Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why Spend a Month Praying? (Dialogue Column 4.14.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

We’ve begun something called “A Season of Prayer” here at First Christian Church, where every church member is asked to pray for the church daily over the next month. We will also have special opportunities for prayer for First Christian during worship and small groups. As we begin this time together as a congregation, it is worth discussing why we are spending a month praying for our church.
Perhaps at most churches there would be little discussion about praying for the church. There would be a near universal agreement on what prayer actually is, how it works and why it is beneficial. Such is not the case at First Christian. As with most things at First Christian, prayer takes different forms and means different things to our members. Although, we pray corporately in worship in very traditional ways—sharing joys and concerns, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., in private, church members may pray in ways that resemble an evangelical “quiet time” or Buddhist meditation. They may take walks in nature, attend Reiki meetings or sit in silence. Furthermore, theologically members might offer different views on how and in what ways God answers prayers—does God intervene in human events such as healing or does God work in less tangible ways? Does prayer “change” the way God will acts or is it just to change ourselves?

The good news for the membership of First Christian is that no one is declaring how one must practice prayer or what prayer even is—beyond connecting with God in some way. All you are asked to do is pray for First Christian in whatever way is your way. A little background on how this “Season of Prayer” came about may shed some light on what will hopefully take place over the next few weeks.

In March, a number of administrative board members and I attended the G.P.S. church transformation conference offered by our denomination. During the conference, our group began to have some exciting discussions about future directions for our church. From my perspective, I experienced the kind of moment I had dreamed about in seminary—a moment when church members are really thinking hard and deep about what a church should be doing in the name of Jesus Christ.

As we were talking about ideas, we received a striking suggestion. Donna Rose-Heim, one of the ministers for the Northwest Missouri Disciples churches, suggested to us that we begin any new efforts of ministry and church transformation with a deliberate period of time dedicated to prayer. At first, we were all taken back a bit. In my own experience, I’ve often seen church people offering to pray about something, because they really didn’t want to do anything. A lame effort of prayer can be an excuse for doing nothing rather than a means for accomplishing God’s work. Our group agreed that our church does a better job of discussing our faith and its implications in an intellectual sense than we do in practicing our faith in an emotional or spiritual sense. Some churches act without reflection, but if First Christian errs it may be by spending more time on reflection than on actually acting upon where our intellectual efforts lead us.
We decided that if we actually believe that God is involved in our lives and in the life of our church, then we should at least try to discern what God may be leading us as a church to do and to be. We decided that we should recommend to the church that we spend time in prayer as a congregation. Our group of conference-going board members came back to the whole board and made our proposal. As is the norm, there was some discussion of what do we mean by prayer and will church members be able to pray each in their own way. Once people felt assured and understood that the diversity within our church would be respected, the administrative board unanimously approved that we spend this time in prayer together.

What will come of the next four weeks of prayer? I don’t know. When we open ourselves up to God, we are giving up control and letting God have God’s way, so who knows what ideas for the future may come out of this time. It could be that nothing will come of it, because not enough church members will take it seriously. I hope that is not the case and I doubt it will be. Instead, what I expect will happen is that a number of dedicated church members will spend time directing their energy towards God. From that time spent in prayer, some members will have a new sense of dedication to our community of faith and a new sense of God leading them and the church to reach out to people who need what we have to offer. My prayer is that the people of First Christian Church will open themselves to God and will be inspired regarding who we need to share God’s love with in our community and world.
Grace and Peace,


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