Pastor Note #65 — A Congregational Vision for Prayer and Healing

Venice Presbyterian Church at sunrise; photo by GAC
Venice Presbyterian Church at sunrise; photo by GAC

A Vision for Prayer & Healing in the Life of our Church

The Ministry of Prayer in the Life of our Congregation

            The presence of God is sought and found in a diligent and unremitting pursuit of God through prayer.  Prayer is not the work of a few.  It has to be the committed work of the entire community of the church.  It is something that we do individually as members of the Venice Church family and also when we gather together in groups for the purpose of prayer.

            Churches can sometimes take prayer for granted.  They do that by simply assuming that prayer in the life of the church will just happen and that it needs no special attention or planning.  But the prayer ministry of a church, like any other ministry, requires intentional planning and purposeful organizational effort.  Otherwise, the church’s prayer life will become routine, mechanical, and lifeless.

            I believe we need to find ways to make the ministry of prayer an intentional part of our organizational life.  A church cannot experience the vibrant presence of God without a conscious, purposeful, organized commitment to prayer.  Nor can it recognize God’s leading or tap into God’s power unless it is engaged in an intentional and systematic ministry of prayer.  I have found that churches need a committee that is dedicated to organizing and leading the church’s ministry of prayer just as much as they need a committee to oversee their education programs or their outreach ministries.  A prayer committee’s primary task would be to design and oversee an intentional and organized ministry of prayer in our congregation’s life.

A Vision for Prayer:  A Matter of Worldview
            Fundamental to a ministry of prayer is the certain knowledge that God does things because we pray and that if we do not pray, those things will not otherwise happen.  Prayer is not magic, but God has made it clear that he ordinarily prefers to work in response to the prayers of his people.  Our Father wants us to learn to be dependent on him.  Our Father wants us to recognize that the blessings and gifts that he puts into our lives come from him.  And so, that is why he often prefers to wait until we seek a particular blessing or gift from him in prayer before he gives it.  In that way, we “connect the dots”.  In that way, we see that the gift has come from God, and be thankful to him.

            With that understanding of things, we will be far more diligent in prayer.  We will not be satisfied to allow the life of prayer at our church to be haphazard and spur-of-the-moment.  We will come to realize that no amount of human effort will cause our church’s ministry to prosper apart from diligent, persistent, coordinated prayer.

The Act of Prayer: A Matter of Practice
Here are some examples of the kinds of ministry a prayer committee might design and organize for our church:

  • Train our people to be able to pray with a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member in a time of need.
  • Train and schedule teams of two (ideally) who will pray in the lounge for our worship services for a half hour before each service or who might even pray for the services while the service is taking place.
  • Train and schedule prayer teams (two or three people, especially elders and deacons) for every worship service to be available after the service for prayer ministry with individuals who would like to be prayed for.
  • Schedule at least one special season of prayer for our Church congregation, such as a round the clock prayer vigil with individuals signing up for one hour blocks or a special congregational fast day with a prayer service and a meal or a prayer-walk to several places of outreach in our community (e.g., the local school grounds, the community park, outside the municipal building, or one of the neighborhoods near the church). 
A sassafras leaf with water droplets
A sassafras leaf with water droplets; photo by GAC

The Ministry of Healing in the Life of our Congregation

            One expression of that ministry of prayer must be in the form of a dedicated ministry of healing.  Always when God is sought out in prayer and when God draws near to his people through their prayers, our God makes his presence visible through healing.  That’s exactly what God promised Solomon:  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” [2 Chronicles 7:14].

            Our Father wants us to turn to him and seek healing from him.  When we seek healing from God through prayer, he heals.  He does that because it is a most powerful expression of his redeeming plan for the world.  When God heals in response to the prayers of his people, the world sees the truth that Jesus is Lord and that he has come to redeem and heal our fallen and broken world.  Our God wants us to call on him for healing, so that he can show himself powerful and kind.  The church of Acts shows us the way.  They prayed, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  And Luke tells us that “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”  [Acts 4:30-31]

            Is there any reason why we shouldn’t expect God to do that among us at our church?  Our community is full of brokenness in the form of illnesses, addiction, damaged marriages and families, depression, suicide, spiritual oppression.  Why shouldn’t our church be known as the place where people come to find God’s healing and restoration?  That is my vision for our church.

A Vision for Healing: A Messy Business
            A ministry of healing is not a clean and tidy business.  We need to set aside any illusions about that.  In order to truly embrace a ministry of healing, a church has to seek out, invite, and welcome people whose lives are a mess.  Traditionally, American churches are seen as tidy, polite places where you are welcome as long as you dress properly and behave respectably.  Very frequently, the people in our communities who most need the healing ministry of Christ are people who are deeply broken psychologically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically.  Their lives may be in shambles.  They may not look or dress or act like respectable church members.  They probably will find it hard to believe that they will be well-received and welcomed in a traditional congregation like ours.  We will have work hard to show broken people that they are welcome at our church, to show them that at our church they will be among friends.

