Truth in (Prayer) Advertising
In all realms of business, the accepted code of ethics requires “truth-in-advertising.” False advertising is technically illegal, yet many marginal promoters get very close to the moral edge. Examples would include the following:
- Hidden fees and surcharges are not revealed in the promoted prices.
- Exorbitant shipping and handling fees are not disclosed.
- Customer data is used for purposes other than the original intent.
- Misuse of the word “free” in the promises of an advertisement.
- The “going out of business” sale actually features products that are marked up in price.
- The advertised measurements of a product are manipulated.
- Fillers are used to increase the appearance or weight of a package.
- Images are used on the product packaging that exaggerate the appearance of the actual contents.
- A product is compared inconsistently with that of another competitor.
- A “bait-and-switch” technique lures customers with one product when another higher-priced product is actually available.
- The words “guaranteed” or “no risk” are used without specific promises or legal recourse.
The list of possibilities goes on and is only limited by the craft and creativity of the advertiser. False advertising is rampant and obviously frustrating to the consumer.
Our “Ads” for Prayer
In the realm of church work, I have discovered a misrepresentation in advertising, common in congregations all across the nation. Gatherings are advertised as “prayer meetings” when, in reality, little meaningful prayer occurs in the gathering. The bulletin may promote a prayer gathering but the actual experience is a primary mix of other things.
For example, many gatherings promoted as “prayer meetings” are instead:
- A Bible study that opens in a brief prayer and concludes with a closing moment of prayer.
- A “sharing time” that features 45 minutes of depressing discussion about all the physical, financial, and relational problems experienced by the participants (and their neighbors – and third cousins) followed by a hurried flurry of intercession for divine assistance.
- An extended season of singing with minimal prayer inserted in between songs – and these brief prayers are usually offered by the people up front, not the people who came to pray.
- A “pray-off” that usually features the long, protracted, King James Version prayers of a few experienced participants, leaving the rest of the “newbies” or introverts intimidated, drowsy, confused – and silent.
As a matter of personal confession, few things frustrate me more than attending a “prayer meeting” where I anticipate substantive, engaging opportunities to pray with others and instead have to listen to people chat it up or drone on about other unrelated subjects. Perhaps we would do well to enact truth-in-advertising – maybe even offering percentages of the actual content of the gathering. Perhaps the ad would look something like this:
Come to the Wednesday night prayer meeting!
Ingredients: Social conversation (10%), singing (10%), Bible study (35%), talking about what we would like others to pray about (35%), actual prayer time (10%).
The Real Concern
You might wonder why I am making such a big deal about this conundrum. Primarily, I believe the church is in a desperate spiritual condition across North America. As long as we advertise the idea that we are praying, without the actual life-giving reality of the experience, we lull ourselves into a self-satisfaction that keeps us in a state of spiritual lethargy. Secondarily, we are teaching generation after generation of believers that what we call a “prayer meeting” is the actual biblical standard when it might be far from what the Lord had in mind when He told us to be a “house of prayer for all nations.” Also, these “prayer gatherings” are seldom transformational experiences and very often unattractive to the majority of the church. The result is a busy, enterprising, shallow church with no real culture of prayer. The devil wins. The lost lose. The church meanders.
Why the Misrepresentation?
I recognize that our situation is well-intentioned. No one is actually trying to deceive the congregation. Most of us are doing what we can to be faithful to the ideal of prayer. So why do we sponsor prayer meetings that include very little real, life-giving prayer? Here are a couple of guesses:
1. We are replicating a tradition we have learned without understanding or adapting better models. Most of us have been shaped by a “request-based” model that spends the majority of time talking about a plethora of needs, followed by a quick season of intercession. It is what we have seen and known, so we stick with it for better or worse.
2. We are intimidated or confused about prayer based on negative or threatening experiences in the past. Many of us have been uncomfortable in knowing what to say if the prayer time extends too long. Too much prayer can become a bit intimidating for some if we have to get too transparent or honest in the company of other church members. As a result, we tend to keep the experience brief and superficial.
A Proposal for Change
Of course, the solution is not to stop sponsoring or promoting prayer times. Rather, the ideal would be to change the content of the gatherings.
I am convinced that a Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based approach is the great need of the hour. Prayer meetings that begin with open Bibles, taking prayer cues from the divine revelation, not human conversations, are desperately needed. Allowing the Spirit to take the word of God to prompt us in prayers that are according to the will of God is a vital component of real prayer. Setting a foundation for prayer by seeking God’s face in extended, scriptural worship (which can certainly include singing) is vital. Following the pattern Jesus gave us for prayer (starting with worship and surrender), THEN moving to requests and spiritual preparedness, is an urgent call to the church.
I pray the Lord will help us to stop advertising other gatherings as “prayer meetings” and start sponsoring transformational times of seeking Him. Only then will we begin to experience the desperately-needed renewal that is really the hope for the church of Jesus Christ in our land.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.