|. . . Prayer is a collaborative experience.
Another airport, another stop at the "news" store to look the latest issues of Macworld, Newsweek (I subscribe to Time), and Sporting News (my copy of Sports Illustrated is already in my briefcase) . . . but as I peruse the display, the cover of the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review catches my eye:
Build a culture of trust and innovation. COLLABORATE
Even at $15.99 (the check out clerk warned me before she rang it up), it was a no-brainer.
The Holy Spirit is moving across the Body of Christ with a John 17 message of unity.
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (vv 22-23).
An admonition with a clear and direct application to evangelism that is empowering the city-reaching movements in communities large and small across the nation. Congregations, ministry organizations, marketplace leaders of influence, are asking "what can we do better, more effectively, together, than separate?" A movement from isolation, not merely in reaction to the social culture but from other Christ-centered churches and ministries, toward community impacting collaboration.
My excitement grew as I began to scan and read the feature articles:
--Are You a Collaborative Leader? . . . how great leaders keep their team connected
--Building a Collaborative Enterprise . . . how to create a culture of trust and teamwork
--Bringing Minds Together . . . collaboration among people who previously had no reason to work together
Each article had immediate benefit to my work of coordinating the coaches of Loving Our Communities to Christ, a catalytic and cooperative process of demonstrating and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ across cities and communities. Sadly, especially the third one listed.
Fast forward a few weeks. Sitting on the sand facing the Atlantic ocean, trying to read the HBR in the blazing sun, suddenly it occurred to me. The prayer movement needs collaboration too. Joining forces, teaming up, banding together is not only for citywide evangelism, it is equally vital for the local church prayer leader in his or her approach to corporate prayer. After all, corporate means "to form into a body" and shouldn't each corporate prayer experience transform individuals, by the filling and leading of the Spirit, into a one-mind, one-voice choir of praise? [see: Acts 4:24: "they raised their voices together in prayer to God."]
When I facilitate a consultation or round table gathering, I often use the 20-20-20 format. Twenty minutes of presentation followed by 20 minutes of small group discussion then concluding with 20 minutes of all-group feedback (often called a debrief). Perhaps this format would help us turn around-the-circle and down-each-list corporate prayer into a dynamic experience ("a process or system stimulating development or progress"). How would it work?
Prayer is a collaborative experience
- 20 minutes of collaborating through conversing. Begin by seeking to discern together what the Spirit saying to the group that should serve as the focal point of your praying. Seeking prayer utilizes questions. Instruct the pray-ers to ask for direction and wisdom and revelation, and to avoid making requests or supplication; that will take place in the second segment.
Whether the gathering is a small fellowship group or a large congregation, the prayer leader facilitates a time of both vertical prayer and horizontal dialog. Some of the time the group is in a listening prayer mode. Some of the time the facilitator is asking if anyone has a scripture (for example, this may surface in a group that is devoted to praying for lost persons or serving needs in the community -- "Pray that I may proclaim the gospel clearly, as I should" [Colossians 4:4]) or a statement (in a study group -- "The Bible was written to change our lives, not increase our knowledge" could focus prayer on "Being transformed by the renewing of our minds" [Romans 12:2])
Is the Lord speaking through silence or calling for silence (listening prayer)?
"Father, are there "pslams, hymns or spiritual songs" you want us to sing to you or to sing as our petitions or declarations?
Is there a story (testimony) of someone who has experienced a trial or testing or tirumph that would encourage the group and become a headline for prayer?
While the first segment qualifies as prayer, the primary aim is to collaborate toward receiving the inspiration and instruction of the Spirit for the second segment by simply talking to God and one another.
- 20 minutes of collaborating through communing
The prayer leader facilitates a transition from seeking to speaking and singing and the praying of scripture.
Clearly identify the headline or focus the group has discerned in the first segment and ask everyone to launch their prayers from that scripture or statement or story. Set the course.
As the group presents their requests to the Lord, the prayer leader needs to help the corporate body stay on course. Remind them of the path, if they take an off-ramp. Redirect them gently if they somehow detour. Refocus their attention if they head in a totally different direction.
- 20 minutes of collecting through commenting
While this will be a horizontal discussion (participants are asked to share their experience), it is still, technically, prayer. Listening to one another is a way to hear what the Spirit has said through our prayers in the second segment. We asked questions, discerned what to pray, then prayed what we heard. But, whenever we pray what is on God's heart, we discover in our response new depths of the mind of Christ or an unexpected passion in our petitions. Debriefing what we experienced (heard, said, leaned, observed, a new question or fresh insight) always cements learning and takes us on a new adventure.
This segment has much "vertical" potential even though participants will not have every eye closed and every head bowed.
The prayer leader makes certain the group discusses (and hopefully determines) what God has said as we spoke to Him and what He intends us to do about it--action steps that may make us the answer to our own prayers.
Consider collecting everyone's thoughts as they comment on a white board or on a computer projected on a screen. This information may be a good beginning to the next prayer gathering.
It seems to me, many of those missing from our prayer gatherings (or silent when they are present) would welcome conversing with the Lord, communing with open another, and ollecting spiritual insights-- if only they knew we believe that prayer is a collaborative experience.
Originally published by the Church Prayer Leaders Network