CALL TO PRAYER: Guided congregational prayer
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world.
NASHVILLE (BP) -- When I became pastor of my second church, I was the youngest pastor the church had ever called to the role. Several older deacons told me that for more than 40 years the church had experienced undercurrents of conflict, most often between the pastor and the deacons or between the pastor and a staff member. We began to strategize ways to bring the congregation together.
We established the following nine priorities that were placed on each week's mid-week prayer memo, a practice we followed for more than 20 years. I share them in hopes they will trigger ideas for use in your church as well.
Pray for the sick
It is biblical to pray for the sick (James 5:14-15). This is probably the most widespread praying that takes place in any congregation. It is both understandable and appropriate that we lift our burdened hearts to the Lord for our friends, neighbors and loved ones who face the challenges of illness. Most believers would agree that while doctors can treat the symptoms, only the Great Physician can truly bring healing.
Pray for the chronically ill
The debilitating character of cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis, advanced forms of diabetes, strokes and many other chronic ailments affect the total person. Long-term illness drains the spirit and soul as well as the body. On our prayer list, we had a section listing those who had ever been diagnosed with any lingering illness. Over time, this list got quite long; but amazingly (and wonderfully), many of the people listed would often be in the service when their names were read aloud in prayer, their presence being a testimony of the power of prayer.
Pray for the lost
Sometimes we spend more time praying the saints out of Heaven than we spend praying the sinners into Heaven. In our praying, we must not neglect praying by name for the lost. At various times we would type the first names of people called out in prayer. This is more easily done in small settings. More often, we provided an opportunity for people to lift up the first names of their friends and family who needed to be saved.
Pray for the health of the church
We had a scripted sentence that appeared on the mid-week prayer memo for many, many years -- "pray for the health and harmony of our church, that we may be one." Yes, there were occasional hiccups along the way; but overall, the church experienced extended years of vibrant, wholesome, holy fellowship between pastor and staff, staff and people, pastor and people, and people and people. I believe the Lord Jesus is pleased when we ask Him to do for us what He Himself prayed for us -- that we may be one, even as He and the Father are one.
Pray for missionaries who are marking birthdays
For years the "Open Windows" devotional booklet, produced by LifeWay, has printed a daily birthday list of the names of our international and North American missionaries. Each week, we listed the names of those who had a birthday on the day we met for prayer. It always amazed me how connected so many of these missionaries were with people in the church. Some names were intentionally omitted, replaced by initials of those serving in dangerous locations. People would speak out in the service to comment about some specific need for a particular missionary family. It is encouraging to know that our missionary force is remembered regularly by as many as 650,000 faithful prayer warriors who use Open Windows.
Pray for the church's ministry teams
We rotated praying for each church committee, ministry team, service organization or ethnic congregation, so that each one was prayed for by name at least four times a year. We also listed the names of related ministries in the community such as our pregnancy care center, our Baptist Collegiate Ministry, our local association, our benevolent ministry and other churches in the area.
Pray for missionaries directly connected to your church
It was wonderful to see God call out individuals to mission service nationally and globally. It was encouraging to the congregation to see the list of names grow longer as individuals and families who were directly connected with our church, were thrust into God's mission field.
Pray for those called into His service
Equally as encouraging to our folks was the growing list of men and women who surrendered their lives to full-time vocational Christian service. As they left us to attend seminary or other graduate programs, we did not want the church to forget them. The church generously gave supplemental funding and offered focused prayer for each person.
Pray for those in our military
The list of those who serve our country was another important part of our weekly prayer list. These men and women face pressures and temptations that are unique to the military experience. In conversation with numerous chaplains, perhaps the most common concern I heard is how difficult it is for soldiers to reconnect with the church when their terms of service end. Prayer is one of the most important means to facilitate their reentry into church life.
In addition, we had numerous other ministry needs that we prayed for from week to week; but these nine priorities were printed in each mid-week prayer guide. We serve a God who hears and answers prayer. To Him be the glory.
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).