A Beginner's Guide to Church Revitalization: What Makes a Church Need Revitalizing (Part IV)?

Again it's a while since I wrote on this, but it is something I'm constantly thinking about. Having considered problems with doctrineholiness and mission and evangelism that can lead to a church needing to be revitalized, I want to move on to prayer. Lack of prayer, it seems to me, indicates both a lack of a vibrant relationship with God in the church and it suggests that either people have given up, or are depending upon themselves for the work of the church.

Prayer

I think there are probably two issues with prayer in and for the church. The first is the one that stings all of us - are we actually doing it? The second is, I think a little more complex, but what is the content of our prayers?

So are we actually praying? I guess if you were putting a basic discipleship course together, prayer would be one of the foundation blocks. We might look to Jesus who both committed himself to prayer (e.g. Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:35; John 17) and taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9-13; 9:38; Luke 11:2-4). We might see how Paul encourages us to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6) and without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Colossians 4:2). Paul models that both in his prayer life (e.g. Romans 1:9; 1 Corinthians 1:4) and the prayers with which he peppers his letters. We might note that church leaders are to be men of prayer (e.g. Acts 6:4). Finally, we might note that prayer isn't just individual, but it is to be an integral part of the church's life (e.g. Acts 2:42; 4:24).

All of which is really just to say that the church should be deeply committed to prayer, both as individuals and together. Now I think everyone knows that if you want to make a Christian feel guilty then you should ask them about their prayer life, but it's interesting that in his book Autopsy of a Dead Church (which is very useful on questions of revitalizing), Thom Rainer notes that one of the signs of a dying church is lack of prayerfulness. It shows up in the gradual downgrading of corporate prayer, but I suspect that behind that there is a reality of little prayer in the individuals lives as well.

The second question, about what we're praying, is more complex. It's more complex because we are to pray in every situation (Philippians 4:6) and yet it seems that we very easily get side-tracked onto to praying for a relatively small set of things. Brutally, we often end up only praying for people who are ill, or suffering in some way. Now it's fine to pray those prayers (e.g. John 3:2), but it seems to miss the rich diversity of the prayers of the Bible (some of the passages above would give pointers, as might the Psalms). It seems to betray a very inwardly focused church - a church that isn't praying for mission to the community or around the world (Matthew 9:38; Colossians 4:2-4). It also seems to betray a church that is very focused on the temporal and not the spiritual, if I can put it like that. Where, for example, are the prayers for spiritual growth (e.g. Ephesians 1:15-19).

I suspect this second issue is a sign. As our prayer become less rich, I suspect we are also becoming less prayerful. A church that isn't prayerful and isn't rich in it prayer is a church that is in trouble.

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