype of how this is done. The setting aside of apostles happens in the midst of ministering members fasting and praying while in service together. The laying on of hands, which has significance in Leviticus 1:4 of being at one with the persons, assures the apostle that they are not alone. Touches of hand and heart in prayer are an agreement with and sympathy for church planting persons, including pledges of prayer and anything necessary for their success. These commitments represent the commitment of the whole church, not merely those performing the laying on of hands. Prayer is not compulsory for partnership church(es), but arises out of the desire of every believer to see the Great Commission fulfilled. From the initial stages of separating a person for missionary work, the responsibility for prayer shifts to the "sent out" ones. We find numerous examples in Paul’s letters of him informing the churches of requests for doors to be opened for the gospel, strongholds destroyed, fellow team members healed, financial needs met, etc. It is the responsibility of the one sent to inform the partner church(es) if they are to pray in an informed manner.
What Is It That We Are Seeking To Accomplish Through Our Prayers?
Because prayer begins with God in this divine endeavor, ongoing prayer is simply maintaining communication with our Commander-in-Chief as the head of the movement. We are seeking to accomplish whatever He initiated in the life of the church and in the life of the person(s) sent out. We know from the nature of the apostolic role that the primary task is the founding of churches of disciples who are extending their witness to the ends of the earth. In fact, the establishing of congregations is proof of apostleship as stated by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. Jesus speaks to the success of the miracles of apostleship as requiring much prayer. The entry of the gospel into the Gentile world involving Peter and Cornelius reveals that dynamic prayer has as an essential component to the targeting of where to start.
Where is prayer to take place in the partnership?
The local place out of which one is sent is where the relationship of prayer begins with the church planter, but locality of prayer changes throughout the journey. By Paul’s requests in his "chain" letters, prayer continued in the locality of his sending while other places of ministry and outposts for the Gospel became intercessors on His behalf. Whenever the apostles returned from their journey reports were shared about the work, including prayers of praise and thanksgiving for what God had done through His messengers.
Looking at Jesus as the first Apostle in the book of Hebrews, Jesus took aside His team to pray as they traveled, revealing a mobile base of prayer for the new work.
When does prayer occur in the life of the partnership?
Prayers occur at strategic tactical points in the development of the church planting movement of Acts. During the period of calling out the apostles, prophets and teachers are fasting and praying. The laying on of hands reveals another time and point of prayer. Jesus spends much time alone in prayer after significant ministry and before the taking of next steps. Later Jesus and Paul’s teams speak of times of prayer at crucial points in the development of the ministry. The Apostles are instructed by the Lord to pray following His death until the Spirit came to direct their next steps.
Why develop prayer and other support systems in partnership churches?
The primary reason to develop a prayer base for the work is because that is the model given us in Scripture. One cannot separate prayer from the strategy of developing new congregations. Divine initiative requires divine instruction to continue a divine endeavor. It is my firm belief that much of the failure rate in church starting is due to the loss of prayer as the central strategy in church planting. We do not hear from God in our call as apostolic leaders. The partner churches do not hear from God in the sending and supporting of the missionaries. And communication with God is poor in key stages of development. The chief reason prayer is central to the missionary endeavor is to hear and respond to God’s leadership so that His work might be accomplished.
We must not discount the role prayer plays in the life of the sent one, assuring them they are not alone and operating in their own power and stamina. The partner church(es) also benefit by enlarging their hearts, becoming more like their Groom with His heart to see all persons come to the knowledge of Him and escape eternal separation from Him in Hell.
How does one create a climate of prayer within the partnership?
I believe younger generations have not had much teaching on the subject of the apostolic role and the church, and the support systems taught in Scripture with regards to the subject. Paramount to the support systems is teaching the strategic nature of our prayers. Church planting projects which involve denominational assistance should include a plan for prayer support mutually agreed upon by the planter and the partnership church(es). It is recommended that those not receiving denominational support should also have a prayer support plan before, during, and post launch of a new congregation.
What should this plan include? I believe a comprehensive strategy of prayer for a beginning congregation must include the following elements:
- personal/ministry for apostolic leadership · strategic development
- resource development
- community impact
- assimilation of new members
- and mission reproduction, whether geographically or culturally-distinct.
Examples of each type of prayer are numerous in the New Testament, but space does not permit elaboration.
In light of the thoughts which have been raised, I wish to make the following recommendations for the Church Multiplication System and the Church Planter Network:
1. Assessment begins with the calling of God on an individuals life. Prayer
begins with God speaking. God speaks to the individual. The communication of God with an individual sets into play the unfolding of His plan. There is recognition of this call by the individual and ministering members of the church. If prayer is to be the central strategy of beginning new congregations, the apostolic calling on an individual’s life must be taught within the local churches. Also, churches must be sensitized, especially leaders, to hearing from God regarding the sending out of persons to serve in the founding of new congregations. I see the Assessment Center as a way of affirming that the first two items have taken place. We must help individuals and congregations hear from God or the system of assessment will be an apostolic method without apostolic power. Paul made the same mistake of assessment with Mark as the early church did with him in preempting the role of God’s communication with the individual and sending body.
Fortunately, the Scripture reveals the role Barnabas played in redeeming both their lives for church planting in encouraging what they had already heard from God and those sending them out.
2. Mentoring offers another key place for prayer to permeate the whole.
Jesus included this in His mentoring of the three and the twelve, instructing them how to pray, calling them away to pray, leaving them to pray while He was away, linking His leaving this earth and leaving them a Comforter to the discovery of prayer. Prayer provides the calling, the confirmation of the calling, the directing of where to go, the timing of when to begin, the provision of the means, the selecting of elders, the timing of when to move, the placing of the new converts in the Lord’s hands with the Spirit indwelling them and the timing of the revisit by the apostles.
3. Convening has similarity with the apostolic team. The sending out of
disciples as apostles was in multiples not alone. The apostolic method included the need to reflect as a group on what the team experienced in Jesus’ presence. Convening church planters/spouses/mentors together in His name is a way of placing our experiences together in His presence and allowing Him to refine and re-direct our efforts through prayer, sharing with one another and equipping modules. Wise counsel comes from persons at various places in the same journey of planting a congregation.
4. Multiplication. A healthy church is a multiplying church. Multiplication
is at the heart of the Great Commission but extends further back to the Abrahamic Covenant of God with His people. The writer of Hebrews later defines His people as persons with circumcised hearts, tying the Great Commissioned believer with the Abrahamic Covenant. In prayer, we understand the implications of this covenant and commission on our current settings.
From the churches’ intimacy with God, disciple-making believers are birthed who hear God’s calling and the Body of Christ sets them apart for the service of the Body. To keep the spiritual dimensions central to the place of apostolic service, we must not professionalize "apostolic" with a job description and personality/gifts profile, much like the professionalization of clergy in previous generations. Also, we must empower sufficient numbers of persons to do the assessing, mentoring, and convening of networks of church planters, so as not to slow the work by imposing systemic barriers within our denomination which bottleneck the beginning of new congregations.
A successful church multiplication system allows for the rapid transmission of the Gospel and the establishment of community-transforming congregations. The New Testament letters to the churches reveal success measured by these standards, even if things looked a little messy. May God protect us from the idolatries of perfectionism and professionalism!
By: Keith Draper of Chicago Metro Baptist Association
Source: National Pastors’ Prayer Network, www.nppn.org