This is the third post in our series about missional ministry. In the first post I defined what missional is. I defined being missional as, “at it’s heart being…about placing God’s mission at the center of the life of the individual and the center of the church’s existence.“ I argued that the church needs adaptive change–a change in strategy–to a missional model of church rather than tactical change (like altering church service times or simply adding a contemporary service).
In the second post I noted that it’s impossible to be missional alone. I noted that community is essential to missional ministry for four reasons: security, encouragement, accountability, and perspective. This week we ask the question: what role does prayer play in missional ministry?
In our exploration of missional ministry, we’ve used the account of the sending of the seventy-two as a foundation or starting point for our discussion. To recap, this is the first ‘sending’ of the church into the community for the purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel and the establishment of kingdom outposts in advance of Jesus’ visit to particular cities in order to preach. The account is found in Luke 10:1-11, which is reproduced below.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’
The missional vision for ministry–a vision which sees the church in a missionary encounter with culture–was certainly lived out by the early church.
The church of the early Twenty-First century is being called back to this approach. As we attempt to make the missional shift, one question plagues me. Does the church of the Twenty-First century have the character and the practices to be ample to engage in missional ministry in a Godly way?
I could ask the question another way: is the current church sufficiently rooted in Christ so that this shift will be more than simply a fad or a trend, but will be the product of deep repentance for missed opportunities, the product of a deep desire for the salvation of men and women, and the product of a profound wish for the church to be collectively faithful to the witness of Scripture in describing and envisioning the church as a missional community?
If this is to be the case then we have to ensure that the church places prayer front and center in its mission. It’s important to begin with a simple definition of prayer.
Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of the Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 98
In other words, prayer is talking to God. Sometimes we talk to those we love formally, and sometimes we talk with them informally. It’s the same with prayer. Sometimes we will speak with God using formal, set prayers. At other times we will simply tell him what’s on our heart.
Prayer is the fuel of missional ministry. More precisely, common prayer is the fuel of missional ministry. A missional church will structure its life together around common prayer. The form of prayer will vary with the tradition of which the church is a part, but what’s not up for debate is the primacy of prayer in the life of the church. Why?
- Prayer brings us into the fellowship of the Holy Trinity. As Christians we are connected to the Godhead through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. In a sense, it is God who enables us to pray and it is God who gives us the words to pray, and it is God who carries our prayer and receives our prayer. C. S. Lewis notes this in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer when he writes that, essentially, prayer is God talking to Himself.
- Prayer is a means of grace. We need grace for the journey. The way we are walking is greater than our ability to complete. The journey of faith is like the Appalachian Trail–we need a guide and we need a power greater than our own. In prayer we receive the sustaining grace of God that can carry us in our journey.
- Prayer forms the way we think and act. This is most powerfully true when we become familiar with praying a set liturgy or a portion of the Scripture. When we pray, we name reality before God and ask him to intervene. This is all the more powerful when in our naming of reality we are aided by the prayers of others who have gone before us.
- Prayer connects us with one another. Common prayer provides a powerful context for reconciliation and repentance against those in our number who we have wronged or who have wronged us. This sets the stage for a powerful unity in love that enables the fellowship to be willing to try new things and to reach out.
The church that wishes to be missional must pay attention to the requirements of community and prayer before anything else. Failing to pay attention to this will derail a community as it attempts to make the missional shift.