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From Intentional to Instinctive

Pastors Share on Developing a Culture of Prayer in a Church

Compiled by Prayer Connect

“I like comparing our approach to prayer to Beethoven’s Fifth,” said Dr. James Banks of Peace Church, Durham, NC. “We take the same theme and repeat it over and over again, with a slight modification.”

In the preparation of this issue, we sent 30 pastors a questionnaire about developing a prayer culture in their churches. The churches were of varying sizes—from 50 members to 8,000 and everything in between. The churches are in various stages of prayer growth. We found the data intriguing and helpful, and we hope it will both enlighten and challenge other pastors and church leaders.

What Does It Mean?

First we asked pastors to describe a culture of prayer.

“A culture of prayer is a culture that does not just talk about prayer, but actually prays over events, decisions,” said Paul Covert, pastor of prayer, Central Christian Church, Mesa, AZ. He went on to say that a church with this culture “looks for ways to introduce prayer into every ministry of the church.”

“Such a church,” offered Nick Cardases, formerly pastor of Trinity Evangelical Missionary Church, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, “would have everything born out of prayer, rather than prayer being one of the ministries.”

Paul Bartnick of the Alliance Church of Zephyrhills, FL, shared, “Prayer is just as essential as preaching and teaching the Word. Prayer is just as essential as engaging in global missions.”

"A culture exists when a body is confronted with time constraints and the events [it] chooses to cut are not the prayer events. Then the church truly believes that prayer is [its] lifeline and connection to the Triune God,” said Scott Roberts of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA.

David Chotka, lead pastor of Spruce Grove Alliance Church, in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada, shared that “each ministry, each outreach, each mission, each worship service, and each leader has praying leaders, praying ministries—and each major area of endeavor has a clearly identified prayer team. Prayer is a significant factor in board governance and staff meetings, and each pastor [on staff] is required to have a structured daily prayer life.”

“A ‘culture’ in a congregation is a lived-out core value,” responded Vince McFarland of Maryland Community Church, Terre Haute, IN. “Not just a value of words, but a value of the way things are done. Prayer is a ‘first-nature’ quality of living and the power behind decision making. Worship gatherings are ‘filled with prayer.’”

Sunder Krishnan of Rexdale Alliance Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, said “There is a pervasive sense and awareness throughout the congregation of the fundamental importance of prayer, both individually and corporately.” The people in such a congregation, added Krishnan, “are not surprised when the leadership regularly issues calls for corporate gatherings of prayer for a variety of reasons, as well as a consistent encouragement to the pursuit of [a] personal life of intimacy and prayer.”

Pastor Jeff Noel of Grace Heartland Church, Elizabethtown, KY, noted that “the culture or DNA is simply what the church does without thinking about it. It moves from intentional to instinctive. The first church didn’t ‘think’ about praying, they just prayed. Unfortunately that is not the culture of most churches in [the Western world].” Noel went on to say, “We had to intentionally begin the process of making prayer a priority through many different prayer activities, but over the past five years we have experienced those intentional actions become part of the natural culture of how we do church. It is now our DNA. Without prayer we would not be the same church, and people would sense the difference.”

As these pastors shared, several similarities emerged. A culture of prayer does not just happen. Pastor Noel’s church is not alone in being intentional; churches need to take very intentional steps to make prayer a priority. Another similarity that emerged is how “in your face” these churches are becoming in regard to prayer, both with creative prayer activities and in what they require in prayer participation—especially of their elders and staff teams.

Becoming Intentional

Many of our pastors believe that for people to understand how important prayer is to their church, there needs to be a balance between making sure prayer is visible and developing prayer behind the scenes.

“What people see is what they unconsciously think matters,” said Pastor Scott Roberts of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA. “But if the only prayers that occur in the life of a body are the ‘visible’ ones, than prayer isn’t undergirding everything. The church must have a life of prayer that extends beyond the visible into every nook and cranny of the body’s life.”

“[Prayer] shouldn’t be just a show,” said Pastor Mike Sager of Faith Church, Austin, MN. “The distinction or earmark of authenticity is that it stems from personal healthy prayer lives, and is not just seen as an activity one does at church.”

To assure that prayer grows in the lives of people, most of our represented churches are taking aggressive steps to disciple people in their prayer lives. They also require participation of their leaders.

