The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of NSW has adopted a Denominational Ministry Strategy (DMS) prepared by the Ministry and Mission Committee.
This article from The Pulse magazine (first in a series) identifies a fundamental area of church life which should be cultivated so that ministry and mission can be carried out with clarity and commitment.
I found the practical suggestions about prayer meetings very helpful.
Because the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, the mission of the Presbyterian Church is to “take the Gospel to people of all ethnic and cultural groupings (1)”.
As it pursues this mission in NSW, the Church longs to see each of its congregations having the will and the ability to grow and then to plant new congregations directly or indirectly. That will bring about a multiplication of “cross-shaped communities (2)” marked by inspiring worship, enthusiastic service, effective evangelism and measurable growth in Christ-likeness (3). The expression of these qualities will vary from place to place according to local circumstances, and this variability defies definition by the Assembly. What can be achieved at a denominational level is to recognise and emphasize the strategic priorities
that underlie all others for the church: prayer, proclamation and pastoring. It is in these areas that the denomination, by the adoption of a clear approach to ministry, may help presbyteries and sessions to establish goals and strategies applicable to, and appropriate in, their own situation.
The church is never truly the church when it fails to rely on Jesus. He said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Whenever, therefore, we try to live and act without total reliance on him, we act like any other human organisation and enjoy no spiritual empowerment. We then receive nonanswers concordant with our non-prayers. We find that we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).
When prayer is made a priority, a greater sense of anticipation is enjoyed by God’s people, a greater sense of awe is experienced when God demonstrates his blessing and a greater willingness exists to recognise the divine origin of those blessings so that glory and praise rebound to him. God’s people become more humble, more hopeful and more bold so that they serve him with deeper devotion and increased joy.
It is of pivotal importance, then, that in all our congregations, members be taught to pray privately and publicly, that they be organised into groups for prayer and that they be expected to pray orally and audibly in terms that other people may understand. If the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, those who would be disciplemakers today must also teach their people to pray.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the early church was not just that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, nor even consistent fellowship and sacramental observances, but that they prayed with the result that “everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:42-43). Such were their prayers that prison doors flew open, the lame walked, the dead were raised to life, the believers shared their possessions with joy, and they were sustained through persecution.
Our people need to be taught how to pray and what to pray. For many, hearing their own voice in prayer is unnerving and threatening. They need help. The church needs help. And those who would be leaders in God’s church must provide it.
The Presbyterian Church must be known not just as a fellowship, but a prayer fellowship where the Bible is rightly taught and prayer is an “offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies (4).”
Prayers like that – “for things agreeable to God’s will” – will see him answer our desire for growth of the church, the recruitment of God-appointed servants to proclaim his word and pastor his people, and the willingness of congregations and their members to re-assess their resources to facilitate ministry in their own area and to share their resources with other congregations for the growth of existing works and the establishment of new congregations.
Prayer must, of course, be part of the regular and ongoing experience of every one of God’s people.
But prayer must not only be the private activity of individuals. Congregations must be organised to pray together. Since that sort of praying so easily slips from congregational agendas, presbyteries have an opportunity, here, to exercise their concern for the welfare of congregations (and demonstrate their supervisory responsibility) by providing leadership and encouragement that will strengthen congregational practices in prayer and even monitor them (5). In doing so, presbyteries may give evidence of their own commitment to organised corporate prayer by conducting regular and public prayer meetings for the work of the gospel within their bounds.
This is the heart of the Church’s response to God and it is appropriate that the Assembly, too, as the governing authority, should set an example in this area and direct God’s people to fulfil their responsibilities towards him in this way.
1. Structure the agenda of all church meetings so that corporate prayer will have a clear and significant profile and every person present will have the opportunity to join in prayer.
2. Organise and conduct prayer meetings in homes and in church buildings – wherever it’s convenient – actively inviting and urging people to come together to celebrate God’s goodness and seek the progress of the gospel.
This requires no authorisation or approval. Any member of the church can do this.
3. Schedule whole-congregation prayer meetings at least twice each year as part of the congregation’s annual calendar. Publicise these meetings. Promote them. Make them prominent so that people are excited by them.
Prayer doesn’t have to be dull!
4. Regularly remind one another of the good things we have from God – the warmth of our church fellowship, the love of our friends within the congregation, the accountability we receive from one another, the opportunity to hear God’s word regularly taught, and the chance to sing of God’s goodness (people hardly sing anywhere else but in churches, so thank him for this great gift and for all the wordsmiths who’ve written such wonderful songs over time and those who are still doing so). There is so much to be thankful for, and as we contemplate our blessings, it will help us to pray for those less fortunate, especially those who have no relationship with Jesus and no benefit from him.
5. Circulate lists of things to pray for when people come together. Prayer points may be clustered into themes or they might be random, it doesn’t matter, but mix it up so that people are encouraged to pray for “all sorts and conditions of men” – pleading with God for the ongoing needs of the congregation, its members, its supported missionaries in Australia and overseas, the work of the church within the presbytery, state and nation. Simply put, we want to help people to “humble [themselves] under God’s mighty hand, that he might lift [them] up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
6. Keep individual prayers simple and short. Not every prayer has to go for 15 minutes and quote 27 Bible verses. Why not have a time of brief prayer – where people are limited to one sentence before they have to let someone else have a go. One prayer point in one sentence, with no commas, semi-colons, subordinate clauses and other devices for making sentences longer. Short and sweet.
7. Encourage everyone to pray at least one thing out loud. Sit in a circle and go round it. If someone can’t think of anything to pray for when it’s their turn – or simply needs more time to gather their thoughts – that’s fine. Let them say, “Pass” and the next person will know it’s OK to take over. (That saves some very embarrassing and awkward silences).
8. Don’t waste time with refreshments beforehand. Get there on time, get straight into praying, and have refreshments afterwards, if necessary.
9. Keep your Bibles open. It’s amazing how having the Bible open in front of you during a prayer meeting can help keep the mind focused and provide new material for prayer as we take God’s word and transform its teachings into pleadings.
These are just a few practical tips. If you’ve found other things useful or would like to suggest some more, why not email email@example.com. Let’s encourage one another, especially as we see the Day drawing near.
(1) See Article 5 of the Articles of Agreement in Constitution, Procedure and Practice of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
(2) Paper presented to the Assembly by the Vision and Mission Committee in 2004.
(3) “Towards a Denominational Ministry Strategy”, a discussion paper submitted to the Assembly by the Ministry and Commission Committee in 2008.
(4) Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.98.
(5) The Code II 5.02 – “Among its responsibilities the presbytery shall: (a) supervise all matters relating to doctrine, discipline and order in the congregations and all their associations and societies, within its boundaries.”