To continue our "Better Together!" series on Corporate Prayer, I want to introduce you to a pastor friend of mine. John Whitsett is the Lead Pastor at Lakeside Community Church of the Nazarene in Hastings, Nebraska. I first met him through Pray.Network, where I read a doctoral thesis he wrote on corporate prayer and revival. John was buried in 15” of snow last week in the Midwest’s “Snowmageddon,” so I had the unusual pleasure of interviewing someone who is normally very busy!
John, you have said that most churches do not focus on a key element of revival: prayer. At its most basic level, what is corporate prayer? What does “Kingdom praying” really look like?
(John): Corporate prayer, to my way of thinking, is two or more people intentionally coming together to pray with one heart and mind regarding matters that are close to God’s heart.
(1) intentionally—i.e., prayer is the primary purpose of the gathering, and
(2) close to God’s heart—i.e., liberating the gathering from descending into a litany of requests, most of which are often health-related. That’s not to say God doesn’t care about those situations and that we shouldn’t pray about them. But true corporate prayer moves us beyond matters that originate with us.
I grew up in a tradition where every so often, the pastor would invite the congregation to pray aloud. While that's wonderful, I wouldn’t define it as “corporate prayer” because each individual was pursuing his or her particular line of prayer. A key ingredient of corporate prayer is oneness of heart.
That is why, when I lead a corporate prayer gathering, I ask everyone present to engage in active listening which manifests itself in a couple of ways:
(1) Say “Amen!” or “I agree!” when someone is praying. It helps bring unity.
(2) As someone prays something similar to your own thoughts in prayer, see that as a confirmation. When it’s your turn, use that God-prompt to lead the group in prayer along the same lines.
Exactly how do we pray for revival?
To help people move in the direction of Kingdom praying, I ask: “What do you see in the world around you that breaks God’s heart?” If we can get people to look beyond their immediate circumstances and think in those terms, I think praying will become much more Kingdom-oriented, or revival-oriented.
When we look at the church in North America—its lack of impact given the incredible resources at its disposal—that certainly breaks the heart of God. We are, by and large, not the pure and holy bride of Christ that is anxiously awaiting His return and fully committed to His agenda. We are, in many places, a deeply divided, fragmented, entitled, consumeristic group of individuals who are addicted to our personal comfort and blind to the brokenness of people around us. This, I believe, breaks the heart of God. Seeing the church in this way motivates us to pray for the renewing work of His Spirit in us collectively.
Is corporate prayer really the key for revival? Could it come any other way?
The relationship between corporate prayer and revival is a tricky one. I don’t think you or I can create the conditions for revival. God is a sovereign God, and revival is a divine move on His part, chosen for reasons known only to Him, touching a certain setting or circumstance. We can’t manufacture it!
Yet, at the same time, history has demonstrated that one of the things that parallels the renewing work of the Holy Spirit is an enhanced commitment to corporate prayer. Our job is to invite God to do a renewing work and express a readiness to cooperate with Him. But we can’t create it. I think of the parable of the soils. Whether the seed germinates is not something the seed has control of. Most growth is tied to the condition of the soil. And while we can’t control the receptivity of anyone else, we should do all we can to make sure we are “good soil.”
How do we move prayer from an "add-on ministry" to a core value?
I discovered a couple of critical things in writing my dissertation:
1. The pastors who were leading their churches towards prayer had a moment in their ministry lives when they were at the end of themselves and desperate. While Scripture clearly teaches the value and priority of corporate prayer, the pastors’ move in that direction was not guided by Scripture. It was guided first by their personal brokenness. When they turned to Scripture in pain, they then saw the incredible emphasis the Word of God places on prayer.
2. Corporate prayer wasn’t going to happen unless the lead pastor was willing to champion the cause and stick with it through some very frustrating times. In ministry, there are some things you do because you’re looking to involve numerous people, and there are some things you do because they’re right regardless of numbers. Corporate prayer fits this latter category.
Most of the pastors who participated in my research had either planted their churches or had exceptionally long tenures (between 15-30 years). The takeaway is that for corporate prayer to truly become embedded in the DNA of a local church, it must either be established at the very outset, or have a pastor who is relentlessly persistent and is willing to invest years—even decades—to embed a culture of corporate prayer. It’s not the kind of thing that can be done when churches turn over pastoral leadership every 5-7 years.*
Can you share a story of breakthrough that came to your congregation through corporate prayer?
Because corporate prayer involves praying for issues beyond ourselves, many times we never know if God has worked in response to our prayers.
But for us, a recent breakthrough came during the Christmas season. Our church has a compassionate ministry emphasis: to reach the less fortunate and make the season about Jesus. We challenged our people to provide support for Ukrainian orphans through our denomination’s Compassionate Ministries office.
The program requires $12K annually, and we hoped to underwrite it for a year. This was going to be a stretch for a largely blue-collar church numbering 250-300! We also made it a matter of prayer.
While we cast the vision and highlighted the challenge, I believe our prayers are largely responsible for the church raising almost $19K towards this initiative. A number of our people scaled back their giving to friends and family members so they could participate at a higher level, and I’m convinced that God moved their hearts in response to our prayers. The unseen work God did on the inside of people can be traced back to a group of people who bathed this goal in prayer.
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.