A Vision for Healing: Making Space
            If we want our church to be a place of healing and hope for broken people, we will have to go out of our way to make it look and feel like a safe and welcoming place for people whose lives are a mess.  I’m not sure about all that goes into accomplishing that, but I believe there are a couple of things we could do that would start us on the way to that goal.

            First, we will need to be open and honest about the fact that the people of our church are themselves broken people.  Here are some aspects of what that means.

  • It means that everyone at our congregation must be able and eager to publicly acknowledge that we are each of us filthy sinners and destined for an eternity in hell and that our only hope is found in the fact that Jesus died for us on the cross. We may be cleaned up on the outside, but we have to be willing to honestly acknowledge that inside we are no less in need of Jesus than the tattooed, pierced, drug-dealing gang member.  If you can’t say that about yourself, then you have some serious soul-searching to do, because that is what saving faith looks like.  If you cannot say that you need Jesus just as much as the drunk on the street corner, then I fear that you do not understand the saving grace of God and that you have not received it for yourself.  Each one of us is saved from damnation solely and only because Jesus Christ died for us.  In the eyes of God, a sinner is a sinner.  It should be that way in our own eyes, too.  When a congregation is very open about the truth that they themselves are broken sinners in need of Jesus’ forgiveness and healing, it creates an atmosphere that says to other broken sinners, “It is safe for you here.  You are welcome to come here to find healing and forgiveness from Jesus.  Here you are among friends.”
  • It also means that all of us in this congregation must begin to admit that we have brokenness and need in our own lives. We need to be increasingly open about our own problems and struggles.  One concrete and simple way to do that is to begin to ask for prayer for yourself on Sunday mornings during our prayer times in worship.  It’s all right to ask for prayer for a cousin or a neighbor or a co-worker.  But it is also necessary that we develop the habit of asking for prayer for ourselves and our own situations.  On Sunday mornings during prayer request time, we need to hear more and more, “Please, pray for me.  I am struggling with. . . , and I need you to pray for me about this.”  We cannot afford the luxury of keeping our struggles private.  We need to develop an atmosphere of openness and honestly about our own struggles.  Other broken people need to be able to see that they are among friends, among fellow broken people.

Healing and Evangelism in Partnership
            The consequence of doing these things will be that some people who don’t look like respectable, middle-class church members will start to show up at our worship services and other activities.  In this way, a ministry of healing and a ministry of evangelism prove to be partners.  Healing and salvation work hand in hand to make the kingdom of God real in our midst.

Eastern tiger swallowtail on a cone flower; its right wing has been damaged, but it seemed to be flying without difficulty; photo by GAC
Eastern tiger swallowtail on a cone flower; its right wing has been damaged, but it seemed to be flying without difficulty; photo by GAC

The Ministry of Healing in Practice
Here are a few things we can do to make this ministry of healing a larger part of our ministry:

  • Our Healing Service on the fourth Wednesday of each month is one expression of our healing ministry that is already in place. But currently very few people attend it.  It is the ideal place to start practicing some of the things I spoke of above.  This monthly service is a setting in which we can begin to practice openness about our own need for healing in our lives.  I believe that one reason some people don’t come to this service is because they don’t believe they need healing in their lives or that they don’t believe that they should publicly ask for it.  This service is the setting in which our own church members can begin to open themselves to each other.  This Healing Service is also the ideal setting for our members to bring others for healing.  Our Healing Service can be for us an effective means of evangelism as we invite friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers to come with us to the service and receive prayer for healing and to meet Jesus their healer.
  • As I mentioned already in the section above on prayer ministry, we can be training up prayer teams who will be present and available after every Sunday morning worship service to pray for individuals. By having such prayer teams available, we can begin to develop the habit in us all of regularly acknowledging our need for healing and of regularly coming to the church to seek and receive that healing from Jesus.  We need to make this healing prayer a regular and routine part of our life together as a people of God.
  • Healing prayer is not a ministry for a select few. It is a work that all of God’s people can and should be doing regularly.  Training up all of our people to be comfortable and confident to pray for one another should be part of our regular educational ministry.  Now, when we are in conversation with someone else and they tell us about a health problem or a relational conflict or some other need, we are prone to tell them that we will be praying for them.  But why wait?  Why pray only later?  Why do so few of us say instead, “Well, let me pray for you right here and right now.”?  It could become a common sight on a Sunday morning after worship to see little groups of two or three people standing in the church praying for someone right there on the spot.  What better way to demonstrate that Venice Church is a people of prayer, a people who know that theirs is a God who hears his people and responds to their prayers by healing and restoring us in our brokenness and need?

Let’s Start a Conversation
            I hope that what I’ve written here will stimulate you to prayerful reflection and conversation.  Ask God what he wants you to do with what you’ve read here.  Talk to someone else about it.  Start to do it here in our own church and also in the wider world.  Then share with others what you see God is doing.

©2015 Gary A. Chorpenning


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