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Pray.Network Spotlight: 2016 Midwest Prayer Conference (pt. 1)

Worthington Christian Church on the north end of Columbus, Ohio was the setting for this year's Midwest Prayer Conference sponsored by Harvest Prayer Ministries and the Church Prayer Leaders Network.  This year's edition included a "pre-conference" on Friday focused on transforming churches into Houses of Prayer.  Participants were treated to great times of worship, multiple learning opportunities, and several times of praying together.  In this edition of Spotlight, we'll summarize the sessions of the pre-conference; in the next edition, we'll review the Saturday conference.

 

Dave Butts opened the pre-conference with a message based on one of his recent books, Forgotten Power.  The thesis was that transforming churches into houses of prayer isn't as much a matter of tools and programs as it is of helping pastors and church leaders understand the theology behind the importance of houses of prayer.  God named his temple a house of prayer for all nations in Isaiah 56:7, a verse Jesus quoted when cleansing the temple.  Butts pointed out that in the Mark account (Mark 11:11-17), Jesus actually went to the temple first in the evening, looked around and saw what was going on, then went to Bethany for the night.  The cleansing occurred the next day - not at all an impulsive "righteous anger" act like we normally think of, but rather a well thought-out response to the derailing of the Temple from God's purpose for it.  In all likelihood, Butts speculated, this was done after a night of prayer spent with the Father.

God's purposes for his church - being a house of prayer for all nations - formed the theological underpinnings of the pre-conference.  Butts pointed out that it's not about a program but rather about the hearts of God's people:  if people individually are houses of prayer, then when they come together, the church will be a house of prayer.  Thus, a church becoming a house of prayer for all nations is first and foremost about its people developing hearts for kingdom prayer.

 

Kim Butts followed this session with an outline for a roadmap process to lead a church to the house of prayer destination.  The roadmap would really work for any strategic planning type process, and featured 7 prayers to surround the process:

  1. The prayer of intercession - asking God to teach us to pray
  2. The prayer of intimacy - asking God to make us a people of prayer
  3. The prayer of listening - discerning God's voice and direction
  4. The prayer of thanksgiving - starting with gratitude for where the church already is in prayer
  5. The prayer of submission or humility - submitting our will to God's, individual agendas to God's plans
  6. The prayer of wisdom - as in James 1:5-8
  7. The prayer of unity - based on John 17, a prayer that God will unify the team in direction and goals.

Harvest Prayer Ministries has developed a roadmap process to help churches on the journey to becoming houses of prayer for all nations.

One of many important points Kim made was the emphasis on training children to pray.  "You can train children; you have to re-train adults," she said, pointing out that children have no bad habits of prayer to overcome.  Jon Graf would later make the point that the current "older generation (50+)" in the church has not done a good job of training the next generation in prayer, with the result that the practice of prayer is not an integral part of many young adult believers' lives.

 

Jon Graf concluded the pre-conference with a session on "Growing a Praying Church".  He noted several obstacles in the path of growing a praying church.  Many pastors consider their churches to be praying churches already, though statistics indicate that 75-80% of their congregation would say that they have "poor" to "no" prayer life.  A second obstacle is the "rugged individualism" so ingrained in American culture.  This produces an independent attitude that tends to rely on human wisdom and resources rather than on God.   And where prayer is a part of the environment, it tends to be individual prayer rather that community prayer.  Graf quoted David Bryant's statement that 90% of the references in Scripture to prayer are references to praying together, rather than individually.

These and other obstacles make creating a praying church a difficult task.  But the results, Graf said, are worth it.  Individually, 50% of people in evangelical churches say that they would make developing a better prayer life a priority if their church could make it manageable.  (Teaser:  I'll cover this in greater depth in part 2 of this Spotlight, focusing on the Strategic Prayer Initiative, which was the subject of one of Saturday's breakouts.)  Corporately, as churches move toward becoming praying churches, an atmosphere of excitement tends to develop because the church's ministries become more fruitful.

Another great benefit when churches move toward becoming praying churches is the transformation that takes place in people's lives as intercession becomes more common.  Graf warned that this can get messy, as this sort of transformation is often accompanied by the light shining on some previously dark areas in the lives of individuals and/or of the church.  Satan will do anything to drain the energy of a church that is experiencing real transformation, and trials and temptations may increase during these times. 

Graf noted that as we train our congregations in prayer, we need to emphasize two primary purposes of prayer:

  1. To grow people's relationships with God
  2. To release God's will on earth.

Graf noted a point that was often repeated throughout the day - that God could accomplish his purposes in any way he chooses.  He simply chooses to accomplish them through the prayers of his people.  This brings a great challenge, responsibility, and opportunity to the people of God to accomplish the purposes of God through prayer.

 

The next edition of Spotlight will continue coverage of the Midwest Prayer Conference, beginning with the worship and keynote opening on Friday night.

 

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