By Paul Covert
In July of 2003, I nervously made a call to Cal Jernigan, the senior pastor at Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. I had known Cal for 25 years and had always respected him. I hoped he could point me to a church that might have some interest in my passion for prayer.
When I called Cal, I didn’t know Central had just gone through an extensive season of developing their core values. One of them was, “As a community of believers, we seek God’s guidance and direction through prayer in all that we do as a church and in all aspects of our daily lives.” But Central’s leaders were still deciding how to express this value in the weekly ministry of the church.
Cal and I had lunch, and I shared with him my passion for prayer ministry. One month later I had become Central’s prayer pastor. My family’s house sold in four days, and God’s fingerprints were on all that transpired.
Since then I’ve learned much about prayer ministry in a local church.
Many people in growing churches were not raised in a home where prayer was practiced. So they are uncomfortable praying out loud. They dread it as they dread other forms of public speaking. Add to that the evil intent of our enemy, who wants to confuse us and make us feel awkward in prayer, and you have the perfect storm.
Build your ministry around this truth. Don’t fight it. Spend your energy figuring out how to help people break through and get comfortable in and with prayer.
We believe people would love to pray if they were just coached on how to pray and had someone walk beside them for a while. We schedule events, training, schools, and small groups focused on the basics.
Involving People in Prayer
Recruit and invest in key people—We have many exceptional people involved in prayer ministry. Cathy Cryer is one of them. She is associate director of prayer at Central. She has a passion for God and prayer that encourages others. She makes others feel it is indeed possible for them to be involved in prayer. Her enthusiasm, commitment, and modeling are influential in getting others to participate with passion about prayer.
We believe the ministry of prayer is as important as any work in the church and, in fact, is foundational to all aspects of the work of the church, so we challenge the best leaders we have to join our prayer team.
Offer easy entry points—We try to create places where people can easily begin praying. For example, we put on an annual prayer conference designed to inspire people to strengthen their prayer lives. Often people attend the conference and then join the prayer ministry.
Andy is a good example. He is a lawyer who attended our prayer conference and stopped me one day to say, “God is leading me to help out in prayer; where can I serve?” He joined our vision team and runs several other areas of the prayer ministry. The nudge came for him at the prayer conference.
Cathy and I also put on a School of Prayer each quarter. In four hours on a Sunday afternoon, we teach one basic topic, such as how to pray aloud. But we also add meatier subjects, such as how to pray for wisdom.
Often at the end of a School of Prayer, God will prompt someone to join the ministry because he or she has seen the value and possibility for serving in prayer. Tony was at a School of Prayer a couple of years ago, and God prompted him to join us. He has assumed the leadership role for our prayer partner ministry and serves in several other areas as well.
Gear recruitment toward men—Because prayer comes more naturally to women than men, I never recruit women to pray. They will come, and they will pray. But men will not participate if the prayer room is all women or if it is too fluffy in its approach or style. They won’t say anything; they’ll just leave and not return.
Build relationships—I make sure to attend all the men’s retreats and other events at church, looking for places I can develop men in prayer. Cathy does the same at all the women’s events. It is not unusual for someone to confess to us that prayer is hard for him or her. Almost always we invite these people to the prayer room to join us with intercessory prayer.
They come and experience strategic, measured prayer, and they get hooked. We direct them not to pray at first; we don’t want them to feel any pressure. Usually, after a time or two, they say, “This is not rocket science; I can do this.” Most of the people in our teams have been recruited by someone and joined the ministry because of that trusted relationship.
Make the prayer experience relevant and inspirational—One of the reasons people don’t attend prayer events is they dread the old-time, boring-though-
well-intentioned, long-winded, way-too-graphic prayers for each other’s ailments, aching parts, nonfunctioning organs, and questionable diagnoses.
We intentionally don’t take prayer requests at many of our events, and, if we do, we often say, “We will not get to these today because we have some strategic praying to do. As the Lord brings you to mind, we will pray for you.” This approach helps people realize the focus in times of corporate prayer is not on them.
One of our major initiatives is helping other ministries of the church build prayer into their lives, events, and departments. Often, churches just dive into the events and then pray over them a time or two, hoping for God’s blessings. We do our best to be in the planning stages of opening new campuses or planning major events so that prayer becomes part of the DNA of the event and eventually our church. When people begin to see the difference prayer makes, they request it and include it from then on.
Communicate often and well—We send a monthly newsletter to more than 2,000 people to inform them of the latest trends and happenings in the prayer world. From this newsletter most people find out about prayer events. Thankfully, we have several dedicated servant ministers making the most of this newsletter.
In a larger church, every ministry is vying for stage time during worship services. In smaller churches, the time crunch may be getting parents to pick up their kids from classes so that the next classes can start on time. So finding alternate methods of getting the word out is crucial. In addition to a newsletter, Facebook and Twitter can be used effectively.
Organize to include various levels of prayer participants—Determine potential areas of prayerful participation for your congregation. For each area, recruit a leader who will be charged with running that area. This leader should also mentor someone who could become the leader of this or another area. We have 15 areas of prayer ministry. My job is to develop strategy and vision, and Cathy develops the relationships, trains, and nurtures.
Can prayer be vibrant and relevant in American congregations? We believe it can be.
One of our men recently wrote: “My eyes have been opened, and God has allowed me to see his world in a whole new way and to experience prayer in a much different level than I ever felt was possible.” We’ve learned that this kind of thing happens one life at a time.
Paul Covert serves as prayer pastor with Central Christian Church of the East Valley, Mesa, Arizona.