Pray & Ask Questions Later
In 2010, I was in New York City at the famed Brooklyn Tabernacle for a conference. It was early in the morning and we were listening to a seasoned, accomplished pastor talk about transforming prayer. It was easy to discern that he had explored and experienced the depth, power and value of seeking God’s face. His knowledge and passion for this often-neglected discipline was infectious and I was furiously trying to record every word on my iPad.
During the session, my wife started getting a little annoyed with my incessant note taking. The smoke from my fingers must have been distracting her from paying attention. I even began irritating myself because I was missing certain crucial parts of the message trying to take down every syllable that rolled off his tongue. I hate it when that happens. What did people ever do before iPhones, iPads and Twitter? It’s like they just listened, processed the information and applied it.
Anyway, my diligent transcription was interrupted by a pointed, sobering challenge from this speaker. He said, “If you are a pastor in here, your church will never have a heart for prayer and seeking God’s face until you do.” He added, “If you are not demonstrating a faithfulness to creating a prayer culture in your church, then your people won’t either. Congregational renewal always begins with leadership renewal.”
These statements grabbed me with conviction because I had just become a lead pastor for the first time at a church in Louisville, KY. I was excited, optimistic and longing to approach church leadership in a fresh way. My wife and I had talked extensively beforehand about not wanting to “do church as usual.” That phrase entailed the blind employment of clichéd programs, defaulting to safe methodology and grasping for man-centered concepts to grow and undergird the church. We had done that previously and were weary of its terminal, superficial results.
We wanted to be led exclusively by the Holy Spirit with respect to the transition, foundation and forward trajectory of our church. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches” out of Revelation 2:29 became our guiding principle and the Spirit clearly directed us to be a people of prayer who were driven by God’s word.
Our laser-focused determination was to create a worship-based prayer culture in a place that was basically prayerless. We aimed to seek the face of God while bannering Scriptural truth. That’s it. That was our church growth and health strategy. It was not very innovative. It was not what the people were used to or desired. It was unorthodox in many of today’s ministry approaches and out of the mainstream. But it was biblical.
However, as the pastor in New York stated, this directive and vision required something of our leaders and me. It’s easy to sit around and talk about prayer and see the value in it but it’s another thing altogether to actually do it. Therefore, first and foremost, we needed to have a faithful, personal prayer life. We could not lead people to seek God’s face if we weren’t praying ourselves. It would be evident and the congregation would be deterred by our spiritual pretense.
After displaying transparency, it was essential for us to call the church to prayer. Due to a lack of precedent, it became important to clearly teach and inform the congregation of what the Bible says about communion with God and how it instructs us to come close and talk to Him.
Next, we needed to begin praying in every venue and environment. There couldn’t be a business meeting, small group, staff meeting or worship service that wasn’t underwritten with sincere, powerful prayer even if that meant impeding on the pre-determined agenda. This would place a holistic premium on prayer within the context of church life.
Lastly, there had to be a place where people could come together and pray in community that didn’t involve a program. A prayer gathering where individuals from all backgrounds could intimately seek God, petition, lament and intercede on behalf of others. The formation of this worship environment would prove to be the toughest. At that same conference, the speaker identified some fears that prevented most leaders from starting prayer gatherings at their churches. A few of those were:
- Fear of the Gathering Being a Failure
- Fear of No One Showing Up
- Fear of Leading an Ineffective Prayer Time
As a young pastor, I had a healthy recognizance and fear of all those potential outcomes. I knew prayer was avoided in the American church and I realized that it was not a sexy attraction to the contemporary believer. I had not studied it in seminary and never really led a creative prayer time in 12 years of ministry. Yet, despite all the intrinsic anxiety, we launched our prayer gathering on day one and called it Kairos, the Greek word meaning a moment of undetermined time in which something special happens.
Some special things have certainly taken place in our church over the last 3 years, and although glorious and worth every step, it has not been easy. We’ve faced uncertainty, disappointing turnouts at prayer gatherings and scathing criticism that it’s pointless and impossible to sustain. We’ve made mistakes, questioned our own acumen and fought off discouragement at every turn.
Through it all, I am blessed and thankful that we were obedient to the Holy Spirit in making prayer one the chief center points of our ethos. The tangible and supernatural effects of seeking God’s face have been profound. The Holy Spirit continues to teach us to pray and is actively transforming and reshaping our community. Here is what we’re experiencing through the development of a prayer culture in our church:
Increased Spiritual Attentiveness
Intimacy with God is the essence of prayer. Our disposition toward seeking him should be void of selfish ambition, religious strategy and shallow conceit. Watchman Nee once said, "Yes, sometimes God will hear and respond to your prayers for the sake of satisfying your own needs, yet His own will is not fulfilled. Let us see that such prayer does have much value in it.”
As our church has learned to seek the Lord simply because He is worthy, there has been an increase in consideration for the sacred. People are becoming more attentive to God’s heart and to his perfect will for them. I sense a growing insight, stillness and spiritual awareness in corporate settings, groups and one-on-one.
There is a deepening both vertically and horizontally. As people are growing closer to God, they are inevitably growing closer to each other. In Jesus’ model prayer he said, "Our Father in Heaven," indicating that prayer is community with the Lord and others. The bonds of friendship and fellowship have been forged and solidified by people praying with and for one another.
Savoring and Enjoying God
It has been said that true worship-based prayer causes one to savor the Blesser more than the blessing. When someone learns to pray, it is evident in their affection for the One they are seeking. Our people are becoming a lot more interested in the Person rather than "the perks" of prayer and relationship.
An Ignited Heart for the Gospel
As we consistently petition God, there is a swelling passion for the Gospel and its power to save, heal and transform environments locally and globally. Friends, neighbors, family members and people groups are being lifted up out of a desire to see the message of Christ spoken, preached and lived out.
Jason Autry serves as lead pastor of Springdale Community Church in Louisville, KY. For more information on Jason and his church, visit his blog/website at jasonautry.com