“If leaders are not in sync about prayer,” said Sager,” then we keep plodding and praying until they are. If leaders don’t have a common conviction and practice about prayer’s priority, then a culture of prayer cannot be developed.”

Dee Duke of Jefferson Baptist in Jefferson, OR, indicated that leaders are “asked to write their personal and ministry goals for the year and to include their prayer goals. These would be their involvement in corporate prayer, private prayer, and [prayer] with their wife and family.” Then there is accountability, said Duke. At most leader meetings time is spent talking about how they are doing with those goals.

Pastor Chotka shared that he personally interviews potential elders and staff about their prayer lives. “How do you hear the Lord’s voice?” is one of the questions he always asks. “[My] staff will be prayerful or they won’t work with me,” said Chotka. He regularly carves out time to go into each staff person’s office to spend an hour of prayer with them. Their elders always pray for at least an hour before moving into any kind of organizational discussion.

Bartnick echoed what a number of these pastors said: “If they [leaders] refuse to learn and develop a prayer life, they disqualify themselves from leadership and need to be replaced.”

Not only are these praying churches intentional about what they expect from the leaders regarding prayer, they are very intentional about placing prayer in front of their people. “I once read that vision is lost in 30 days,” said Pastor Tom Swank of Northpoint Community Church, Fort Wayne, IN. “If prayer is not visible, its role will soon be lost.”

Several pastors have encouraged staff and elders to be deliberate about visible prayer. Cory Stout, who pastors Community Heights Alliance Church in Newton, IA, encourages his staff (nine individuals) to do “hallway” prayer each week.

”The idea is,” said Stout, “that as we encounter people in conversations [each week at church], we don’t just say ‘I’ll pray for you’ and then walk away (and probably forget to pray for them); but rather that we take the time right then and there to say, ‘Can I pray for you/with you about that?’” Each week at staff meeting Stout has everyone share who they prayed for.

I personally witnessed this when I spoke at Community Heights a few years ago. As I sat waiting for each Sunday morning service to begin, I was truly amazed by how many clusters of people I saw praying for one another in the sanctuary and lobby. People catch on when they see it modeled!

Stout went on to say, “Prayer must be emphasized, validated, and prioritized, whether that is on a Sunday morning in front of hundreds or in a small group in front of eight.” But, Stout added, “I believe commitment, more so than visibility, is the highest goal.”

That commitment to prayer is worked on heavily by Concord First Assembly in Concord, NC. Associate Pastor Phil Bennett shared that they encourage people to practice daily Bible study and prayer through a plan they call Brave Christian. Each of the 800 or so participants learns to hear God speak through the daily Bible reading and prayer time. They then journal what they hear from God and what their responses are. Next they ask for a deeper commitment—and a smaller number become “Watchmen” who commit to pray for the ministries of the church. Hundreds have signed up to take a slot on the 168-hour, 24-7 prayer schedule.

Rexdale Alliance begins each year with a week of prayer that includes prayer gatherings every night. Out of that week comes greater prayer participation in other things. They host a monthly Sunday evening concert of prayer, and have a missions prayer emphasis every Sunday night in September. They also have multiple days of prayer for elders, and offer three different corporate prayer meetings each week.

Pastor Lloyd Peters of Fort St. John’s Alliance Church in British Columbia, Canada, said he leads in prayer every Sunday morning because it is important for people to see a pastor lead them into the throne room. But, he said, “I pray like I talk. It’s very conversational most of the time.” People need to see honest, everyday prayer to realize they can do it, too, Peters says.

Devoted to Prayer

Finally, national prayer leader Dennis Fuqua, who pastored a local church for more than 20 years and now heads up International Renewal Ministries (Pastors’ Prayer Summits), reminded us that “devoted to prayer” is a description that was used seven times in the New Testament. The early Church did not view prayer as something to use only when it was in trouble, or something used at the beginning and end of a service. Prayer was as much a part as was the spoken Word, fellowship, or the breaking of bread (see Acts 2:42).

“Prayer is so much a part of what we do,” said Dr. Banks, “that it permeates things, and the sense of God’s presence soon follows.”

“Culture of prayer is an attitude,” comments Stout. “An attitude of dependence. An attitude that says that we are incapable on our own—and thus reliant upon the person and power of Jesus Christ.”

Editor's Note: This article was compiled by Jonathan Graf, publisher of Prayer Connect and president of the Church Prayer Leaders Network. You can read the complete responses to this questionnaire online by clicking here..

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